Amsterdam’s name tells us a lot about its origins. The original name of the city was Amstel Dam ; since the first 12th century settlement was located by a dam on the River Amstel. The site of that dam is in Dam Square, just near Centraal Station. At first Amsterdam was little more than some fishing villages, but by the early 1300s it had achieved city status and the reclamation of land in the area had begun. At that time, what now constitutes the Netherlands was a group of duchies and countships that correspond approximately to the modern provinces of the Netherlands. In the 16th century much of the region was conquered by the Spanish, which ultimately sparked an uprising led by William of Orange that resulted in the Eighty Years War. Eventually the Dutch regained their independence and formed a Republic. Following this was the era in the 17th century regarded as the Golden Age of the city. The Netherlands gained many overseas colonies and grew wealthy through trade. As a result of this trade Amsterdam became one of the world’s leading cities, and Europe’s principal port. It was during this era that the city’s most famous canals: Herengracht, Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht, were constructed.
The Netherlands’ power and influence declined somewhat following ruinous wars with Great Britain and France. During the Napoleonic Era, Amsterdam was occupied by the French and Napoleon Bonaparte appointed one of his cousins as the ruler of the country, and Amsterdam briefly became the capital. Following the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the United Kingdom of the Netherlands was formed, leading to a second Golden Age in Amsterdam. Many major buildings were constructed and two canals, linking the city to the Rhine and the North Sea, were constructed.
The Netherlands remained neutral during the First World War, however their neutrality was not recognised in the Second World War and the city was occupied by Hitler’s forces from May 1940 to May 1945. Following the war many new suburbs were built around Amsterdam as the population expanded. Some attempts were made to modernise the city centre, however these met with objections and so the old parts of the city have mostly been preserved.