A ‘Dam’ Fine History Lesson!

Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it, or otherwise just not know as many neat factoids about the areas they travel while visiting around the world as they perhaps should. Whether it be doom or ignorance, I’m here to help cure the ailment. Today I talk about Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, whose rich history is perfectly paired with its artistry!

The origins of Amsterdam make perfect sense, given its name. In the latter half of the 12th century locals of the river Amstel built a bridge over and a dam across the river, thus the name ‘Aemstelredamme.” The name is quite literal! An important year in the city’s long history is 1275. The ruling Count of Holland granted traders, sailors, and fishermen exemption from the high tolls all across the region. This gave the citizens the right to travel freely throughout the land without having to pay any tolls at bridges, locks, and dams. The richness of the city can be traced back to this granting of rights because merchants from all over Europe could come to the city and sell their wares at a more competitive rate than anywhere else. Amsterdam is a rather young city compared to many of the other cities in the Netherlands, not being granted city status until early in 14th century. After the miracle of Amsterdam occurred Amsterdam saw many pilgrimages from the Roman Catholic Church in order to celebrate it. The city has suffered through two major fires, one in 1421 and one in 1452. After the second one, where three quarters of the city was destroyed, the Emperor at the time ordered it to be rebuilt.

In the 16th century the Dutch rebelled against the king of Spain, Philip II. One of the main issues of concern, outside of the lack of political power for local nobility, was the Spanish’s marked intolerance when it came to religion. The Dutch believed, and to this day still believe, in the free exercise of religion and chuffed at the attitude shown by the king. As the religious wars raged through Europe over the decades many religious groups sought refuge due to the great tolerance of the Dutch. The 17th century marked what is considered to be Amsterdam’s Golden Age. Ships from the city sailed to locations all across the globe and by doing so established a worldwide trading network. The merchants of the city, incredibly wealthy as they were, financed expeditions all over the world and acquired possessions which would later form the basis for the Dutch colonies.


No discussion of Amsterdam can be completed without talking about two of its most important artists. Rembrandt, born in 1606, is widely regarded as one of the best painters to have ever lived. One of the characteristics of his work was the theatrical employment of both light and shadow in his works to express the mood of the painting. He had a flair for the dramatic as well, and his compassion for mankind shone through in his work. Vincent Van Gogh was born in 1853 and his life was always a struggle. The horrors of mental illness always seemed to be awaiting around the corner for young Vincent, whose anxiety dogged him at every step. Critics note that while his early work is marred by his inconsistency, his later work has a sense of control that speaks to a man who was able to keep his demons at bay, even if only for a time. One of his finest works is the Starry Night, pictured above, which is considered by many to be one of the most recognizable additions to the Western culture.

Amsterdam has a lot of history at its back, as well as people who have made the Dutch people synonymous with cultural impact. We are very pleased to be able to take you there as part of our taste of Europe pre tour, which leads you into the Drag Stars at Sea: Europe Allstars! For all of the information about this great trip, go here.