King's Day Kingdom of the Netherlands
Netherlands, country located in northwestern Europe, also known as Holland. “Netherlands” means low-lying country; the name Holland (from Houtland, or “Wooded Land”) was originally given to one of the medieval cores of what later became the modern state and is still used for 2 of its 12 provinces (Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland). A parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarch, the kingdom includes its former colonies in the Lesser Antilles: Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten. The capital is Amsterdam and the seat of government The Hague.
The country is indeed low-lying and remarkably flat, with large expanses of lakes, rivers, and canals. Some 2,500 square miles (6,500 square km) of the Netherlands consist of reclaimed land, the result of a process of careful water management dating back to medieval times. Along the coasts, land was reclaimed from the sea, and, in the interior, lakes and marshes were drained, especially alongside the many rivers. All this new land was turned into polders, usually surrounded by dikes. Initially, man power and horsepower were used to drain the land, but they were later replaced by windmills, such as the mill network at Kinderdijk-Elshout, now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The largest water-control schemes were carried out in the second half of the 19th century and in the 20th century, when steam pumps and, later, electric or diesel pumps came into use.Despite government-encouraged emigration after World War II, which prompted some 500,000 persons to leave the country, the Netherlands is today one of the world’s most densely populated countries. Although the population as a whole is “graying” rapidly, with a high percentage over age 65, Amsterdam has remained one of the liveliest centres of international youth culture. There, perhaps more than anywhere else in the country, the Dutch tradition of social tolerance is readily encountered. Prostitution, “soft-drug” (marijuana and hashish) use, and euthanasia are all legal but carefully regulated in the Netherlands, which was also the first country to legalize same-sex marriage.
This relative independence of outlook was evident as early as the 16th and 17th centuries, when the Dutch rejected monarchical controls and took a relatively enlightened view of other cultures, especially when they brought wealth and capital to the country’s trading centres. In that period Dutch merchant ships sailed the world and helped lay the foundations of a great trading country characterized by a vigorous spirit of enterprise. In later centuries, the Netherlands continued to have one of the most advanced economies in the world, despite the country’s modest size. The Dutch economy is open and generally internationalist in outlook. With Belgium and Luxembourg, the Netherlands is a member of the Benelux economic union, which in the 1950s and 1960s served as a model for the larger European Economic Community (EEC; now embedded in the European Union [EU]), of which the Benelux countries are members. The Netherlands is also a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and it plays host to a number of international organizations, especially in the legal sector, such as the International Court of Justice.
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The Dutch reputation for tolerance was tested in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, when an increase in immigration from non-European Union countries and a populist turn in politics resulted in growing nationalism and even xenophobia, marked by two race-related political assassinations, in 2002 and 2004, and the government’s requirement that immigrants pass an expensive ‘‘integration’’ test before they enter the country.
The Netherlands is bounded by the North Sea to the north and west, Germany to the east, and Belgium to the south. If the Netherlands were to lose the protection of its dunes and dikes, the most densely populated part of the country would be inundated (largely by the sea but also in part by the rivers). This highly developed part of the Netherlands, which generally does not lie higher than about three feet (one metre) above sea level, covers more than half the total area of the country. About half of this area (more than one-fourth of the total area of the country) actually lies below sea level.
The lower area consists mainly of polders, where the landscape not only lies at a very low elevation but is also very flat in appearance. On such land, building is possible only on “rafts,” or after concrete piles, sometimes as long as 65 feet (20 metres), have been driven into the silt layer.
In the other, higher area, the layers of sand and gravel in the eastern part of the country were pushed sideways and upward in some places by ice tongues of the Saale Glacial Stage, forming elongated ridges that may reach a height of more than 330 feet (100 metres) and are the principal feature of the Hoge Park Veluwe National Park. The only part of the country where elevations exceed 350 feet (105 metres) is the border zone of the Ardennes. The Netherlands’ highest point, the Vaalserberg, in the extreme southeastern corner, rises to 1,053 feet (321 metres).
The Zuiderzee was originally an estuary of the Rhine River. By natural action it then became a shallow inland sea, biting deep into the land, and eventually it was hollowed into an almost circular shape by the action of winds and tides. In 1920 work was begun on the Zuiderzee project, of which the IJsselmeer Dam (Afsluitdijk), begun in 1927, was a part. This 19-mile- (30-km-) long dam was completed in 1932 to finally seal off the Zuiderzee from the Waddenzee and the North Sea. In the IJsselmeer, or IJssel Lake, formed from the southern part of the Zuiderzee, four large polders, the IJsselmeer Polders, with a total area of about 650 square miles (1,700 square km), were constructed around a freshwater basin fed by the IJssel and other rivers and linked with the sea by sluices and locks in the barrier dam.
The first two polders created there—Wieringermeer and North East (Noordoost) Polder, drained before and during World War II—are used mostly for agriculture. The two polders reclaimed in the 1950s and ’60s—South Flevoland Polder (Zuidelijk) and East Flevoland Polder (Oostelijk)—are used for residential, industrial, and recreational purposes. Among the cities that have developed there are Lelystad and Almere.In the southwest, the disastrous gales and spring tide of February 1, 1953, which flooded some 400,000 acres (162,000 hectares) of land and killed 1,800 people, accelerated the implementation of the Delta Project, which aimed to close off most of the sea inlets of the southwestern delta. These delta works were designed to shorten the coastline by 450 miles (725 km), combat the salination of the soil, and allow the development of the area through roads that were constructed over 10 dams and 2 bridges built between 1960 and 1987. The largest of these dams, crossing the five-mile- (eight-km-) wide Eastern Schelde (Oosterschelde) estuary, has been built in the form of a storm-surge barrier incorporating dozens of openings that can be closed in the event of flood. The barrier is normally open, allowing salt water to enter the estuary and about three-fourths of the tidal movement to be maintained, limiting damage to the natural environment in the Eastern Schelde. In the interest of the commerce of the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp, no dams were constructed in the New Waterway, which links Rotterdam to the North Sea, or the West Schelde, an approach to Antwerp, Belgium. The dikes along these waterways consequently had to be strengthened.
A region with a very specific character has been formed by the great rivers—Rhine, Lek, Waal, and Maas (Meuse)—that flow from east to west through the central part of the country. The landscape in this area is characterized by high dikes along wide rivers, orchards along the levees formed by the rivers, and numerous large bridges over which pass the roads and railways that connect the central Netherlands with the southern provinces.