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Holland is a name in common usage given to two regions in the western part of the Netherlands. The name 'Holland' is also often mistakenly used to refer to the whole of The Netherlands. From the 10th century to the 16th century it was a unified political region ruled by the Count of Holland. By the 17th century, Holland had risen to become a maritime and economic power, dominating other parts of The Netherlands. Today, the former County of Holland consists of the two Dutch provinces of North Holland and South Holland.

The name Holland first appeared in sources in 866 for the region around Haarlem, and by 1064 was being used as the name of the entire county. By this time, the inhabitants of Holland were referring to themselves as ‘Hollanders’. Holland is derived from the Middle Dutch term holtland (‘wooded land’). This spelling variation remained in use until around the 14th century, at which time the name stabilised as Holland (alternative spellings at the time were Hollant and Hollandt). Popular, but incorrect, etymology holds that Holland is derived from hol land (‘hollow land’) and was inspired by the low-lying geography of Holland.

The proper name of the area in both Dutch and English is ‘Holland’. ‘Holland’ is a part of the Netherlands. ‘Holland’ is informally and quite incorrectly used in English and other languages, including sometimes the Dutch language itself, to mean the whole of the modern country of the Netherlands (this example of pars pro toto or synecdoche is similar to the tendency to refer to the United Kingdom as ‘England’).

The people of Holland are referred to as ‘Hollanders’ in both Dutch and English. Today this refers specifically to people from the current provinces of North Holland and South Holland. Strictly speaking, the term ‘Hollanders’ does not refer to people from the other provinces in the Netherlands, but colloquially ‘Hollanders’ is sometimes mistakenly used in this wider sense.

When referring to the Netherlands as a whole, the adjective is ‘Dutch’. ‘Dutch’ is not used as an adjective for ‘Holland’ in a modern context because ‘Dutch’ refers to all of the Netherlands, not just Holland. However, there is a good deal of confusion about this. In actual practice, the adjective ‘Dutch’ is often (but somewhat inaccurately) used in the specific context of Holland.

In Dutch, the Dutch word ‘Hollands’ is the adjectival form for ‘Holland’, but in English there is no commonly used adjective for ‘Holland’. ‘Hollands’ is ordinarily expressed in English in two ways:

* a possessive construction (e.g. ‘Holland's economic power’); or
* an ‘of Holland’ or ‘from Holland’ construction (e.g. ‘the Maid of Holland’; ‘a girl from Holland’).

The following usages apply in certain limited situations but do not ordinarily serve as the English equivalent of the commonly used Dutch adjective ‘Hollands’.

* Occasionally, the noun ‘Holland’ is used in apposition (e.g. ‘the Holland Society’).
* The adjective ‘Hollandic’ is occasionally used by some historians and other academic writers as an adjective for Holland. Historians who use the word tend to reserve it to pre-Napoleonic Holland. Hollandic is also the name linguists give to the dialect spoken in Holland.
* Historically the English word ‘Dutch’ had a different, broader meaning that could occasionally include ‘Hollands’.
* The adjective ‘Hollandish’ is a word in English but is currently no longer in use.

Holland is situated in the west of the Netherlands. A maritime water-oriented region, Holland lies on the North Sea at the mouths of the Rhine and the Meuse (Maas). It has numerous rivers and lakes and an extensive inland canal and waterway system. To the south is Zealand. The region is bordered on the east by the IJsselmeer and four different provinces of the Netherlands.

Holland is protected from the sea by a long line of coastal dunes. Most of the land area behind the dunes consists of polder landscape lying well below sea level. At present the lowest point in Holland is a polder near Rotterdam, which is about seven meters below sea level. Continuous drainage is necessary to keep Holland from flooding. In earlier centuries windmills were used for this task. The landscape was (and in places still is) dotted with windmills, which have become a symbol of Holland.

Holland is 7,494 square kilometres (land and water included), making it roughly 13% of the area of the Netherlands. Looking at land alone, it is 5,488 square kilometres in size. The combined population is 6.1 million.

The main cities in Holland are Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. Amsterdam is formally the capital of the Netherlands and its most important city. The Port of Rotterdam is Europe's largest and most important harbour and port. The Hague is the seat of government of the Netherlands. These cities, combined with Utrecht and other smaller municipalities, effectively form a single city - a conurbation called Randstad.

The Randstad area is one of the most densely populated regions of Europe, but still relatively free of urban sprawl. There are strict zoning laws. Population pressures are enormous, property values are high, and new housing is constantly under development on the edges of the built-up areas. Surprisingly, much of the province still has a rural character. The remaining agricultural land and natural areas are highly valued and protected. Most of the arable land is used for intensive agriculture, including horticulture and greenhouse agri-businesses.

The language primarily spoken in Holland is Dutch. Hollanders often refer to the Dutch language as ‘Hollands’.

The standard Dutch that is spoken in the Netherlands is mostly based on the Dutch spoken in Holland; however, there are many local variations in dialect throughout the Netherlands.

Despite the correspondence between standard Dutch and the Dutch spoken in Holland, there are local variations within Holland itself that differ from standard Dutch. The main cities each have their own traditional dialect. A small number of people, especially in the area north of Amsterdam, still speak what is considered to be an original, older dialect, called ‘Hollandic’. The areas where people still speak with the Hollandic dialect are Volendam and Marken and the area around there, West Friesland and the Zaanstreek.

Territory and political structure
‘Holland’ is not in itself a province of the Netherlands. It is divided into two provinces of the Netherlands -- North Holland (Noord-Holland) and South Holland (Zuid-Holland). These provinces were created in 1840 largely because it was unacceptable for Holland to remain such an overwhelmingly large and powerful province in comparison to the other provinces. A few regions that were historically part of Holland have been ceded to other provinces.

* Some cessions occurred as a result of reforms during the French occupation (1795-1813).
* In 1818 Willemstad and surroundings, the Biesbosch and the Land van Altena became part of the province of North Brabant.
* In 1942, after the Battle of the Netherlands, the Germans transferred the islands of Vlieland and Terschelling to the province of Friesland. This was not changed back after World War II.
* In 1950, the island of Urk went to the province of Overijssel and then in 1986 to the province of Flevoland.
* In 1970 Oudewater was transferred from South Holland to the province of Utrecht.
* In 1989 Woerden was transferred from South Holland to the province of Utrecht.
* In 2002 Vianen was transferred from South Holland to the province of Utrecht.
* The municipality of Eemnes has a co-operation with Laren and Blaricum. They are collectively referred to as the ‘BEL region’.

Some territory was gained:
* In 1989 Woerdense Verlaat and Vrouwenakker were transferred from the province of Utrecht to South Holland
* In 2000 Loosdrecht in the province of Utrecht, was merged with 's-Graveland and Kortenhoef, both in the province of North Holland.

Each of the provinces in the Netherlands has a history that deserves full attention on its own. However, to a certain extent at least, the history of Holland is the history of the Netherlands, and vice versa. See the article on ‘History of the Netherlands’ for a more detailed history. The article here focuses on those points that are specific to Holland itself or that highlight the nature of the role played by Holland in the Netherlands as a whole.

Reclamation of the land
The land that is now Holland had never been stable. Historical maps of Holland bear little resemblance to the maps of today. Over the millennia the geography of the region had been dynamic. The western coastline shifted up to thirty kilometres to the east and storm surges regularly wreaked havoc with the coastline. The coastline was constantly changing. The Frisian Isles, originally joined to the mainland, became detached islands in the north. At some point the sea broke a natural barrier and rushed in to fill in the area that used to be called the Zuiderzee (now the IJsselmeer). The main rivers, the Rhine and the Meuse (Maas), flooded regularly and changed course repeatedly and dramatically.

The people of Holland found themselves living in an unstable, watery environment. Behind the row of coastal dunes a peat plateau had grown. Much of the area was marsh and bog. The inhabitants set about cultivating this land by draining it. By the tenth century this area was brought under cultivation. The drainage however resulted in extreme soil shrinkage, lowering the surface of the land by up to fifteen metres.
Benthuizen polder, seen from a dike

This combination of factors threatened the inhabitants. There were catastrophic floods that literally washed away entire regions and killed thousands. The early inhabitants understood that human intervention was needed to save the land. The counts and large monasteries took the lead in these efforts, building the first heavy emergency dikes to bolster critical points. Later special administrative bodies were formed, the waterschappen (‘water control boards’), which had the power to enforce their decisions on water management. As the centuries went by, they eventually constructed an extensive dike system that covered the coastline and the polders, thus protecting the land from further incursions by the sea.

However, the Hollanders did not stop there. Starting around the 16th century, they took the offensive and began land reclamation projects, converting lakes and marshy areas into polders. This continued right into the 20th century.

This ongoing struggle to master the water played an important role in the development of Holland as a maritime and economic power and in the development of the character of the people of Holland.

County of Holland
Until the 9th century, the inhabitants of the area that became Holland were Frisians. The area was part of Frisia. At the end of the 9th century, Holland became a separate county in the Holy Roman Empire. The first count of Holland known about with certainty was Dirk I, who ruled (also as count of Frisia) from 896 to 931. He was succeeded by a long line of counts in the House of Holland. When John I, count of Holland, died childless in 1299, the county was inherited by John II of Avesnes, count of Hainaut. By the time of Willian V (House of Wittelsbach; 1354-1388) the count of Holland was also the count of Hainaut, Flanders and Zealand.

‘De Staten van Hollandt ende West-Vrieslandt...’ (1654)

In this time a part of Frisia, West Friesland, was conquered (as a result, most provincial institutions, including the States of Holland and West Frisia, would for centuries refer to ‘Holland and West Frisia’ as a unit). The Hook and Cod wars started around this time and ended when the countess of Holland, Jacoba or Jacqueline was forced to give up Holland to the Burgundian Philip I in 1432.

The last count of Holland was Philip III, better known as Philip II king of Spain. He was abolished in 1581 by the socalled Act of Abjuration, although the kings of Spain continued to carry the titular title of count of Holland until the Peace of Münster signed in 1648.

Holland's prominence in the United Provinces and Dutch Republic
In 1432 Holland became part of the Burgundian Netherlands and since 1477 of the Habsburg Seventeen Provinces. In the 16th century the region became more densely urbanised, with the majority of the population living in cities. Within the Burgundian Netherlands, Holland was the dominant province in the north; the political influence of Holland largely determined the extent of Burgundian dominion in that area.
Comitatus Hollandiae (1682)

In the Dutch Rebellion against the Habsburgs during the Eighty Years' War, the naval forces of the rebels, the Watergeuzen, established their first permanent base in 1572 in the town of Brill. In this way, Holland, now a sovereign state in a larger Dutch confederation, became the centre of the rebellion. It became the cultural, political and economic centre of the United Provinces in the 17th century Dutch Golden Age, the wealthiest nation in the world. After the King of Spain was deposed as the count of Holland, the executive and legislative power rested with the States of Holland, which was led by a political figure who held the office of Grand Pensionary.

The largest cities in the Dutch Republic were in the province of Holland such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Leiden, Alkmaar, The Hague, Delft, Dordrecht and Haarlem. From the great ports of Holland, Hollandic merchants sailed to and from destinations all over Europe, and merchants from all over Europe gathered to trade in the warehouses of Amsterdam and other trading cities of Holland.

Many Europeans thought of the United Provinces first as ‘Holland’ rather than as the ‘Republic of the Seven United Provinces of the Netherlands’. A strong impression of ‘Holland’ was planted in the minds of other Europeans, which then was projected back onto the Republic as a whole. Within the provinces themselves, a gradual slow process of cultural expansion took place, leading to a ‘Hollandification’ of the other provinces and a more uniform culture for the whole of the Republic. The dialect of urban Holland became the standard language.

Kingdom of Holland
The formation of the Batavian Republic, inspired by the French revolution, led to a more centralised government. Holland became a province of a unitary state. Its independence was further reduced by an administrative reform in 1798, in which its territory was divided into several departments called Amstel, Delf, Texel, and part of Schelde en Maas.

From 1806 to 1810 Napoleon styled his vassal state, governed by his brother Louis Napoleon and shortly by the son of Louis, Napoleon Louis Bonaparte, as the ‘Kingdom of Holland’. This kingdom encompassed much of what would become the modern Netherlands. The name reflects how natural at the time it had become to equate Holland with the non-belgian Netherlands as a whole.

During the period the Low Countries were annexed by the French Empire and actually incorporated into France (from 1810 to 1813), Holland was divided into the départements Zuyderzée and Bouches-de-la-Meuse.

After 1813, Holland was restored as a province of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Holland was divided into the present provinces North Holland and South Holland in 1840, after the Belgian Revolution of 1830. This reflected an historical division of Holland along the IJ into a Southern Quarter (Zuiderkwartier) and a Northern Quarter (Noorderkwartier).

From 1850 a strong process of nation formation took place, the Netherlands being culturally unified and economically integrated by a modernisation process, with the cities of Holland at its centre.

The image of Holland at home and abroad
The predominance of Holland in the Netherlands has resulted in regionalism on the part of the other provinces. This is a reaction to the perceived threat that Holland poses to the identities and local cultures of the other provinces. The other provinces have a strong, and often negative, image of Holland and the Hollanders, to whom certain qualities are ascribed.

Hollanders themselves, however, have a weak self-image. They take Holland's cultural dominance for granted. To them, the concepts of ‘Holland’ and the ‘Netherlands’ coincide. Consequently they see themselves not primarily as ‘Hollanders’, but simply as ‘Dutch’ (Nederlanders). This phenomenon is called ‘hollandocentrism’.

Holland tends to be associated with a particular image. The stereotypical image of Holland is an artificial amalgam of tulips, windmills, clogs, cheese and traditional dress (klederdracht). As is the case with many stereotypes, this is far from the truth and reality of life in Holland. This can at least in part be explained by the active exploitation of these stereotypes in promotions of Holland and the Netherlands. In fact only in a few of the more traditional villages, such as Volendam and locations in the Zaan area, are the different costumes and wooden shoes still worn by some inhabitants.


The Netherlands

The Netherlands is a country that is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It is a parliamentary democratic constitutional monarchy. The Netherlands is located in Northwestern Europe, and bordered by the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east. The capital is Amsterdam and the seat of government is The Hague.

The Netherlands is often called Holland, which is formally incorrect as North and South Holland are merely two of its twelve provinces (see terminology of 'the Netherlands'). The word Dutch is used to refer to the people, the language, and anything appertaining to the Netherlands.

Being one of the first parliamentary democracies, the Netherlands was a modern country at the moment of its very foundation, and it has always been open to the world. Today, the country has an international outlook. Among other affiliations the country is a founding member of the European Union (EU), NATO, the OECD, and has signed the Kyoto protocol. With Belgium and Luxembourg it forms the Benelux economic union. The country is host to five international courts: the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Court and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The former four are situated in The Hague as is the EU's criminal intelligence agency Europol. This has led to the city being dubbed 'the world's legal capital.'

The Netherlands is a geographically low-lying country, with about 27% of its area and 60% of its population located below sea level. Significant areas have been gained through land reclamation and preserved through an elaborate system of polders and dikes. Much of the Netherlands is formed by the estuary of three important European rivers, which together with their distributaries form the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta. Most of the country is very flat, with the exception of foothills of the Ardennes in the far south–east and several low-hill ranges in the central parts created by ice-age glaciers.

The Netherlands is a densely populated country. It is known for its traditional windmills, tulips, cheese, clogs (wooden shoes), delftware and gouda pottery, for its bicycles, and in addition, traditional values and civil virtues such as its classic social tolerance. The country is more recently known for its rather modern, liberal policies toward drugs, prostitution, homosexuality, and euthanasia. It also has one of the most free market capitalist economies in the world, ranking 13th of 157 countries on one index.

Under Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and king of Spain, the region was part of the Seventeen Provinces of the Netherlands, which also included most of present-day Belgium, Luxembourg, and some land of France and Germany. The year 1568 saw the start of the Eighty Years' War between the provinces and Spain. In 1579, the northern half of the Seventeen Provinces formed the Union of Utrecht, a treaty in which they promised to support each other in their defense against the Spanish army. The Union of Utrecht is seen as the foundation of the modern Netherlands. In 1581 the northern provinces adopted the Act of Abjuration, the declaration of independence in which the provinces officially deposed Philip II. Philip II the son of Charles V, was not prepared to let them go easily and war continued until 1648 when Spain under King Philip IV finally recognised the independence of the seven northwestern provinces in the Treaty of Münster. Parts of the southern provinces became de facto colonies of the new republican-mercantile empire.

Dutch Republic 1581–1795
Since their independence from Phillip II in 1581 seven provinces formed the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. The republic was a confederation of the provinces Holland, Zeeland, Groningen, Friesland, Utrecht, Overijssel and Gelre. All these provinces were autonomous and had their own government, the 'States of the Province'. The States-General, the confederal government, were seated in The Hague and consisted of representatives from each of the seven provinces. The very thinly populated region of Drenthe, mainly consisting of poor peatland, was part of the Republic too, although Drenthe was not considered one of the provinces. Drenthe had its own States but the landdrost of Drenthe was appointed by the States-General.

The Republic occupied a number of so-called Generality Lands (Generaliteitslanden in Dutch). These territories were governed directly by the States-General, so they did not have a government of their own and they did not have representatives in the States-General. Most of these territories were occupied during the Eighty Years' War. They were mainly Roman Catholic and they were used as a buffer zone between the Republic and the Southern Netherlands.

The Dutch grew to become one of the major seafaring and economic powers of the 17th century during the period of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. In the so-called Dutch Golden Age, colonies and trading posts were established all over the globe (see Dutch colonial empire). During the 17th century, the Dutch population increased from an estimated 1.5 million to almost 2 million.

Many economic historians regard the Netherlands as the first thoroughly capitalist country in the world. In early modern Europe it featured the wealthiest trading city (Amsterdam) and the first full-time stock exchange. The inventiveness of the traders led to insurance and retirement funds as well as such less benign phenomena as the boom-bust cycle, the world's first asset-inflation bubble, the tulip mania of 1636–1637, and according to Murray Sayle, the world's first bear raider - Isaac le Maire, who forced prices down by dumping stock and then buying it back at a discount. The republic went into a state of general decline in the later 18th century, with economic competition from England and long standing rivalries between the two main factions in Dutch society, the Staatsgezinden (Republicans) and the Prinsgezinden (Royalists or Orangists) as main factors.

Under French influence 1795–1815
Batavian Republic and Kingdom of Holland

On 19 January 1795, one day after stadtholder William V of Orange fled to England, the Bataafse Republiek (Batavian Republic) was proclaimed, rendering the Netherlands a unitary state. From 1795 to 1806, the Batavian Republic designated the Netherlands as a republic modelled after the French Republic.

From 1806 to 1810, the Koninkrijk Holland (Kingdom of Holland) was set up by Napoleon Bonaparte as a puppet kingdom governed by his third brother, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, in order to control the Netherlands more effectively. The name of the leading province, Holland, was now taken for the whole country. The Kingdom of Holland covered the area of the present day Netherlands, with the exception of Limburg, and parts of Zeeland, which were French territory. In 1807, Prussian East Frisia and Jever were added to the kingdom. In 1809 however, after an English invasion, Holland had to give over all territories south of the river Rhine to France.

King Louis Napoleon did not meet Napoleon's expectations—he tried to serve Dutch interests instead of his brother's—and the King had to abdicate on 1 July 1810. He was succeeded by his five year old son Napoleon Louis Bonaparte. Napoleon Louis reigned as Louis II for just ten days as Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte ignored his young nephew’s accession to the throne. The Emperor sent in an army to invade the country and dissolved the Kingdom of Holland. The Netherlands then became part of the French Empire.

From 1810 to 1813, when Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated in the battle of Leipzig, the Netherlands were part of the French Empire.

Kingdom of the Netherlands
In 1795 the last stadtholder William V of Orange fled to England. His son returned to the Netherlands in 1813 to become William I of the Netherlands, Sovereign Prince of the Netherlands. On 16 March 1815, the Sovereign Prince became King of the Netherlands.

In 1815, the Congress of Vienna formed the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, by expanding the Netherlands with Belgium in order to create a strong country on the northern border of France. In addition, William became hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg. The Congress of Vienna gave Luxembourg to William as personal property in exchange for his German possessions, Nassau-Dillenburg, Siegen, Hadamar and Diez.

An anachronous map of the Dutch Empire. Light green: territories administered by or originating from territories administered by the Dutch East India Company; dark green the Dutch West India Company.

Belgium rebelled and gained independence in 1830, while the personal union between Luxembourg and the Netherlands was severed in 1890, when King William III of the Netherlands died with no surviving male heirs. Ascendancy laws prevented his daughter Queen Wilhelmina from becoming the next Grand Duchess. Therefore the throne of Luxembourg passed over from the House of Orange-Nassau to the House of Nassau-Weilburg, another branch of the House of Nassau.

The largest Dutch settlement abroad was the Cape Colony. It was established by Jan van Riebeeck on behalf of the Dutch East India Company at Cape Town (Dutch: Kaapstad) in 1652. The Prince of Orange acquiesced to British occupation and control of the Cape Colony in 1788. The Netherlands also possessed several other colonies, but Dutch settlement in these lands was limited. Most notable were the vast Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and Suriname (the latter was traded with the British for New Amsterdam, now known as New York). These 'colonies' were first administered by the Dutch East India Company and the Dutch West India Company, both collective private enterprises. Three centuries later these companies got into financial trouble and the territories in which they operated were taken over by the Dutch government (in 1815 and 1791 respectively). Only then did they become official colonies.

During the 19th century, the Netherlands were slow to industrialize compared to neighbouring countries, mainly due to the great complexity involved in the modernizing of the infrastructure consisting largely of waterways and the great reliance its industry had on windpower.

Many historians do not recognise the Dutch involvement during World War I. However, recently historians started to change their opinion on the role of the Dutch. Although the Netherlands remained neutral during the war, it was heavily involved in the war. Count Schlieffen had originally planned to invade the Netherlands while advancing into France in the original Schlieffen Plan. This was changed by Helmuth von Moltke the Younger in order to maintain Dutch neutrality. Later during the war Dutch neutrality would prove essential to German survival up till the blockade integrated by the United States and Great Britain in 1916 when the import of goods through the Netherlands was no longer possible. However, the Dutch were able to remain neutral during the war using their diplomacy and their ability to trade.

World War II
The Netherlands remained neutral in World War I and intended to do so in World War II. There were, however, contingency plans involving the Belgian and French armies and Great Britain. However, Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands in 1940 in the Western European campaign of the Second World War. French recce forces in the south and British ships in the west came to help, but turned around quickly, evacuating many civilians and several thousand German prisoners of war from their elite airborne divisions. In spite of fierce fighting and victory in several local battles the country was overrun in five days, far longer than the German High Command and Hitler had planned for. Only after the bombing of Rotterdam, the army's main force surrendered on 14 May, although a Dutch/French allied force including Moroccan troops held the western part of Zeeland for some time after the surrender. The German Luftwaffe and Airborne regiments suffered very heavy losses. The Kingdom as such continued the war from the colonial empire; the government in exile resided in London.

During the occupation over 100,000 Dutch Jews were rounded up to be transported to Nazi concentration camps in Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia. By the time these camps were liberated, only 876 Dutch Jews survived. Dutch workers were conscripted for forced labour in German factories, civilians were killed in reprisal for attacks on German soldiers, and the countryside was plundered for food for German soldiers in the Netherlands and for shipment to Germany. Although there were many Dutch who risked their lives by hiding Jews from the Germans, as in the diary of Anne Frank, there were also Dutch who collaborated with the occupying force in hunting down hiding Jews. Local fascists and anti-Bolsheviks joined the Waffen-SS in the 4th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Brigade Netherlands, fighting on the Eastern Front as well as other units.

The government-in-exile lost control of its major colonial stronghold, the Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia), to Japanese forces in March 1942. 'American-British-Dutch-Australian' (ABDA) forces fought hard in some instances, but were overwhelmed. During the occupation, the Japanese interned Dutch civilians and used Dutch and Indos alike as forced labour, both in the Netherlands East Indies and in neighbouring countries. This included forcing women to work as 'comfort women' (sex slaves) for Japanese personnel. Some military personnel escaped to Australia and other Allied countries from where they carried on the fight against Japan. The Japanese furthered the cause of independence for the colony, so that after VE day many young Dutchmen found themselves fighting a colonial war against the new republic of Indonesia.

Recent history
The Netherlands are a founding member state of the European Union and its predecessor entities

After the war, the Dutch economy prospered by leaving behind an era of neutrality and gaining closer ties with neighbouring states. The Netherlands was one of the founding members of the Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) grouping and was among the twelve founding members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and among the six founding members of the European Coal and Steel Community, which would later evolve, via the EEC (Common Market), into the European Union.

The last major flood in the Netherlands took place in early February 1953, when a huge storm caused the collapse of several dikes in the southwest of the Netherlands. More than 1,800 people drowned in the ensuing inundations. The Dutch government subsequently decided on a large-scale programme of public works (the 'Delta Works') to protect the country against future flooding. The project took more than thirty years to complete. According to Dutch government engineers, the odds of a major inundation anywhere in the Netherlands are now 1 in 10,000 per year. Following the disaster with hurricane Katrina in 2005, an American congressional delegation visited the Netherlands to inspect the Delta Works and Dutch government engineers were invited to a hearing of the United States Congress to explain the Netherlands' efforts to protect low-lying areas.

The 60s and 70s were a time of great social and cultural change, such as rapid ontzuiling (literally: depillarisation), a term that describes the decay of the old divisions along class and religious lines. Youths, and students in particular, rejected traditional mores, and pushed for change in matters like women's rights, sexuality, disarmament and environmental issues. Today, the Netherlands is regarded as a liberal country, considering its drugs policy and its legalisation of euthanasia. Same-sex marriage has been permitted since 1 April 2001.

The country is divided into two main parts by three large rivers, the Rhine (Rijn) and its main distributary Waal, as well as the Meuse (Maas). These rivers function as a natural barrier between earlier fiefdoms, and hence created traditionally a cultural divide, as is evident in some phonetic traits that are recognisable north and south of these 'Large Rivers' (de Grote Rivieren). In addition to this, there was, until quite recently, a clear religious dominance of Catholics in the south and of Protestants in the north.

The south-western part of the Netherlands is actually a massive river delta of these rivers and two tributaries of the Scheldt (Westerschelde and Oosterschelde). Only one significant branch of the Rhine flows northeastwards, the IJssel river, discharging into the IJsselmeer, the former Zuiderzee ('southern sea'). This river also happens to form a linguistic divide. People to the east of this river speak Low Saxon dialects (except for the province of Friesland that has its own language).

In years past, the Dutch coastline has changed considerably as a result of human intervention and natural disasters. Most notable in terms of land loss is the 1134 storm, which created the archipelago of Zeeland in the south west. The St. Elizabeth flood of 1421 and the mismanagement in its aftermath destroyed a newly reclaimed polder, replacing it with the 72 square kilometres (28 sq mi) Biesbosch tidal floodplains in the south-centre. The most recent parts of Zeeland were flooded during the North Sea Flood of 1953 when 1,836 people were killed, after which the Delta Plan was executed.

The disasters were partially increased in severity through human influence. People had drained relatively high lying swampland to use it as farmland. This drainage caused the fertile peat to compress and the ground level to drop, locking the land users in a vicious circle whereby they would lower the water level to compensate for the drop in ground level, causing the underlying peat to compress even more. The problem remains unsolvable to this day. Also, up until the 19th century peat was mined, dried, and used for fuel, further adding to the problem.

To guard against floods, a series of defences against the water were contrived. In the first millennium AD, villages and farmhouses were built on man-made hills called terps. Later, these terps were connected by dykes. In the 12th century, local government agencies called 'waterschappen' (English 'water bodies') or 'hoogheemraadschappen' ('high home councils') started to appear, whose job it was to maintain the water level and to protect a region from floods. (These agencies exist to this day, performing the same function.) As the ground level dropped, the dykes by necessity grew and merged into an integrated system. By the 13th century, windmills had come into use in order to pump water out of areas below sea level. The windmills were later used to drain lakes, creating the famous polders. In 1932, the Afsluitdijk (English 'Closure Dyke') was completed, blocking the former Zuiderzee (Southern Sea) from the North Sea and thus creating the IJsselmeer (IJssel Lake). It became part of the larger Zuiderzee Works in which four polders totalling 2,500 km2 (965 mi2) were reclaimed from the sea.

Delta works
After the 1953 disaster, the Delta project, a vast construction effort designed to end the threat from the sea once and for all, was launched in 1958 and largely completed in 2002. The official goal of the Delta project was to reduce the risk of flooding in the province of Zeeland to once per 10,000 years. (For the rest of the country, the protection-level is once per 4,000 years.) This was achieved by raising 3,000 kilometres (1,864 miles) of outer sea-dykes and 10,000 kilometres (6,200 miles) of inner, canal, and river dikes to 'delta' height, and by closing off the sea estuaries of the Zeeland province. New risk assessments occasionally show problems requiring additional Delta project dyke reinforcements. The Delta project is one of the largest construction efforts in human history and is considered by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

Additionally, the Netherlands is one of the countries that may suffer most from climatic change. Not only is the rising sea a problem, but also erratic weather patterns may cause the rivers to overflow.

The predominant wind direction in the Netherlands is south-west, which causes a moderate maritime climate, with cool summers and mild winters. The following tables are based on mean measurements by the KNMI weather station in De Bilt between 1971 and 2000:

Further information: List of national parks of the Netherlands and List of extinct animals of the Netherlands.

The Netherlands has 20 national parks and hundreds of other nature reserves. Most are owned by Staatsbosbeheer and Natuurmonumenten and include lakes, heathland, woods, dunes and other habitats.

Phytogeographically, the Netherlands are shared between the Atlantic European and Central European provinces of the Circumboreal Region within the Boreal Kingdom. According to the WWF, the territory of the Netherlands belongs to the ecoregion of Atlantic mixed forests. In 1871 the last old original natural woods (Beekbergerwoud) were cut down and most woods today are planted monocultures of trees like Scots Pine and trees that are not native to the Netherlands. These woods were planted on anthropogenic heaths and sand-drifts (overgrazed heaths) (Veluwe).

The Netherlands has a prosperous and open economy in which the government has reduced its role since the 1980s. Industrial activity is predominantly in food-processing (for example Unilever and Heineken International), chemicals (for example DSM), petroleum refining (for example Royal Dutch Shell), and electrical machinery (for example Philips).

The Netherlands has the 16th largest economy in the world, and ranks 10th in GDP (nominal) per capita. Between 1998 and 2000 annual economic growth (GDP) averaged nearly 4%, well above the European average. Growth slowed considerably in 2001-05 due to the global economic slowdown, but accelerated to 4.1% in the third quarter of 2007. Inflation is 1.3% and is expected to stay low at around 1.5% in the coming years. Unemployment is at 4.0% of the labour force. By Eurostat standards however, unemployment in the Netherlands is at only 2.9% - the lowest rate of all European Union member states. The Netherlands also has a relatively low GINI coefficient of 0.326. Despite ranking only 10th in GDP per capita, UNICEF ranked the Netherlands 1st in child well-being. On the Index of Economic Freedom Netherlands is the 13th most free market capitalist economy out of 157 surveyed countries.

The Netherlands introduced the single European currency, the euro in 1999. It is one of the 16 states forming the Eurozone.

Amsterdam is the financial and business capital of the Netherlands. The Amsterdam Stock Exchange (AEX), nowadays part of Euronext, is the world's oldest stock exchange and is one of Europe's largest bourses. It is situated near Dam Square in the city's centre. As a founding member of the euro, the Netherlands replaced (for accounting purposes) its former currency, the 'Gulden' (guilder), on 1 January 1999, along with the other adopters of the single European currency. Actual euro coins and banknotes followed on 1 January 2002. One euro is equivalent to 2.20371 Dutch guilders.

The Netherlands' location gives it prime access to markets in the UK and Germany, with the port of Rotterdam being the largest port in Europe. Other important parts of the economy are international trade (Dutch colonialism started with cooperative private enterprises such as the VOC), banking and transport. The Netherlands successfully addressed the issue of public finances and stagnating job growth long before its European partners. Amsterdam is the 5th busiest tourist destination in Europe with more than 4.2 million international visitors.

The country continues to be one of the leading European nations for attracting foreign direct investment and is one of the five largest investors in the US. The economy experienced a slowdown in 2005 but in 2006 recovered to the fastest pace in six years on the back of increased exports and strong investment. The pace of job growth reached 10-year highs in 2007.

Infrastructure, agriculture and natural resources
Rotterdam has the largest port in Europe, with the rivers Meuse and Rhine providing excellent access to the hinterland upstream reaching to Basel, Switzerland and into France. In 2003 Singapore took over, and in 2005 Shanghai, as the world's busiest port. In 2006, Rotterdam was the world's seventh largest container port in terms of Twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) handled. The port's main activities are petrochemical industries and general cargo handling and transshipment. The harbour functions as an important transit point for bulk materials and between the European continent and overseas. From Rotterdam goods are transported by ship, river barge, train or road. In 2007, the Betuweroute, a new fast freight railway from Rotterdam to Germany, has been completed.

A highly mechanised agricultural sector employs no more than 4% of the labour force but provides large surpluses for the food-processing industry and for exports. The Dutch rank third worldwide in value of agricultural exports, behind the United States and France, with exports earning $55 billion annually. A significant portion of Dutch agricultural exports are derived from fresh-cut plants, flowers, and bulbs, with the Netherlands exporting two-thirds of the world's total. The Netherlands also exports a quarter of all world tomatoes, and one-third of the world's exports of peppers and cucumbers.

In the north of the Netherlands, near Slochteren, one of the largest natural gas fields in the world is situated. So far (2006) exploitation of this field resulted in a total revenue of €159 billion since the mid 1970s. With just over half of the reserves used up and an expected continued rise in oil prices, the revenues over the next few decades are expected to be at least that much.

The Netherlands has been a constitutional monarchy since 1815 and a parliamentary democracy since 1848; before that it had been a republic from 1581 to 1806, a kingdom between 1806 and 1810, and a part of France between 1810 and 1813. The Netherlands is described as a consociational state. Dutch politics and governance are characterised by an effort to achieve broad consensus on important issues, within both the political community and society as a whole. In 2007, The Economist ranked The Netherlands as the third most democratic country in the world.

The monarch is the head of state, at present Queen Beatrix. Constitutionally, the position is equipped with considerable powers, but in practice it has become a ceremonial function. The monarch can exert most influence during the formation of a new cabinet, where they serve as neutral arbiter between the political parties.

In practice, the executive power is formed by the ministerraad, the deliberative council of the Dutch cabinet. The cabinet consists usually of thirteen to sixteen ministers and a varying number of state secretaries. One to three ministers are ministers without portfolio. The head of government is the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, who often is the leader of the largest party of the coalition. In fact, this has been continuously the case since 1973. The Prime Minister is a primus inter pares, meaning he has no explicit powers beyond those of the other ministers.
The Binnenhof is the centre of Dutch politics.

The cabinet is responsible to the bicameral parliament, the States-General which also has legislative powers. The 150 members of the Second Chamber, the Lower House, are elected in direct elections, which are held every four years or after the fall of the cabinet (by example: when one of the chambers carries a motion of no-confidence, the cabinet offers her resignation to the monarch). The provincial assemblies are directly elected every four years as well. The members of the provincial assemblies elect the 75 members of the First Chamber, the upper house, which has less legislative powers, as it can merely reject laws, not propose or amend them.

Both trade unions and employers organisations are consulted beforehand in policymaking in the financial, economic and social areas. They meet regularly with government in the Social-Economic Council. This body advises government and its advice cannot be put aside easily.

While historically the Dutch foreign policy was characterised by neutrality, since the Second World War the Netherlands became a member of a large number of international organisations, most prominently the UN, NATO and the EU. The Dutch economy is very open and relies on international trade.

The Netherlands has a long tradition of social tolerance. In the 18th century, while the Dutch Reformed Church was the state religion, Catholicism and Judaism were tolerated. In the late 19th century this Dutch tradition of religious tolerance transformed into a system of pillarisation, in which religious groups coexisted separately and only interacted at the level of government. This tradition of tolerance is linked to the Dutch policies on recreational drugs, prostitution, LGBT rights, euthanasia, and abortion which are among the most liberal in the world.

Political parties
Due to the multi-party system no single party has ever held a majority in parliament since the 19th century, therefore coalition cabinets have to be formed. Since suffrage became universal in 1919 the Dutch political system has been dominated by three families of political parties: the strongest family were the Christian democrats currently represented by the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), second were the social democrats, of which the Labour Party (PvdA) is currently the largest party and third were the liberals of which the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) is the main representative. These cooperated in coalition cabinets in which the Christian democrats had always been partner: so either a centre left coalition of the Christian democrats and social democrats or a centre right coalition of Christian democrats and liberals. In the 1970s the party system became more volatile: the Christian democratic parties lost seats, while new parties, like the radical democrat and progressive liberal D66, became successful.

In the 1994 election the CDA lost its dominant position. A 'purple' cabinet was formed by the VVD, D66 and PvdA. In the 2002 elections this cabinet lost its majority, due to the rise of the LPF, a new political party around the flamboyant populist Pim Fortuyn, who was shot to death a week before the elections took place. The elections also saw increased support for the CDA. A short lived cabinet was formed by CDA, VVD and LPF, led by the leader of the Christian democrats, Jan Peter Balkenende. After the 2003 elections in which the LPF lost almost all its seats, a cabinet was formed by the CDA, the VVD and D66. The cabinet initiated an ambitious program of reforming the welfare state, the health care system and immigration policies.

In June 2006 the cabinet fell, as D66 voted in favour of a motion of no confidence against minister of immigration and integration Rita Verdonk in the aftermath of the upheaval about the asylum procedure of VVD MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali instigated by the Dutch immigration minister Verdonk. A care taker cabinet was formed by CDA and VVD, and the general elections were held on 22 November 2006. In these elections the Christian Democratic Appeal remained the largest party and the Socialist Party made the largest gains. The formation of a new cabinet started two days after the elections. Initial investigations toward a CDA-SP-PvdA coalition failed, after which a coalition of CDA, PvdA and ChristianUnion was formed.

Administrative divisions
The Netherlands is divided into twelve administrative regions, called provinces, each under a Governor, who is called Commissaris van de Koningin (Commissioner of the Queen), except for the province Limburg where the commissioner is called Gouverneur (Governor). All provinces are divided into municipalities (gemeenten), 458 in total (1 January 2006). The country is also subdivided in water districts, governed by a water board (waterschap or hoogheemraadschap), each having authority in matters concerning water management. As of 1 January 2005 there are 27. The creation of water boards actually pre-dates that of the nation itself, the first appearing in 1196. In fact, the Dutch water boards are one of the oldest democratic entities in the world still in existence.

Province Capital Largest city Area
Population Density
(per km2)
Drenthe Assen Assen 2,641 486,197 184
Flevoland Lelystad Almere 1,417 374,424 264
Friesland (Fryslân) Leeuwarden Leeuwarden 3,341 642,209 192
Gelderland Arnhem Nijmegen 4,971 1,979,059 398
Groningen Groningen Groningen 2,333 573,614 246
Limburg Maastricht Maastricht 2,150 1,127,805 525
North (Noord) Brabant Den Bosch Eindhoven 4,916 2,419,042 492
North (Noord) Holland Haarlem Amsterdam 2,671 2,613,070 978
Overijssel Zwolle Enschede 3,325 1,116,374 336
Utrecht Utrecht Utrecht 1,385 1,190,604 860
Zealand (Zeeland) Middelburg Middelburg 1,787 380,497 213
South (Zuid) Holland The Hague (Den Haag) Rotterdam 2,814 3,455,097 1228

The Netherlands is the 25th most densely populated country in the world, with 395 inhabitants per square kilometre (1,023 sq mi)—or 484 people per square kilometre (1,254/sq mi) if only the land area is counted.

The fertility rate in the Netherlands with 1.72 children per woman is high compared to many other European countries, but well below the 2.1-rate required for natural population replacement. Life expectancy is high in the Netherlands: 82 years for newborn girls and 77 for boys (2007). The Dutch people are amongst the tallest in the world, with an average height of about 1.85 m (6 ft 1 in) for adult males and 1.68 m (5 ft 6 in) for adult females. People in the south are on average about 2 cm shorter than those in the north.

The ethnic origins of the citizens of the Netherlands are diverse. Nevertheless, the majority still remains indigenous Dutch. A 2005 estimate counted:

1. 80.9% Dutch
2. 2.4% Indonesian (Indo-Dutch, South Moluccan)
3. 2.4% German
4. 2.2% Turkish
5. 2.0% Surinamese
6. 1.9% Moroccan
7. 0.8% Antillean and Aruban
8. 6.0% other

The Netherlands is a very densely populated country, although the cities are modest in size compared to international standards. It is not the size of the biggest cities, but the very high number of middle sized cities and towns, that accounts for the high degree of urbanisation. The capital and largest city is Amsterdam, although the government is located in The Hague. While the word capital is usually defined as the city of the government seat, no Dutchman would ever call The Hague the capital of The Netherlands.

The Randstad (literally 'Edge City') is a conurbation in the western part of the Netherlands. It consists of the four largest Dutch cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht), plus their surrounding areas. With its 7.5 million inhabitants (almost half of the population of the Netherlands; when other conurbations connected to this area are also taken into consideration, it would have a population a little over 10 million, almost two-thirds of the entire Dutch population) it is one of the largest conurbations in Europe. There is discussion to what extent the Randstad may form a single more integrated metropolis in the future. At this moment, urban structures between these cities are not yet developed to such a level that the Randstad could be considered a kind of distributed super-agglomeration.

Conurbation is not restricted to the Randstad alone, although the centre of gravity lies there. Quite typically, in the Netherlands there are many medium sized cities, but no truly large ones. Its largest city, Amsterdam with about 750,000 inhabitants in its own municipality, belongs to one of the smaller European capitals.

Ten largest cities
List of the most populous municipalities according to the Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek (central statistics agency) in 2006:

1. Amsterdam (North Holland) 744,740
2. Rotterdam (South Holland) 581,615
3. The Hague (Den Haag / 's-Gravenhage) (South Holland) 474,245
4. Utrecht (Utrecht) 294,742
5. Eindhoven (North Brabant) 209,601
6. Tilburg (North Brabant) 200,975
7. Almere (Flevoland) 183,738
8. Groningen (Groningen) 180,824
9. Breda (North Brabant) 170,451
10. Nijmegen (Gelderland) 160,732

However, municipality sizes alone do not reflect the degree of urbanisation in the Netherlands comprehensively. Many of the larger Dutch cities are the cores of a significantly larger urban agglomeration.

The official language is Dutch, which is spoken by a majority of the inhabitants, the exception being some groups of immigrants.

Another official language is West Frisian, which is spoken in the northern province of Friesland, called Fryslân in that language. West Frisian is co-official only in the province of Friesland, although with a few restrictions. Several dialects of Low Saxon (Nedersaksisch in Dutch) are spoken in much of the north and east, like the Twentse language in the Twente region, and are recognised by the Netherlands as regional languages according to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, as well as the Meuse-Rhenish Franconian varieties in the southeastern province of Limburg, here called Limburgish language.

There is a tradition of learning foreign languages in the Netherlands: about 70% of the total population have good knowledge of English, 55– 59% of German and 19% of French. Some Dutch secondary schools also teach Latin and Ancient Greek.

The Netherlands is one of the more secular countries in the Western Europe, with only 39% being religiously affiliated (31% for those aged under 35), although 62% are believers (but 40% of those not in the traditional sense). Fewer than 20% visit church regularly.

According to the most recent Eurobarometer Poll 2005, 34% of Dutch citizens responded that 'they believe there is a god', whereas 37% answered that 'they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force' and 27% that 'they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, god, or life force'.

In 1950, before the secularisation of Europe, and the large settlement of non-Europeans in the Netherlands, most Dutch citizens identified themselves as Christians. In 1950, out of a total population of almost 13 million, a total of 7,261,000 belonged to Protestant denominations, 3,703,000 belonged to the Roman Catholic Church, and 1,641,000 had no acknowledged religion.

However, Christian schools are still funded by the government, but the same applies for schools founded on other religions, Islam in particular. While all schools must meet strict quality criteria, from 1917 the freedom of schools is a basic principle in the Netherlands.

Three political parties in the Dutch parliament (CDA, ChristianUnion and SGP) base their policy on the Christian belief system. Although The Netherlands is a secular state, in some municipalities where the christian parties have the majority the council practices religion by praying before a meeting. Other municipalities in general also give civil servants a day off on a religious holiday, such as Easter and the Ascension of Jesus. On September 4th 2008, a discussion was started by Tineke Huizinga whether the Islam should receive a holiday, like Christianity. In 2005, 20% of the Dutch thought it should be a national holiday (which means the entire country receives a day off work or school) and 45% thought that Eid ul-Fitr should at least be recognized as a holiday.

The Netherlands has had many well-known painters. The 17th century, when the Dutch republic was prosperous, was the age of the 'Dutch Masters', such as Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, Jan Steen, Jacob van Ruysdael and many others. Famous Dutch painters of the 19th and 20th century were Vincent van Gogh and Piet Mondriaan. M. C. Escher is a well-known graphics artist. Willem de Kooning was born and trained in Rotterdam, although he is considered to have reached acclaim as an American artist. Han van Meegeren was an infamous Dutch art forger.

The Netherlands is the country of philosophers Erasmus of Rotterdam and Spinoza. All of Descartes' major work was done in the Netherlands. The Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens (1629–1695) discovered Saturn's moon Titan and invented the pendulum clock. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek was the first to observe and describe single-celled organisms with a microscope.

In the Dutch Golden Age, literature flourished as well, with Joost van den Vondel and P.C. Hooft as the two most famous writers. In the 19th century, Multatuli wrote about the bad treatment of the natives in Dutch colonies. Important 20th century authors include Harry Mulisch, Jan Wolkers, Simon Vestdijk, Cees Nooteboom, Gerard (van het) Reve and Willem Frederik Hermans. Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl was published after she died in The Holocaust and translated from Dutch to all major languages.

Replicas of Dutch buildings can be found in Huis ten Bosch, Nagasaki, Japan. A similar Holland Village is being built in Shenyang, China.

Windmills, tulips, wooden shoes, cheese and Delftware pottery are among the items associated with the Netherlands.

High schools in the Netherlands have three different educational levels of difficulty and differ in length. VMBO is the lowest level of high school education that only requires four years, whereas the medium level HAVO requires five years. Upon graduation on HAVO, the student can go to what is considered an equivalent to the US community college level in The Netherlands. The highest level of high school education is VWO and requires six years of schooling. Upon graduation, usually at age 18, the student will be able to attend four-year universities and colleges.

The Netherlands has one of the oldest standing armies in Western Europe; which army was first established as such by Maurice of Orange. The Dutch army was used throughout the Dutch empire. After the defeat of Napoleon, the Dutch army was transformed into a conscription army. The army was unsuccesfully deployed during the Belgian revolution in 1830. It was deployed mainly in the Dutch colonies, as the Netherlands remained neutral in European wars (including WWI), until the Netherlands were invaded, and quickly conquered by the Germans in May 1940.

After WWII, the Netherlands dropped their neutrality and the Dutch army became part of the NATO army strength in Cold War Europe; holding several bases in Germany. In 1996 conscription was ended, and the Dutch army was once again transformed into a professional army. Since the 1990s the Dutch army has been involved in the Bosnian war, the Kosovo war, has been holding a province in Iraq after the defeat of Saddam Hussain, and is currently engaged in Afghanistan.

The military is composed of four branches, all of which carry the prefix Koninklijke (Royal):

* Koninklijke Landmacht (KL), the Royal Netherlands Army
* Koninklijke Marine (KM), the Royal Netherlands Navy, including the Naval Air Service and Marine Corps
* Koninklijke Luchtmacht (KLu), the Royal Netherlands Air Force
* Koninklijke Marechaussee (KMar), the Royal Military Police, tasks include military police and border control

General Peter van Uhm is the current Chief of the Netherlands Defence Staff. All military specialities, except the Submarine service and Marine Corps (Korps Mariniers), are open to women. The Dutch Ministry of Defence employs almost 70,000 personnel, including over 20,000 civilian and over 50,000 military personnel.


Situated in northwestern Europe, with a western and northern coastline on the North Sea, the Netherlands is bordered by Germany to its east and Belgium to its south. About half the area of this low-lying nation is below sea level and the country is saved from inundation only by a series of coastal dikes and sand dunes, heavily planted with marram grass to prevent erosion, and a complex network of canals and waterways, into which excess water is pumped from low-lying areas and then carried to the rivers that flow to the coast. For centuries the Dutch have been engaged in battle with the sea, and have gradually reclaimed huge amounts of land from it. In the last century more than 3,000 sq km 0,000 sq miles) of land were added. The most spectacular reclamation was the Zuiderzee project that began in 1920 and was completed almost 50 years later.

In the first century BC the Germanic peoples of the Low Countries, which include present-day Belgium and Luxembourg, were colonized by Roman armies. From the fifth century AD the region came under the successive control of Frankish, Burgundian, Austrian, and finally, in the fifteenth century, Spanish rulers. In 1568, William of Orange, outraged by Spain's suppression of a spreading Protestant movement, led a revolt. In 1581 the seven northern provinces of the Low Countries declared their independence as the United Provinces of the Netherlands.

This set the scene for the consolidation and expansion of Dutch power throughout the seventeenth century. Trading posts and colonies were established in the East Indies (now Indonesia), the Caribbean (the Antilles), Africa, and South and North America. This period also saw the emergence of the Netherlands as a great maritime nation and a blossoming of Dutch art, literature, and scientific achievements.

The French, under Napoleon, invaded in 1794. After the defeat of France, the Congress of Vienna united the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg under a Dutch monarch in 1814. Belgium declared itself independent in 1831 and Luxembourg was granted autonomy in 1848. In 1848 a new constitution was introduced reducing the power of the monarch and investing greater authority in the Estates-General, as the parliament is still called. This laid the groundwork for the later emergence of a parliamentary democracy under a monarch with strictly formalized and limited powers.

The Netherlands remained neutral in the First World War and its neutrality was respected by both sides. In the Second World War it was overrun by Nazi forces in 1940. Its East Indies colonies were invaded by Japan. At the end of the war, the Netherlands began an armed conflict with rebel forces in its East Indies colony. It finally granted them independence, as the Republic of Indonesia, in 1949. Suriname, in South America, became independent in 1975, leaving the Antilles and Aruba as the Netherlands' only overseas territories.

After the Second World War the Netherlands joined the NATO alliance and became a founder member of the European Economic Community, later the European Union. In 1992 the Treaty on European Union, the Maastricht Treaty, was signed in the southern Dutch city of Maastricht.

Physical features and land use Almost all of the Netherlands is flat and much of the landscape is covered by small farming plots, intensively cultivated and surrounded by ditches or canals. Dotting the landscape are windmills which for centuries have been used to drain the land. These are now largely picturesque as they have been supplanted by motor pumps. Much of this land is dedicated to horticulture, especially the growing of tulips and other bulb plants, often in tandem with vegetable produce.

Cattle farming and dairying, the country's main forms of agriculture, are strongest in the northwest, in the provinces of Nord Holland and Friesland, on either side of the Ijsselmeer, the area of the Zuiderzee project. The Ijsselmeer is an expanse of fresh water, separated by a dike, 32 km (20 miles) long, from the salt water of the Waddenzee. This lies between the northwest coast and a succession of accumulations of sand, which are known as the West Frisian Islands.

Further south, near the coast, is a succession of densely populated urban areas that include Amsterdam and the other major Dutch cities, including Rotterdam, one of the world's largest ports. Just south of this urban conglomeration, the major rivers that flow into the Netherlands­ among them the Rhine from Germany and the Schelde and the Meuse from Belgium-share a common delta area. The only relief from flat land is in the far southeast, where a range of hills rises in places to about 100 m (300 ft).

Industry and Commerce
Concentrated in the heavily populated urban southwest, manufacturing industry employs about one in five members of the workforce. Food processing, chemical and electrical machinery manufacture, metal and engineering products, and petroleum refining are major industries. Natural gas is the country's principal natural resource, and there are extensive reserves in the north.

Most Dutch people enjoy an affluent lifestyle, although some groups of immigrants on the fringes of the cities live in conspicuous poverty. Social services are well developed and the country has one of the best state-funded health-care systems in the world.

Fact File

OFFICIAL NAME: Kingdom of the Netherlands

FORM OF GOVERNMENT: Constitutional monarchy with two legislative bodies (First Chamber and Second Chamber)

CAPITAL: Amsterdam; The Hague is the seat of government

AREA: 37,330 sq km (14,413 sq miles)

TIME ZONE: GMT + 1 hour

POPULATION: 15,807,641


POPULATION DENSITY: 423.5 per sq km (1,096.8 per sq mile)




OTHER LANGUAGES: Arabic, Turkish, English


RELIGIONS: Roman Catholic 34%, Protestant 25%, Muslim 3%, other 2%, unaffiliated 36%

ETHNIC GROUPS: Dutch 96%; Moroccan, Turkish, and other 4%


ECONOMY: Services 79%, industry 17%, agriculture 4%


CLIMATE: Temperate, with cool winters and mild summers

HIGHEST POINT: Mt Vaalserberg 321 m (1,053 ft)



Netherlands Antilles

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