Rotterdam (pron.: /ˈrɒtərdæm/; Dutch: [ˌrɔtərˈdɑm] ( listen)) is the second-largest city in the Netherlands and one of the largest ports in the world. Starting as a dam constructed in 1270 on the Rotte River, Rotterdam has grown into a major international commercial centre. Its strategic location at the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta on the North Sea and at the heart of a massive rail, road, air and inland waterway distribution system extending throughout Europe is the reason that Rotterdam is often called the «Gateway to Europe».
In the province of South Holland, Rotterdam is in the west of Netherlands and the south of the Randstad. The population of the city was 616,250 on February 1, 2012. The population of the greater Rotterdam area, called «Rotterdam-Rijnmond» or just «Rijnmond», is approximately 1.3 million. The combined urban area of Rotterdam and The Hague is the 206th largest urban area in the world. One of Europe’s most vibrant, multicultural cities, Rotterdam is known for its university (Erasmus), cutting-edge architecture, lively cultural life, striking riverside setting and maritime heritage. It is also known for the Rotterdam Blitz.
The largest port in Europe and one of the busiest ports in the world, the port of Rotterdam was the world’s busiest port from 1962 to 2004, when it was surpassed by Shanghai. Rotterdam’s commercial and strategic importance is based on its location near the mouth of the Nieuwe Maas (New Meuse), a channel in the delta formed by the Rhine and Meuse on the North Sea. These rivers lead directly into the centre of Europe, including the industrial Ruhr region. Rotterdam is currently bidding to host the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics.
Settlement at the lower end of the fen stream Rotte (or Rotta, as it was then known, from rot, ‘muddy’ and a, ‘water’, thus ‘muddy water’) dates from at least 900 CE. Around 1150, large floods in the area ended development, leading to the construction of protective dikes and dams, including Schielands Hoge Zeedijk (‘Schieland’s High Sea Dike’) along the northern banks of the present-day Nieuwe Maas. A dam on the Rotte or ‘Rotterdam’ was built in the 1260s and was located at the present-day Hoogstraat (‘High Street’).
On 7 July 1340, Count Willem IV of Holland granted city rights to Rotterdam, which then had approximately 2000 inhabitants. Around 1350 a shipping canal, the Rotterdamse Schie was completed, which provided Rotterdam access to the larger towns in the north, allowing it to become a local transshipment centre between Holland, England and Germany, and to urbanize.
The port of Rotterdam grew slowly but steadily into a port of importance, becoming the seat of one of the six ‘chambers’ of the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC), the Dutch East India Company.
The greatest spurt of growth, both in port activity and population, followed the completion of the Nieuwe Waterweg in 1872. The city and harbor started to expand on the south bank of the river. The Witte Huis or White House skyscraper, inspired by American office buildings and built in 1898 in the French Chateau-style, is evidence of Rotterdam’s rapid growth and success. When completed, it was the tallest office building in Europe, with a height of 45 m (147.64 ft).
Newsreel from 1957 about the reconstruction, with mayor G. E. van Walsum
During World War II, the German army invaded the Netherlands on May 10, 1940. Adolf Hitler had hoped to conquer the country in just one day, but his forces met unexpectedly fierce resistance. The Dutch army was finally forced to capitulate on May 15, 1940, following Hitler’s bombing Rotterdam on May 14 and threatening to bomb other Dutch cities. The heart of Rotterdam was almost completely destroyed by the Luftwaffe; 900 civilians were killed and 80,000 made homeless. The City Hall survived the bombing. Ossip Zadkine later strikingly captured the event with his statue De Verwoeste Stad (‘The Destroyed City’). The statue stands near the Leuvehaven, not far from the Erasmusbrug in the centre of the city, on the north shore of the river Nieuwe Maas.
Rotterdam was gradually rebuilt from the 1950s through the 1970s. It remained quite windy and open until the city councils from the 1980s on began developing an active architectural policy. Daring and new styles of apartments, office buildings and recreation facilities resulted in a more ‘livable’ city centre with a new skyline. In the 1990s, the Kop van Zuid was built on the south bank of the river as a new business centre.