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Picture Gallery I
(Text courtesy of
The Rotterdam Virtual Tour )
The city of Rotterdam has been
officially in existence since 1328, when count Willem III granted "city
rights" for the town that had been growing around a dam in the river
Rotte. (Hence the name: Rotte-dam.) Almost three decades before that (on
17 March 1299) Wolfert van Borselen, a nobleman who acted as a governor
for count Jan I of Holland, had already awarded porters rights and
freedom of toll to the porters of Rotterdam.
Van Borselens contributions to the founding of the city of Rotterdam
stemmed mainly from political reasons: many of his political opponents
had gathered in Schiedam, a city recently founded around a dam in the
river Schie, by lady Aleid of Henegouwen, an aunt of count Floris V.
Initially Rotterdam was just a small, quiet fishing harbor in a bend in
the Rotte. It slowly grew, but on the whole it remained a town of very
little significance, especially when compared to its main competitors
Delft and Dordrecht, which were much more important in trade and
industry in those days. But Dordrecht suffered severe damage from the
St. Elisabeth flood of 1421, while Delft failed to excavate the larger
harbor it needed to support the trade, mostly as a result of internal
Rotterdam had no such problems: its position near to deep water was much
better than that of its competitors, and it had a readily accessible
harbor. Trade flourished, and many goods started to pass through
Rotterdam on their way to and from the ships that frequented her harbor.
In 1488, the bands of Frans van Breederoode did severe damage to the
city, looting and burning large parts of Rotterdam. Fortifications were
built, and he city became slightly smaller in order to become more
defendable. In 1563 a large part of the city burned down completely.
However, in spite of all these things trade continued and grew.
In the 1570s, during the war with Spain, Rotterdam managed to fortify
its position as a port of trade, when it became one of the few ports
open to the sea. Antwerp and Amsterdam were being blocked because of the
war. Explosive growth followed. The city expanded, the walls around it
were torn down as soon as the dangers of war diminished, and new harbors
were excavated, especially during the 17th century.
In the 18th century the population of Rotterdam no longer grew
significantly, but remained stationary around an estimated 50000 people.
Only in the 19th century, when the port facilities were enlarged again,
it started to boom once more.
Rotterdam embraced the industrial revolution of the 19th century. Steam
power and mechanization boosted the capacity of the port enormously,
while railroads took care of transport of the goods over land. An
elevated railroad using the latest techniques for steel construction was
built, and steam-powered harbor cranes speeded up the loading and
unloading of ships tremendously. Means of transport and an
infrastructure to handle the flow of goods from one place to another
became increasingly vital. Steel bridges were built to connect both
sides of the River Maas. The Nieuwe Waterweg ('New Waterway') was
completed in 1872, which gave Rotterdam a direct, high-capacity
connection to the North Sea. As often happens during periods of rapid
expansion, older buildings were often sacrificed to make way for new
ones. This process continued well into the 20th century.
The Depression of the 1930s struck hard in Rotterdam. Unemployment
became commonplace and poverty led to civil unrest, which was at times
violently suppressed. By the end of the 1930s, however, the port of
Rotterdam was slowly recovering, though unemployment was still high and
the standard of living, especially among those of the 'working class'
left a lot to be desired.
Then World War II broke out.
On 10 May 1940, the German army attacked the Netherlands. Part of the
German 'Blitzkrieg' strategy was an extensive bombardment on the heart
of Rotterdam on 14 May. Blockbusters and firebombs laid the heard of the
city to waste. Casualties were numerous. Clearing away most of the
rubble took over a year. The Dutch government was forced to capitulate
after only five days of war in order to prevent further bloodshed.
After five days of war five years of German occupation followed. But the
damage had been done, and of all Dutch cities none suffered as greatly
as Rotterdam did. The heart of the city was gone completely, most of it
burned down during the firebombing in 1940 and the rest torn down
because of severe structural damage and the subsequent danger of
collapse.After the German capitulation in 1945, the process of
rebuilding the city began. Slowly at first because building materials
were in very short supply, while the demand was enormous, as Rotterdam
had literally become a 'city without a heart'.
The Russian/French sculptor Ossip Zadkine, seeing the wasteland that had
once been the heart of Rotterdam, was inspired to create his statue 'The
Razed City' ('City without a heart') in 1946, now considered to be one
of his most important works of art. It's interesting to note that
Zadkine intended this statue to be placed in the center of an otherwise
empty square, as a referral to the bombed-out wasteland with a single
building left standing in the middle. Initially the statue was placed on
such a square, but as the demand for building space increased, such room
was no longer available, and nowadays the statue has no such freedom.
Though this is not what Zadkine had intended, it is typical for the
spirit of Rotterdam to go on, eyes firmly fixed upon the present and the
future, and not to linger in the past.
The period that followed World War II has been one long construction
project. Disastrous as the 1940 bombardment has been, it did provide
architects with a truly unique opportunity: the chance to reconstruct
the heart of a large city from scratch. And that is exactly what they
Especially during the 1950s and 1960s, many new buildings were
constructed to fill up the empty spaces between the older buildings that
had survived the war. This created a curious mix of old and new,
buildings dating back to the turn of the century (or older) standing
side by side with the latest architectural styles.
Some would say that the 'fever' of reconstruction has gone out of hand,
since several of the buildings that were erected in the fifties have
already been torn down again to make way for newer, bigger and even more
modern buildings. Apart from that, the ongoing work of reconstruction
has the city cluttered with building traffic more often than not,
while-closed down roads and detours are common in Rotterdam. Especially
in the sixties, one could work in Rotterdam for five years without being
able to take the same route from home to work for more than two or three
months.Nevertheless, the post-war reconstruction has given Rotterdam its
unique architectural character. The process of construction and
improvement still continues. Though it should be mentioned that some do
not consider this an improvement at all. The sad fact remains that
Rotterdam as it was before 1940 is gone forever, and the post-war
Rotterdam is not the same as it once was.
Nowadays Rotterdam is a vital part of the economy of the Netherlands.
The Port of Rotterdam, the largest port in the world with a total
throughput of about 300 million metric tons a year provides a solid base
for industry in and around the Rotterdam area. Its population is about
575000, which makes it one of the largest cities in the Netherlands, but
the number of people that work in the Rotterdam area or are otherwise
economically dependent of it exceeds that number by far. The density of
population is among the highest in the Netherlands, exceeding 4000 per
Shipping, storage and forwarding are of course among the most important
activities in the region, but the port of Rotterdam has also created a
large chemical industry, which is fully dependent upon the transport
facilities for the inflow of crude oil and the shipping of the various
refined end products. Large petrochemical plants have sprung up,
especially on the south bank of the Maas. These plants are in operation
24 hours a day.
The development of Europoort ('Euro gate') started in 1957. A large
complex of ports and industrial areas was created between Rotterdam and
the entry to the North Sea. When more space was needed, the Maasvlakte
('Maas Flats') was created. By means of dikes, dams and sand deposits
the coast line was altered to include many square kilometers of newly
created land, where the Petroleum Harbors, container terminals, ore
terminals and the Maasvlakte power plant are located. An interesting
feature is the 'disaster area', a training complex where fire brigades
train to cope with large-scale industrial accidents. The complex
includes a grounded tanker that is set on fire several times a day.
The name Europoort suggests that Rotterdam wanted to become the gateway
to Europe. By 1963 this suggestion had become outdated, because in that
year Rotterdam could claim to be the largest port in the world, a record
that it still holds. In fact, the Berge Stahl, a 365000 ton ore carrier,
is fully dependent on the port of Rotterdam, since this is the only port
on the European continent that this ship (with its 23m/75ft draught) can
After the flood in 1953 a large project was initiated to prevent such
floodings in the future. This project, the 'Delta plan', involved
stronger and higher dikes and numerous flood barriers. The latest of
those flood barriers to be completed was the storm surge barrier in the
Nieuwe Waterweg near Hoek van Holland. Two enormous doors mounted on
swing arms can be used to close off the Nieuwe Waterweg, should storm
and high water require so in order to protect the country from flooding.
Normally the doors are open, so as not to impede the flow of ships
through the Nieuwe Waterweg.
Building and development have become a way of life for Rotterdam. The
city has continued to grow, and it shows no signs of slowing down. And
although this constant increase of population, urbanization and
development all breed their own problems, Rotterdam is ready for the
next millennium. As the economic heart of the Netherlands, with a
population heading towards 600000, it had better be ready.
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