Country Profile: The Netherlands
Total Area41, 526 sq km
Population16,645,313, 0.4% growth rate, 491 density per sq km.
Capital CityAmsterdam, 737, 900
ReligionRoman Catholic 31%, Dutch Reformed 13%
National HolidayQueen's Day, April 30
ClimateContinental, temperate, mild winters, warm summers
Economic SummaryGDP: $638.5 billion
Major industries: agroindustries, metal, electrical machinery, chemicals, petroleum, fishing
Natural resources natural gas, petroleum, arable land.
Major trading partnersBelgium, Germany, UK, US, France, Italy, Russia, China
The Netherlands was a founding member of the EU, and also a member of OECD, NATO and has signed the Kyoto protocol. Its economy is wealthy, and its industries are focused on food production, electronics, chemicals and petroleum refining. Its economy is the 16th largest in the world. Tourism is also a very important industry, as it is the fifth most visited country in Europe. Netherlands houses one of the largest natural gas fields in the world, and agriculture - for example the exportation of tomatoes and peppers - also makes up a large percentage of the economy.
In 1579, the northern part of the Seventeen Provinces formed the Union of Utrecht, and this was the formation of the Netherlands. After independence from Philip II, seven provinces formed the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. Otherwise known as the Dutch Republic, by the 17th century, in its Golden Age, Holland was one of the leading economic and seafaring powers, its empire extended over the globe and its population increased from 1.5 to 2 million. The Netherlands is consiered by many to be the first capitalist country in the world, with Amsterdam the wealthiest trading city, housing the first full-time stock exchange.
In 1795, with the flight of William of Orange to England, the Batavian Republic was proclaimed, making Holland a unitary state, and republic after the model of the French Republic. Napoleon set up the Kingdom of Holland and between 1810 and 1813 (when Napoleon was defeated at the Battle of Leipzig), Holland fell under the French Empire.
In 1815, the United Kingdom of the Netherlands was formed, but by 1830 the union between Holland and Belgium was severed. During this time, the Netherlands possessed several colonies abroad, such as the Dutch East Indies - now Indonesia - and Suriname, which were administered by the Dutch East and West India Companies.
Holland remained neutral during World War I because of their diplomacy and ability to trade. They intented to remain neutral in World War II, however they were invaded by Nazi Germany. Under occupation, over 100 000 Dutch Jews were sent to concentration camps. Anne Frank gained notoriety for her diary, written while in hiding from the Germans in a house in Amsterdam, but later sent, with the rest of her family, to concentration camps.
After the war, Dutch economy thrived, with the Netherlands becoming one of the founding countries of Benelux - made up of Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg. The 60s and 70s were a time of great social and cultural revolution, with youth movements pushing for changes in women's rights, sexual issues, disarmament and environmental issues. Today, Holland is famed for its liberal nature, being one of the only countries where euthanasia is legalised, and same-sex marriage has been allowed since 2001.
Amsterdam hosts millions of tourists every year who flock there to visit its infamous red light district and coffeeshops, as well as stereotyped items such as windmills, clogs, Delftware and cheese. However, apart from the sex and drugs trade, the Netherlands, and Amsterdam in particular, has a thriving cultural life, boasting attractions such as the vast Rijksmuseum, with more than 7 million items in its collection, the Van Gogh museum, Rembrandt and Anne Frank houses, as well as the Mauritshuis in the Haag. The Netherlands also has several beach resorts, and though a small country, has many small towns of interest, such as the historical town of Leiden, not to mention the famed wide, tree-lined streets with grand 17th century architecture overlooking the linking canal systems of its chief cities.
The official language of the Netherlands is Dutch, which bears many similarities to both German and English. However, almost all of the population, especially in Amsterdam, speak fluent English. Another official language is West Frisian, which is spoken in the northern province of Friesland. As well as the 70% of the population that speak English, 55-59% of Dutch people also speak German.
Literature flourished during the Dutch Golden Age. As well as philosophers such as Erasmus and Spinoza, and much of Descartes' great works being written in the country, Joost van den Vondel and P.C. Hooft were famed writers of the 17th century. Important 20th century authors include Mulisch, Wolkers, Nooteboom and Frederik Hermans. Anne Frank's Diary, published after her death has been published in every language worldwide.
Foremost amongst the Dutch Masters is Rembrandt van Rijn, whose paintings were characterised by sombre, proto-impressionistic backgrounds and staggeringly revelatory portraits using the chiaroscuro effects of light and dark. Dutch painters after him specialised in striking use of light, for example Vermeer who often depicted characters standing in beams of light, and other interior painters such as Jan Steen who captured still and quiet snapshops of the minutiae of Dutch life in the 17th century. Another important trend in Dutch painting is landscapes, with painters such as Ruysdael evoking the huge sky-scapes of a country known for its flatness. Famous graphic artist M.C. Escher was from the Netherlands, as were Vincent van Gogh and de Stijl painter Piet Mondrian. Much 20th century Dutch art can be seen in the Gemeentemuseum in the Haag.
Dutch cooking has been the subject of many cruel jokes by other European countries, but in reality, like many other countries on the continent, it borrows dishes from key countries such as Italy, Germany and France. There is more to Dutch cooking than the cheese and ham toastie, though this is perhaps not known by the millions of tourists who visit the capital every year. For example, there are a variety of fine Dutch cheeses such as Edam and Gouda, and many pancake-houses which serve both sweet and savoury Dutch pancakes. A favourite drink is the Dutch gin Jenever, which has two types, old and new, and is drunk as an accompaniment to beer.
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