"When I took Giovanni to visit the city we ended up in areas and polders which even I had never seen before. Was this because they didn't use to exist? It might sound as if I am exaggerating, yet there is a kernel of truth in my words. The province of North Holland, just north of Amsterdam, is made up of dry land and islands reclaimed from the sea: this is a new land, created over the centuries by the Dutch, without going to war and without harming any neighbouring countries. That is why people in the Netherlands say “God made the Earth but the Dutch made Holland.
Amsterdam got its name from a dam built on the river Amstel in the 13th century and the first inhabitants to settle in this area came from the southern Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavia. The first canals to be dug were the Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht and the city underwent unceasing development until, in the 1600s, it became one of the world's most important trading ports. Today Amsterdam, with its 850,000 inhabitants, is the capital of Holland and its largest city. In the old town, built like Venice on piles, the bridges and canals which unite the ninety or so “islands” outnumber those of its Italian counterpart. Needless to say, boats are the best form of transport, even if Amsterdam has more bicycles than inhabitants.
About one hundred years ago the warehouses and merchant vessels, which had brought such great wealth over the centuries, stopped serving their original purpose and were converted into dwellings, giving rise to proper floating houses. These can be seen everywhere, some truly beautiful and extremely expensive, but the city council has set an upper limit, long ago restricting their number to 2,500. To the north of the central station, an artificial island has been built and lies on moorings on the IJ lake, which is, in fact, a sea inlet forming a kind of natural harbour. The IJ divides the centre of Amsterdam from the north of the city, a rural area studded with small villages like Schellingwoude, or Durgerdam, built alongside the dykes. If, on the other hand, we make our way inland we come to Randsorp, from whose tower we can enjoy the view of Amsterdam in the distance.
Tulips and windmills are without a doubt the two most famous symbols of Holland. The tulips in their beauty have created amazing landscapes, while the windmills not only enchant with their appearance but have for centuries drained away the water from the polders, the “low-lying lands”, keeping this reclaimed territory dry. So this calendar could not be without a photo devoted to De Kathammer, one of the most famous windmills.
In the centre of Amsterdam, enclosed by its “crescent moon” canals, there are no skyscrapers and the churches are the tallest buildings. An immense artistic legacy can be admired in the many museums, the most famous of which is certainly the Rijksmuseum. Here we can gaze at De Nachtwacht (the Night Watch) by Rembrandt van Rijn, the painter who so well illustrated Dutch society in the golden age of the merchants, whose haughty civility can still be glimpsed in present-day society. Today Amsterdam offers hospitality to citizens coming from 180 different nations, a number amongst the highest in the world, thanks to an age-old tradition of tolerance and religious freedom of which the city has always been proud. A true amsterdammer, however, can only be someone born and bred in Amsterdam, almost always an extrovert with a ready answer, who rightly takes pride in this lovely city, where it is possible to choose between many, perhaps too many, things to do, but where opportunities are offered to everyone."
Rixt van Gorkum