The Netherlands

The Netherlands (Nederland), at times called with the general though not exact name "Holland" is surrounded to the south by Belgium, to the east by Germany and to the north-west by the North Sea.

In short

Area: 41,526 km² -- Population: about 16 million -- Density: 386 inhabitants per km² -- Government: Constitutional monarchy -- Capital: Amsterdam -- Languages: Dutch -- Religion: protestant in the north, catholic in the south -- Currency: Euro -- International phone code: +31 -- Car plate: NL -- Internet suffix: .nl -- Member of: U.N.O. since 1945 (founding member); the EU since 1958 (founding member)


Administrative division

The Netherlands is divided into 12 provinces:
North Brabant (Noord Brabant), with capital Den Bosch; Drenthe, with capital Assen; Flevoland, with capital Lelystad; Friesland, with capital Leeuwarden; Gelderland, with capital Arnhem; Groningen, with capital Groninga; Limburg, with capital Maastricht; South Holland (Zuid Holland), with capital L'Aia; North Holland (Noord Holland), with capital Haarlem; Overijssel, with capital Zwolle; Utrecht (Utrecht), with capital Utrecht; Zeeland, with capital Middelburg.

The country includes politically, as autonomous territories, the Dutch Antilles (Curaçao, Bonaire, Saba, Sint Eustatius, and the southern part of Sint Maarten) and the island of Aruba in the Caribbean Sea.

The Territory

Main characteristic of Dutch geography is the flatness of the territory, with approximately 50% of the surface at least 1 meter below sea level. Dunes and dikes (levees) along the coastline and the banks of the main rivers protect these areas from being flooded. A large part of the territory is occupied by a gently sloping plain from the Ardennes down to the sea with very large areas under sea level. The main rivers are the Rhein and the Meuse. The coasts are low and uniform, with the West Frisian Islands spread in a curve almost parallel to the coastline The climate of the Low Countries oceanic, more temperate near the sea, continental in the hinterland.

The Population

The Dutch were skillful navigators and merchants; among the first in Europe to organize trade sharing ships, men and money. In the Low Countries population density is among the highest in Europe, but also the quality of life is very high. A large part of the population live in the areas includes among Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht, an area that in the last few years has become one single great conurbation called Randstad, that is ring-city.

The symbol of the Low Countries is the tulip, but all flowers are cultivated in abundance, and in the cities or the small villages it is not uncommon to see multicolored flower markets. The Netherlands enjoys a good energy self-sufficiency thanks to methane resources, which allowed the growth of a great many industries, as the famous Philips.


In the 1st century B.C. the south of the Netherlands was conquered by Julius Cesar and was the frontier of the Roman Empire until its fall in the 5th century AD. Subsequently the area was inhabited by the Saxons and the Franks. In the 8th century it became part of the Sacred Roman Empire founded by Charlemagne, and at the time it was subdivided into several semi-independent fiefdoms, passing finally under the direct control of the imperial family of the Hapsburg.

The cities and places of interest

Amsterdam (over 1.1 million inhabitants), the Dutch capital, rises on over 100 islands connected by approximately 400 bridges, for which it is nicknamed "Northern Venice", and among its most unique attractions is the famous floating flower market. Amsterdam is the cultural center of the Netherlands, with great activity in the arts, dance, music and the theatre. Museums are a great attraction as well: the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk Museum (dedicated to the contemporary art), the historical museum, the Jewish museum, the nautical museum (Scheppvartsmuseum) and the Madame Tussaud Museum. In the Jewish district it is possible to visit Anna Frank's house.

For lovers of nature and animals there is the Botanical Garden, an oasis in the city that goes back to the 17th century and counting today over 6,000 species from all over the world, the Amsterdam Zoo of, called Artis, or also go for walks into the Dutch countryside to the discovery of splendid ancient mills which were once used to power hydraulic pumps; and there is also national festival devoted to windmills, on May 11th.

Alkmaar is a city in North Holland where every week a cheese marketis kept (Edam and Gouda are the traditional Dutch cheeses).

Other important centers are Rotterdam, whose port is among the first in the world for the volume of goods in transit, that also has renowned museums as the Boijmans-van Beuningen Museum, the Historisch Museum, and the Volkenkundig Museum. The Hague rises 4 meters under sea level and is protect by dikes; here is the seat of the government and the residents of the monarchy.

World Heritage Sites

Schokland and Surroundings * Defence Line of Amsterdam * Historic Area of Willemstad, Inner City and Harbour, Netherlands Antilles * Mill Network at Kinderdijk-Elshout * Ir.D.F. Woudagemaal (D.F. Wouda Steam Pumping Station) * Droogmakerij de Beemster (Beemster Polder) * Rietveld Schröderhuis (Rietveld Schröder House)