A Minute History Of Rotterdam

Rotterdam. The city that grew big –  it was completely demolished, but later rebuilt itself to become the heart of the Netherlands. Read on to discover Rotterdam, the Dutch city of lights!


Rotterdam is a city in the Netherlands in South Holland within the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt river near the North Sea. Its history goes back to 1270 when a dam was constructed by the people who settled around it for safety. In 1340, Rotterdam was granted city rights by the Count of Holland.


The settlement at the lower end of the fen stream of the river Rotte, as it was then known from rot, “muddy” and “water,” thus “muddy water” (Yak, that’s gross) dates from at least 900 CE. Around 1150, large floods in the area ended development, leading to the construction of protective dikes and dams along the northern banks of the present-day Nieuwe Maas. A dam on the Rotte or “Rotterdam” was later built in the 1260s. Yay!

On 7 July 1340, Count Willem IV of Holland granted city rights to Rotterdam, which then, had approximately 2,000 inhabitants. Around the year 1350 a shipping canal, the Rotterdamse Schie was completed, which provided Rotterdam access to the larger towns in the north, becoming a local trans-shipment centre between the Netherlands, England and Germany, allowing for urbanization.

After Willem’s death, a power battle broke out between Willem’s sister Margaretha and her son Willem V. In this struggle, the nobility and the cities took sides. Rotterdam tried to stay outside the conflict in order to gain a better position than its competitors. The Rotterdam economy, in those days, was mainly based on herring fisheries and handling of cargo. Around 1490, Rotterdam could no longer avoid the hostilities, when Squire Frans van Brederode sadly chose Rotterdam as his base for his Hook army.


Rotterdam emerged well from the struggle but became involved in the Eighty Year War between the Low Countries and Spain in 1572 when another battle began. The events of 1572, and those of the siege of Leiden two years later, confronted the city government with the need for better protection. How smart.

The port of Rotterdam started to grow slowly but steadily and became a port of importance, becoming the seat of one of the six “chambers” of the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC), the Dutch East India Company. In 1872 the city and harbour started to expand and the Witte Huis or White House skyscraper, in 1898, 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 (147.64ft). Back then that was a pretty amazing feat!

During World War I, the city was the world’s largest spy center because of Dutch neutrality and its strategic location in between Great-Britain, Germany, and German-occupied Belgium. In WWI, an average of 25,000 Belgian refugees lived in the city, as well as hundreds of German deserters and escaped Allied POW’s.


During World War II, the German army invaded the Netherlands on 10 May 1940. The Dutch army was forced to capitulate on 15 May 1940, following Hitler’s bombing of Rotterdam on 14 May and threatening to bomb other Dutch cities. The heart of Rotterdam was almost completely destroyed. Some 80,000 civilians were made homeless and 900 were killed; a relatively low number due to the fact that many had fled the city because of the warfare and bombing going on in Rotterdam since the start of the invasion three days earlier. The City Hall survived the bombing. Ossip Zadkine later attempted to capture the event with his statue The Destroyed City. The statue today stands near the Erasmusbrug.

Rotterdam was rebuilt from the 1950s through to the 1970s and in the 80’s the city built new styles of apartments, office buildings and recreation facilities that resulted in a more ‘liveable’ city center with a new skyline. In the 1990s, the Kop van Zuid was built on the south bank of the river as a new business center. Rotterdam was voted 2015 European City of the Year by the Academy of Urbanism.

In the last couple of years, the city of Rotterdam has become a treasure for art and architecture lovers. Rotterdam proper consists of a combination of modern and artistic buildings that still that have old Dutch touch! The big market ‘De Markthal’ became worldwide news when it opened a couple of years ago, offering a full cosy restaurant, the cutest breakfast spots and tons of urban, yet fancy bars to enjoy a nice drink. Cosmopolitic Rotterdam is also definitely worth visiting!

Nowadays, Rotterdam has a busy city center and is one of the most modern and developed cities in Europe. It’s infrastructure, large port and business center, and skyscrapers give Rotterdam the most beautiful skyline of the country!

Rotterdam Rakbo

Ever been to Rotterdam? What did you love about visiting? Let us know in the comments.

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Nadia Karathanasis

Nadia Karathanasis, 25 year old, Dutch/Greek living in Holland trying to find a balance between travelling and studying

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