Amsterdam ('dam' or 'dike of the Amstel'), the capital of the Netherlands, is situated at the influx of the Amstel to the Ij or Y (pron. eye), an arm (now mostly drained) of the Zuider-Zee, 44| miles NNE. of Rotterdam by rail. It is divided by the Amstel and numerous canals into a hundred small islands, connected by more than 300 bridges. Almost the whole city, which extends in the shape of a crescent, is founded on piles driven 40 or 50 feet through soft peat and sand to a firm substratum of clay. Merely a fishing-village at the beginning of the 13th century, with a small castle, in 1482 it was walled and fortified. After the revolt of the seven provinces (1566), it speedily rose to be their first commercial city; and in 1585 it was enlarged by the building of the New Town on the west. The establishment of the Dutch East India Company (1602) did much to forward the well-being of Amsterdam, which, twenty years later, had 100,000 inhabitants. It had to surrender to the Prussians in 1787, to the French in 1795; and the union of Holland with France in 1810 entirely destroyed its foreign trade. The old firms, however, lived through the time of difficulty, and in 1815 commerce again began to expand - an expansion greatly promoted by the opening of the North Holland Canal (1825), and the North Sea Canal (1S76).
The city has a fine appearance when seen from the harbour, or from the high bridge over the Amstel. Church towers and spires, and a perfect forest of masts, relieve the flatness of the prospect. The old ramparts have been levelled, planted with trees, and formed into promenades. The three chief canals - the Heerengracht, Keizersgracht, and Prinsengracht - run in semicircles I within each other, and are from 2 to 3 miles long. On each side of them, with a row of trees and a carriage-way intervening, are handsome residences. The building-material is brick; and the houses have their gables towards the streets, which gives them a picturesque appearance. The defences of Amsterdam now consist in a row of detached forts, and in the sluices, several miles distant from the city, which can flood (save in time of frost) the surrounding land.
The population, which from 217,024 in 1794, sank to 180,179 in 1815, rose to upwards of 538,000 in 1902, of whom the majority belong to the Dutch Reformed Church. The chief industrial establishments are sugar refineries, engineering works, mills for polishing diamonds and other precious stones, dockyards, manufactories of sails, ropes, tobacco, silks, gold and silver plate and jewelry, colours and chemicals, breweries, distilleries, with export houses for corn and colonial produce; cotton-spinning, book-printing, and type-founding are also carried on. The present Bank of the Netherlands dates from 1824, Amsterdam's famous bank of 1609 having been dissolved in 1796.
The former Stadhuis ('Townhouse'), converted in 1808 into a palace for King Louis Bonaparte, and still retained by the reigning family, is a noble structure of 1648-55, 282 feet long, and 235 broad, with a round tower rising 182 feet. It has a hall, 120 feet long, 57 wide, and 90 high, lined with white Italian marble. The cruciform Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), a Gothic edifice of 1408-14, has a splendidly carved pulpit, and the tombs of Admiral de Ruyter and Vondel. The 14th-century Old Church (Oude Kerk) is rich in painted glass, has a grand organ, and contains several monuments of naval heroes. Literature and science are represented by a university supported by the municipal principality, museums and picture-galleries, a botanical garden, several theatres, etc. The new Ryksmuseum contains a truly national collection of paintings, its choicest treasure Rembrandt's 'Night-guard.' Rembrandt made Amsterdam his home; and his statue (1852) now fronts the house he occupied. Spinoza was a native. A water-supply was introduced in 1853.