A variety of ancient peoples and tribes have made the Netherlands what it is today. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the dry sandy soils and coastal areas were already being inhabited by our ancestors, the Neanderthals. From around 1000 years BC onwards, both Celtic and Germanic tribes began to arrive and mix with the local population. Eventually the powerful and victorious Roman armies marched in and, with typical ambition, built the first towns and cities south of the Rhine. The Rhine itself acted as a natural border, with the Roman Empire concentrated to the south and the indigenous and less civilised Frisian, Batavian and Kaninefaten tribes to the north of this mighty river.

In the late Middle Ages, after the eventual downfall of the Roman Empire and the subsequent recovery of the economy in western European, the coastal areas of the Low Countries began to flourish, heralding a new era of trade and prosperity.





During the Eighty Years' War, the Low Countries began to extend its commerce internationally, entering into the spice trade with India and founding colonies in Brazil, North America, the Caribbean, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Taiwan. The various regions that constituted the Low Countries, enjoyed a large degree of independence at the outset of the Eighty Years War, but that came to an abrupt end in 1579 with the signing of the Union of Utrecht. The agreement led to an amalgamation of several Protestant regions that were to unite against the Catholic Spanish rulers in a rebellion led by Prince William of Orange. In 1581 this ‘Union’ proclaimed its independence and formed a Republic of seven united regions of the Netherlands. In 1609 the Republic received international recognition and the Netherlands as we know it, was born. During the period that followed, international trade increased dramatically bringing significant wealth to the Republic and the seventeenth century became known as the ‘Golden Age’.



The eighteenth century saw the return of more turbulence, particularly with the Dutch economy, as the battle between the Patriots and Organgists began to take its toll. The House of Orange, aided by the Prussians, was ultimately victorious, but the Netherlands endured further occupation by Napoleon shortly after the French Revolution. After Napoleon was ousted, the Netherlands evolved into a monarchy headed by King William I. Initially Belgium and Luxembourg were also part of this so-called United Kingdom of the Netherlands, but they gained independence following an uprising in 1839. Meanwhile, during the Napoleonic occupation almost all of the Dutch colonies had been entrusted to the care of the British, who shamelessly failed to return all but Indonesia.



The Netherlands managed to remain neutral during the First World War, but as the surrounding countries became engaged in bitter conflict, the economy declined sharply and the country suffered from food shortages. The Netherlands also took in a large number of refugees fleeing the war-ravaged countries of its neighbours, including Belgium. After the end of the First World War, the Dutch people became increasingly segregated by politics and religion, with Catholics, Protestants, Socialists and Liberals all having their own separate schools, clubs, newspapers, political parties and hospitals. This division appeared to hold society together, and was seen as an effective mechanism in controlling social tension. In the twenties, the Dutch economy saw another revival. The Netherlands became a major trading nation, resulting in a contemporary society of multi-nationals who today, all proudly consider themselves Dutch in origin.




With the financial crisis of the thirties, however, came the end of economic affluence. Unemployment rose rapidly, and the government implemented a package of austerity measures. Simultaneously, the Netherlands experienced an influx of Jewish refugees escaping Nazi Germany. Amidst the global unrest and threat of war, the Netherlands endeavored once more to preserve its neutrality, however, this time it was not spared. When Germany finally invaded the Netherlands in 1940, the government (including Queen Wilhelmina) fled to Great Britain. Many Jews attempted to escape or went into hiding, perhaps the most famous example being Anne Frank. For those Jews that remained the situation was bleak, with most of them ending up in the gas chambers of the Nazi concentration camps. The Dutch Jewish population was decimated with a horrifying 75 percent disappearing during the Nazi occupation. Throughout the war there were several active resistance movements that bravely fought the Nazi oppressors, but these achieved only minor successes until eventual liberation by the Canadians in 1945.

 bevrijding van de WOII



Shortly after the end of World War II, the Dutch East Indies began its own struggle for independence. The Netherlands initially intended to suppress this movement, but eventually pulled back under pressure from both the United Nations and the United States, who were financing much-needed post-war reconstruction in the Netherlands, in the form of the Marshall Plan. In 1949 the Dutch East Indies finally got its independence and went one step further to become ‘Indonesia’.

After the disaster of World War II, the Netherlands decided to give up its policy of neutrality and became an active participant in the UN, the European Community, and NATO, in addition to becoming a highly regarded economic partner for many countries around the globe. The Netherlands also formed the Benelux countries with close neighbours Belgium and Luxembourg and became a valued member of the European Economic Community, the forerunner of today’s European Union. Although prosperity returned in the fifties, there remained a distinct lack of housing after the flattening of many towns and cities during the war. While the cold war was in full swing elsewhere, young Dutch families, in particular, decided to try their luck in pastures new and emigrated to countries such as Australia and New Zealand. After a devastating flood in Zeeland in 1953, the Netherlands decided to implement the innovative Delta plan, installing massive flood barriers in the area along with a massive dam stretching more than 30 km, which effectively closed the Zuiderzee from the Waddenzee. In the sixties and seventies, the strict segregation of society began to unravel as emancipation and secularisation took the nation by storm. The Dutch economy grew so fast that migrants from Morocco and Turkey were even invited to come and work in the Netherlands. Other immigrants arrived from Suriname in South America, one of the last Dutch colonies to finally gain independence in 1975.

Nowadays the Netherlands is a multicultural, internationally oriented and in many ways extremely progressive society, with a rich history that is reflected in contemporary Dutch culture. You only need to walk into a Dutch supermarket to find tins of syrup waffles decorated with Delft Blue Dutch paintings and Dutch biscuit tins proudly embellished with portraits of Rembrandt, along with more exotic Dutch food products such as nasi goreng paste and delicious peanut butter satay sauce from Indonesia.