1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Amsterdam (Holland)

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AMSTERDAM, the chief city of Holland, in the province of North Holland, on the south side of the Y or Ij, an arm of the Zuider Zee, in 52° 22′ N. and 4° 53′, E. Pop. (1900) 523,557. It has communication by railway and canal in every direction; steam-tramways connect it with Edam, Purmerend, Alkmaar and Hilversum, and electric railways with Haarlem and the seaside resort of Zandvoort. Amsterdam, the “dam or dyke of the Amstel,” is so called from the Amstel, the canalized river which passes through the city to the Y. Towards the land the city is surrounded by a semicircular fosse or canal, and was at one time regularly fortified; but the ramparts have been demolished and are replaced by fine gardens and houses, and only one gateway, the Muiderpoort, is still standing. Within the city are four similar canals (grachten) with their ends resting on the Y, extending in the form of polygonal crescents nearly parallel to each other and to the outer canal. Each of these canals marks the line of the city walls and moat at different periods. Lesser canals intersect the others radially, thus virtually dividing the city into a number of islands; whence it has been compared with Venice. The nucleus of the town lies within the innermost crescent canal, and, with the large square, the Dam, in the centre, represents the area of Amsterdam about the middle of the 14th century. At one extremity of the enclosing canal is the Schreijerstoren (1482) or “Weepers' Tower,” so called on account of its being at the head of the ancient harbour, and the scene in former days of sorrowful leave-takings. Between this and the next crescent of the Heeren Gracht sprang up, on the east, the labyrinthine quarter where for more than three centuries the large Jewish population has been located, and in the middle of which the painter Rembrandt lived (1640–1656) and the philosopher Spinoza was born (1632). Beyond the Heeren Gracht lie the Keizers Gracht and the Prinsen Gracht respectively, and these three celebrated canals, with their tree-bordered quays and plain but stately old-fashioned houses, form the principal thoroughfares of the city. West of the Prinsen Gracht lies the region called De Jordaan, a corruption of Le Jardin, the name which it acquired from the fact of its streets being called after various flowers. It was formed by the settlement of French refugees here after the revocation of the edict of Nantes. The outermost crescent canal is called the Singel Gracht (girdle canal), and marks the boundary of the city at the end of the 17th century. The streets in the oldest part of Amsterdam are often narrow and irregular, and the sky-line is picturesquely broken by fantastic gables, roofs and towers. The site of the city being originally a peat bog, the foundations of the houses have to be secured by driving long piles (4–20 yds.) into the firm clay below, the palace on the Dam being supported on nearly 14,000 piles. As late as 1822, however, an overladen corn magazine sank into the mud. Modern Amsterdam extends southward beyond the Singel Gracht, and here the houses are often very handsome, while the broad streets are planted with rows of large trees. In the middle of this new region lies the Vondel Park, named after the great national poet Joost van den Vondel (d. 1679), whose statue stands in the park. The Willems Park adjoining was added in later times. In the older part of the town the chief open space is the Zoological Gardens in the north-eastern corner. They belong to a private society called Natura Artis Magistra, and came into existence in 1838. They have, however, been much enlarged since then, and bear a high reputation. In connexion with the gardens there are an aquarium (1882), a library, and an ethnographical and natural history museum. Concerts are given here in summer as well as in the Vondel Park. Close to the Zoological Gardens are the Botanical Gardens, and a small park, also the property of a private society, in which there is a variety theatre. The public squares of the city include the Sophiaplein, with the picturesque old mint-tower; the Rembrandtplein, with a monument (1852) to the painter by Lodswyk Royer; the Thorbeckeplein, with a monument to the statesman, J. R. Thorbecke (1798–1872), and the Leidscheplein, with the large town theatre, rebuilt in 1890–1894 after a fire.

Buildings and Institutions.—The Dam is the vital centre of Amsterdam. All the tramways meet here, and some of the busiest streets, and here too are situated the Nieuwe Kerk and the palace. In the middle of the Dam stands a monument to those who fell in the Belgian revolution of 1830–1831, and called the Metal Cross after the war medals struck at that time. The palace is an imposing building in the classical style, originally built as a town-hall in 1648–1655 by the architect Jacob van Kempen. It was first given up to royalty on the occasion of the visit of the Stadtholder William V. in 1768, and forty years later was appropriated as a royal palace by Louis Bonaparte, king of Holland. But King William I. afterwards formally returned the palace to the city, and the sovereign is therefore actually the city's guest when residing in it. Beautifully decorated on the exterior with gable reliefs by Artus Quellinus (1609–1668) of Antwerp, its great external defect is the absence of a grand entrance. The architectural and ornamental sculpture of the interior is mostly by the same artist, and there are a few interesting pictures, as well as some realistic wall paintings by the 18th century artist Jacob de Wit similar to those in the Huis ten Bosch near the Hague. The great hall is one of the most splendid of its kind in Europe. Like most of the lesser apartments, it is lined with white Italian marble, and in spite of its enormous dimensions the roof is unsupported by pillars. Ancient flags captured in war decorate the walls, and in the middle of the marble floor is a representation of the firmament inlaid in copper. The Nieuwe Kerk (St Catherine's), in which the sovereigns of Holland are crowned, is a fine Gothic building dating from 1408. Internally it is remarkable for its remains of ancient stained glass, fine carvings and interesting monuments, including one to the famous Admiral de Ruyter (d. 1676). A large stained-glass window commemorates the taking of the oath by Queen Wilhelmina in 1898. The new exchange (1901) is a striking building in red brick and stone, and lies a short distance away between the Dam and the fine central station (1889). The Oude Kerk (St Nicholaas), so called, was built about the year 1300, and contains some beautiful stained glass of the 16th and 17th centuries, by Pieter Aertsen of Amsterdam (1508–1575) and others. One window contains the arms of the burgomasters of Amsterdam from 1578 to 1767. Among the monuments are those to various naval heroes, including Admirals van Heemskerk (d. 1607), Sweers (d. 1673) and van der Hulst (d. 1666). The North Church was the last work of the architect Hendrik de Keyser (1565–1621) of Utrecht. The Roman Catholic church of St Nicholaas (1886) was built to replace the accommodation previously afforded by a common dwelling-house, now the Museum Amstelkring of ecclesiastical antiquities. Among the numerous Jewish synagogues, the largest is that of the Portuguese Jews (1670), which is said to be an imitation of the temple of Solomon. Other buildings of interest are the St Antonieswaag, built as a town gate in 1488–1585, and now containing the city archives; the Trippenhuis, built as a private house in 1662, and now the home of the Royal Society of Science, Letters and Fine Arts; the Netherlands Bank (1865–1869), built by the architect W. A. Froger; the new building (1860) of the Seamen's Institute, founded in 1785; the cellular prison; and the so-called Paleis van Volksvlijt, an immense building of iron and glass with a fine garden, built by Dr Samuel Sarphati, and used for industrial exhibitions, the performance of operas, &c. The museums and picture galleries of Amsterdam are of great interest. The Ryks Museum, or state museum, is the first in Holland. It is a large, handsome and finely situated building designed by Dr P. J. H. Cuyper in the Dutch Renaissance style, and erected in 1876–1885. The exterior is decorated with sculptures and tile-work, and internally it is divided, broadly speaking, into a museum of general antiquities below, and the large gallery of pictures of the Dutch and Flemish schools above. The nucleus of this unsurpassed national collection of pictures was formed out of the collections removed hither from the Pavilion at Haarlem, consisting of modern paintings, and from the town-hall, the van der Hoop Museum and the Trippenhuis in Amsterdam. The important van der Hoop collection arose out of bequests by Adrian van der Hoop and his widow in 1854 and 1880; but the most famous pictures in the Ryks Museum are perhaps the three which come from the Trippenhuis, namely, the so- called “Nightwatch” and the “Syndics of the Cloth Hall” by Rembrandt, and the “Banquet of the Civic Guard,” by van der Helst. The Trippenhuis gallery consisted of the pictures brought from the Hague by Louis Bonaparte, king of Holland, and belonging to the collection of the Orange family dispersed during the Napoleonic period. The municipal museum contains a collection of furniture, paintings, &c., bequeathed by Sophia Lopez-Suasso (1890), a medico-pharmaceutical collection, and the National Guard Museum. The Joseph Fodor Museum (1860) contains modern French and Dutch pictures. The private collection founded by Burgomaster Jan Six (d. 1702), the friend and patron of Rembrandt, was sold to the state in 1907; the pictures, except the family Rembrandts, are in the Ryks Museum. Close to this is the Willet-Holthuysen Museum (1895) of furniture, porcelain, &c. Education and Charities.—There are two universities in Amsterdam: the Free University (1880), and the more ancient state university of Amsterdam, originally founded in 1632, but reconstructed in 1887. In addition to the numerous science laboratories the state university possesses a very fine library of about 100,000 volumes, including the Rosenthal collection of over 8000 books on Jewish literature. Modern educational institutions include a school of engineering (1879), a school for teachers (1878) and a school of industrial art (1879). Amsterdam is also remarkable for the number and high character of its benevolent institutions, which are to a large extent supported by voluntary contributions. Among others may be mentioned hospitals for the sick, the aged, the infirm, the blind, the deaf, the dumb, the insane, and homes for widows, orphans, foundlings and sailors. The costumes of the children educated at the different orphanages are varied and picturesque, those of the municipal orphanage being dressed in the city colours of red and black. In the Walloon orphanage are some interesting pictures by van der Helst and others. The Society for Public Welfare (Maatschappij tot nut van het Algemeen), founded in 1785, has for its ob)ect the promotion of the education and improvement of all classes, and has branches in every part of Holland. Among other Amsterdam societies are the Felix Meritis (1776), and the Arti et Amicitiae (1839), whose art exhibitions are of a high order.

Harbour and Commerce.—The first attempt which the city of Amsterdam made to overcome the evils wrought to its trade by the slow formation of the Pampus sandbank at the entrance to the Y from the Zuider Zee, was the construction of the North Holland canal to the Helder in 1825. But the route was too long and too intricate, and in 1876 a much larger and more direct ship canal was built across the isthmus to the North Sea at Ymuiden. The serious rivalry of Rotterdam, especially with regard to the transit trade, and the inadequacy of the Keulsche Vaart, which connected the city with the Rhine, led to the construction in 1892 of the Merwede canal to Gorinchem. Meanwhile a complete transformation took place on the Y to suit the new requirements of the city's trade. The three islands built out into the river serve to carry the railway across the front of the city, and form a long series of quays. On either side are the large East and West docks (1825–1834), and beyond these stretch the lone quays at which the American and East Indian liners are berthed. On the west of the West dock is the timber dock, and east of the East dock is another series of islands joined together so as to form basins and quays, one of which is the State Marine dock (1790–1795) with the arsenal and admiralty offices. Opening out of one of the crescent canals which penetrate the city from the Y is the State Entrepôt dock (1900), the free harbour of Amsterdam, where the produce from the Dutch East Indies is stored. On the north side of the Y are the dry docks and the petroleum dock (1880–1890). The principal imports are timber, coal, grain, ore, petroleum and colonial produce. Under the last head fall tobacco, tea, coffee, cocoa, sugar, Peruvian bark and other drugs. Diamond-cutting has long been practised by the Jews and forms one of the most characteristic industries of the city. Other industries include sugar refineries, soap, oil, glass, iron, dye and chemical works; distilleries, breweries, tanneries; tobacco and snuff factories; shipbuilding and the manufacture of machinery and stearine candles. Although no longer the centre of the banking transactions of the world, the Amsterdam exchange is still of considerable importance in this respect. The celebrated Bank of Amsterdam, founded in 1609, was dissolved in 1796, and the present Bank of the Netherlands was established in 1814 on the model of the Bank of England. The money market is the headquarters of companies formed to promote the cultivation of colonial produce.

History.—In 1204, when Giesebrecht II. of Amstel built a castle there, Amstetdam was a fishing hamlet held in fee by the lords of Amstel of the bishops of Utrecht, for whom they acted as bailiffs. In 1240 Giesebrecht III., son of the builder of the castle, constructed a dam to keep out the sea. To these two, then, the origin of the city may be ascribed. The first mention of the town is in 1275, in a charter of Floris IV., count of Holland, exempting it from certain taxes.

In 1296 the place passed out of the hands of the lords of Amstel, owing to the part taken by Giesebrecht IV. in the murder of Count Floris V. of Holland. Count John (d. 1304), after coming to an understanding with the bishop of Utrecht, bestowed the fief on his brother, Guy of Hainaut. Guy gave the town its first charter in 1300. It established the usual type of government under a bailiff (schout) and judicial assessors (scabini, or schoppenen), the overlord's supremacy being guarded, and an appeal lying from the court of the scabini, in case of their disagreement, to Utrecht. In 1342 more extensive privileges were granted by Count William IV., including freedom from tolls by land and water in return for certain annual dues. In 1482 the town was surrounded with walls; and in the 16th century, during the religious troubles, it received a great increase of prosperity owing to the influx of refugees from Antwerp and Brabant. Amsterdam, influenced by its trading interests, did not join the other towns in revolt against Spain until 1578. In 1587 the earl of Leicester made an unsuccessful attempt to seize it. The great development of Amsterdam was due, however, to the treaty of Westphalia in 1648, by which its rival, Antwerp, was ruined, owing to the closing of the Scheldt. The city held out obstinately against the pretensions of the stadtholders, and in 1650 opened the dykes in order to prevent William II. from seizing it. The same device was successful against Louis XIV. in 1672; and Amsterdam, now reconciled with the stadtholder, was one of the staunchest supporters of William III. against France. After the revocation of the edict of Nantes in 1685 it opened its gates to numerous French refugees; but this hardly compensated it for its losses during the war. In 1787 Amsterdam was occupied by the Prussians, and in 1795 by the French under Pichegru. It was now made the capital of the Batavian Republic and afterwards of the kingdom of Holland. When, in 1810, this was united with the French empire, Amsterdam was recognized officially as the third town of the empire, ranking next after Paris and Rome.

See J. ter Gouw, Geschiedeniss van Amsterdam (3 vols., Amsterdam, 1879–1881), a full history with documents.