Amsterdam’s history begins in the 12th century. Back then it was little more than a swampy area on the edge of the old Zuider Zee and the Amstel River. Nearby peoples considered it an unhealthy place and the people who settled what solid land there was developed a strongly independent character. Amsterdam grew around a dam in the Amstel River. The old name of ‘Amstelledamme’ is first mentioned in 1275, when Count Floris V allowed the inhabitants to transport goods free of tolls on Holland’s waterways. Around 1300, Amsterdam was granted a town charter. In the course of the 14th and 15th centuries, the town developed into an important trading center, mainly due to trade between the North and Baltic seas and southern Europe. The city gradually developed into a market town where products from different countries were stored, sold and shipped. As money flowed in, class struggle intensified. The Reformation grew out of a fight for power between the emerging merchants and the Catholic-sanctioned aristocrats.

The Reformation and the early years of the Eighty Years War (1568-1648) led to economic, religious and social unrest in the country and the city. The Catholic town council remained loyal to Philips II, the king of Spain. Many other major towns however joined the Prince of Orange’s cause. The Calvinists took on the imperial power of Spain's Catholic Philip II, and in 1578 they captured Amsterdam from him. The following year Amsterdam and seven northern provinces declared themselves an independent republic - Holland - led by William of Orange, the forefather of today's royal family. Amsterdam’s Golden Age started when trading rival Antwerpen was taken by the Spanish and access to the sea was restricted. By 1600, Amsterdam 's ships dominated seaborne trade and fishing in Europe, extending their horizons through the 17th century as Dutch overseas interests were established. Wealthy businessmen provided the funds for the exploration of the seas. This eventually led to the foundation of the East India Company (VOC) in 1602 and the West India Company (WIC) in 1621.

During the Golden Age, Amsterdam developed into a powerful center of commerce. The major urban expansion programs, with their unique ring of canals and magnificent gabled houses, started in 1613. Another important factor in the development of Amsterdam was the influx of many talented artists, artisans and merchants fleeing the rigors of Spanish rule in the south of the Netherlands. During the 17th century, Amsterdam was a magnet for the arts, the number of painters in the Northern-Netherlands and the quality of their work increased noticeably. In the 18th century, the Republic of Holland lost its dominant position in world economics. Only Amsterdam was able to maintain an economic lead. Eventually, the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War (1780-1784) brought the economy to its knees. Amsterdam 's trade and fishing came to a complete halt in the early 19th century when the city was occupied by the French and then blockaded by the British. When the French left in 1813, the economy of Amsterdam was in a deplorable state. Decades later, in the second half of the 19th century, the city experienced an economic upswing due to the Industrial Revolution. After 1900, the city continued to grow in population as well as in area.

Amsterdam was occupied by German troops in May 1940. Of the almost 80,000 Jews that lived in Amsterdam , 66,000 were killed including Anne Frank who's house has now reached the status of a shrine. Visiting the place where she hid those dreadful months was an unforgettable experience, one where I actually felt I was in the presence of God with the sadness of 6 million Jewish lives lost mixed with the tale of one young girl. The city was finally liberated in May 1945 by Canadian troops. Although the harbor and the industrial district of Amsterdam were destroyed during the war, most of the city itself remained thankfully undamaged.

Today Amsterdam is a cosmopolitan city that seems to belong more to Europe or the world than it does to Holland. Where counterculture is the norm and nothing seems to be out of place in a city where everything is out of place. It's as if Amsterdam has become the escape valve for the rest of Europe. A place of constant social turmoil within unwritten bounds that were shockingly broken recently by the assassinations of politician Pym Fortuyn and film maker Gogh. 

The Netherlands is a land of contrasts with constant reminders of it's colonialist past. During and after the Indonesian National Revolution, which followed World War II, approximately 300,000 people, predominantly Indos, were forced to leave independent Indonesia to be “repatriated” to the Netherlands. However, most of the Dutch-Indos had never been in the Netherlands. The Dutch government named it this way because only Dutch citizens had the opportunity to use this arrangement. All residents of the former colony were Dutch subjects, but only those whom were recognized and registered were Dutch citizens. Visitors unaware of this past are shocked to see the many races that call Holland their home but for the Dutch this is a fact of life. One that brings special rewards to the culture of the nation. There is an assimilation of races not found in any other European country. This is especially true of major urban areas such as Amsterdam and Den Hague.  A museum dedicated to this history has been established in Amsterdam known as the Troppenmuseum. 

Without the budget or notoriety of the Reichsmuseum or the Van Gogh it struggles to explain that history to it's visitor in a series of attractive displays. A special feature of this museum is the recreation of streets modeled after those that would be found in Java, the Middle East or Africa. Operated by the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT), an independent centre of knowledge and expertise in the areas of international and intercultural cooperation, the museum plays host to many cultural events. This has made the Troppenmuseum the largest anthropological museum in the Netherlands.

While I had the chance to visit, the museum was going through the construction of a major new exhibit so one floor was completely closed off. From the brochure it appears that they have a very busy lecture schedule which unfortunately I didn't have the time to attend. The permanent exhibitions include:
  • South-East Asia (including Textiles in Indonesia)
  • Oceania
  • Western Asia and North Africa (The culture of Islam)
  • Africa
  • Latin America & Caribbean
  • Man and Environment
  • Music, Dance and Theatre
  • The Tropenmuseum is more than just a museum. Experts assist museums around the world in capacity building and other activities, for example in collecting and preserving local cultural heritage. Other activities include innovative initiatives in the field of museums and of preserving and exhibiting cultural heritage.