As soon as expatriates step into this country, two common questions they frequently ask are ‘Is it the Netherlands or Holland?’ and ‘Why the country has two names?’
The official name of the country is the Netherlands which literally means ‘ the low-lands’ for the simple fact that 60% of the Dutch population lives below sea level. Some centuries ago the strongest economical area of the country used to be the province of Holland which includes today’s North and South Holland provinces. Consequently foreign trade evolved in this particular area and the main Dutch traders were Hollanders. Since then this way of referring to the Netherlands became somehow accepted by all!
The Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. It has a population of 16,491,461(2006) people and covers an area of 41,526 square kilometers. A century ago, the population was around 5 million. The Netherlands is netherlands-coat-armspartly below sea level, which is why many areas in the Netherlands are covered with water. In fact, the name Netherlands(nether means low) refers to the low lying nature of the country.This gives an average accommodation of 450 people per square kilometer. The most densely populate areas fall on the west part of the Netherlands. This is due to the fact that this area accommodates some of the most busiest and populated cities: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. The Netherlands is divided into 12 provinces; Drenthe, Flevoland, Gelderland, Groningen, Limburg, Noord-Brabant, Noord-Holland, Overijssel, Utrecht, Zeeland and Zuid-Holland. Each and every Province has it’s own capital city but the main capital city of the Netherlands is Amsterdam. The Hague is an important political city with the seat of government and the International Court of Justice. Rotterdam is the biggest port in the world whilst Schiphol is one of the most modern and biggest airports in Europe.
The Netherlands is very famous for flowers (especially tulips), windmills and clogs (wooden shoes which in the past used to be wore by the farmers while working in the fields). The Netherlands is also one of the top countries in the export of goods (world’s third largest exporter of food) and capital. Little known is that the Dutch have won 15 Nobel prices for achievements in chemistry, physics, economics, peace and medicine. The Netherlands is a kingdom: itself and six other islands in the Caribbean sea (Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles). The Netherlands is also known as Holland. This name originated from the two major western coastal provinces, North and South Holland, which have played an important role in the country’s history. These provinces are situated in key areas of the country itself and Europe as a whole. They are located on the estuaries of the two major west European rivers, the Rhine and the Maas.
The Dutch landscape is extremely flat. The only few hills you can find are located in the southern part of the country. The Netherlands is situated in the lowlands of Northwest Europe between 50°45′ and 53°52′ latitude and 3°21′ and 7°13′ longitude. The north and west side of the country are surrounded by the North Sea. The east side touches Germany and the south part is flanked by Belgium.The highest point in the country is Vaalserberg hill. It is located in the south east part of the Netherlands and reaches a height of 321 meters above sea level. On the other hand, the lowest point is located near Rotterdam and it is 6.7 meters below sea level.
The Dutch had to fight a constant battle against the sea. This struggle led to the building of a serious of bridges, dykes, windmills and pumping stations. The climax of these various projects was reached by the building of the Delta Project, a chain of dams protecting Zeeland and south Holland from the sea. Due to the fact that more that 25% of the Netherlands is below sea level a effective water control system is required to keep the land dry and habitable. Excess of rain water can cause flooding and river banks to burst. In order to control this problem a lot of pumping stations must work day and night to drain of excess water.
Government & Political System
The Head of the state of the Netherlands is Queen Beatrix van Oranje-Nassau. The Queen has the function to nominate all the mayors in the Netherlands and the politician who who will eventually form the Dutch government. The Dutch parliament is divided in two chambers; the first (Senate) is made up of 150 members whilst the second chamber (Lower House) consists of 75 members. The Tweede Kamer (2nd chamber) is elected every four years in a direct general election. The Lower house has the power to approve the budget, the right of legal initiative, the right for submitting amendments, the right to start its own inquires and the right of interpellation. On the other hand, the First chamber has the power to approve or reject all laws in the Netherlands without the right of amendment.
The Netherlands is usually governed by a coalition of different political parties. Normally the prime minister is chosen out of that party which won most seats in the elections. Often the minister of the winning party has the task of forming the new government.
In the 16th century the Netherlands got split into two main religions. This reformation divided the country roughly diagonally across from the southwest to the northeast into Catholic and Protestant parts.The north part is Protestant whilst the south part is Catholic. The Protestant part is subdivided into different groups such as the Reformed Church, Orthodox and Lutherans. Nowadays, religion has little influence on the average Dutch population. The tradition of following parental religion has disappeared and many Catholics as well as Protestants abandoned their formal religion. During the last century immigration gave rise in an increase of Hindus and Muslims. Presently, there are around one million Muslims living in the Netherlands. This multiculturalism is founded on the Dutch constitution which provides and guarantees freedom of religion and belief.
Dutch is the mother tongue of more that 21 million Dutch and Belgian people. Around 60,000 people living in the northwestern part of France speak a Dutch dialect. The Netherlands forms part of the European Union, thus making the Dutch an official EU language. Dutch is also used among people in the Netherlands Antilles, Aruba and Surinam. Dutch has been used to write literature of these respective countries. In Indonesia, many lawyers and historians speak Dutch owing to historical ties.
Students in neighborhood countries such as Belgium, northern France and Germany choose Dutch as a second language. Dutch is also taught at around 250 universities around the world.
People from the province of Friesland speak Frisian. In this province, Frisian is officially considered to be the mother tongue language of around 400,000 inhabitants and has been officially recognized as the second language of The Netherlands. Frisian is a West Germanic language, closely related to English and Dutch.
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In the 1950’s the Dutch government started promoting emigration to make up for the high densely population. A decade after the situation changed completely. There was a shortage for manual hard work such as mining and factory work. Immigration and re-migration were in full swing mostly among people from Mediterranean countries such as Italy, Turkey and Morocco. The foreign population in the Netherlands continued to increase mainly because of family reunifications, marriages and afterwards the EU free movement policy.
The Netherlands is at the top list of EU countries, allowing permits for asylum seekers and refugees. Lately the situation took a different direction having stricter admission demands and granting accession permits only when it is of national Dutch interest, if someone requires safety or protection and if someone is entitled to live in the country under an international agreement.
Dutch historical accounts go back as far as the 1st century B.C. During that era the Netherlands was inhabited by German and Celtic tribes. When the Roman empire conquered the region peace and prosperity reigned. About 300 years later the area fell under different German tribes but it was the Franks who eventually prevailed. Around 800 A.D. the country was ruled by King Charlemagne.
During the following two centuries many towns were being fortified to safeguard the cities from frequent Scandinavian raids. Between the 12th and 14th century the area became a center of commerce and trade. In the 16th century Charles V took control of the area known as the Low countries. Soon after the Netherlands was in the hands of Philip II, Charles’ son. During his rule oppression led to a war for independence. Meanwhile the Protestant church started an anti-catholic campaign and eventually had to face Spanish troops sent by Philip. in 1568, Prince William of Orange led a revolt and managed to take under control most of the Northern region. Following the Union of Utrehct Provinces from the North and some of the South joined together to form a group that eventually would become the Netherlands.
In the year 1648 the Netherlands got independent of Spanish sovereignty and became a Dutch Republic.The 17th century was full of possibilities and prosperity. In fact, that period is known as the ‘Golden Age’. At that time the Netherlands was a powerful maritime country and Amsterdam was the financial hub of the continent. A lot of international trading was going on. Trading interests led the English and the Dutch into a conflict which cost ed many lives and money. Peace between the two countries was restored after Stadholder William II and his William III both married English princesses.Soon after the Dutch were over powered maritime wise as well as land wise by France and Great Britain. In 1795 the country was invaded by French revolutionists. In 1806 Louis Napoleon was ordered king by Napoleon of what now comes to be called the Kingdom of Holland. Amsterdam was proclaimed the capital city of Holland .After the French empire collapsed the Low countries regained their independence. In 1830 the South part of the Kingdom revolted to establish their independence and becoming what we now know as Belgium.
In the middle of the 19th century there was a radical change in the constitution. The change brought into force a government based on monarchy with a parliamentary system. During the first world war (1914-1918) the Netherlands remained neutral but in the second world war (1935-1945) it was invaded by Germany and occupied for five years. This terrible period meant death and destruction all over Europe. Soon after, the Netherlands, who by then was a major colonial force, lost their war against Indonesia which gained its independence in 1962. other colonies quickly got their independence too. Since the 1960’s the Netherlands was ruled by coalition governments.
The Netherlands has a maritime climate. This is due to the fact that the country is proximity of the sea and the North Atlantic Gulf stream. The average temperature fluctuates 2 °C in January and 17 °C in July. About 800 millimeters of rain fall each year. The distance from north to the south of the Netherlands is approximately 300 km. This gives a slight influence in the temperature and the influence of the sea decreases towards the east.
The mild, damp climate favors the pastures needed for stock breeding, as it does horticulture in the coastal regions, where there is less frost than inland. The soil of the upper part of the Netherlands consists mostly of sand and grave. The soil of the lower part is most made up of clay and peat. This difference is visible in the landscape of the two parts. The upper part is more hilly and alternates between woods and heaths whilst the lower part consists mostly of flat polders. The landscape is is crisscrossed by many rivers and canals, the heart of shipping and water management.