Amsterdam has been one of the most important and vibrant port cities in the world for over four hundred years. It started out as a humble fishing village in the Middle Ages, but due to the genius of its merchants in the Dutch East India Company and Dutch West India Company, it became the richest city in the world in the seventeenth century. As well as the most important port in Europe, it was the centre of the Dutch Golden Age, and saw a flowering of the arts and culture that still colours its character today. Almost five million international tourists visit Amsterdam every year, and as the city is celebrating a number of cultural milestones in 2013, its popularity is unlikely to wane.
The Canals of Amsterdam
Amsterdam has been called the "Venice of the North" for its magnificent network of canals, and this year marks the four hundredth anniversary of the Canal Ring, a series of canals that were designed and built in the seventeenth century. A masterpiece of civic engineering, the Canal Ring was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010. Originally built for defensive purposes, the canals provide a beautiful foreground to the impressive architecture of the city, and will take centre stage in numerous concerts, festivals and special events this year, not the least of which are the famous Queen's Day and Gay Pride celebrations.
Felix Meritis: The Temple of Enlightenment
Felix Meritis, one of the most famous buildings in Amsterdam, first opened its doors two hundred and twenty-five years ago, in 1788. It was conceived as a centre for the arts, culture and science, and the five pilasters that make up its classical façade stand for architecture, literature, trade, natural science and music. To celebrate its two hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary, Felix Meritis will play host to a number of special events and exhibitions in 2013, and the Felix Meritis Observatory will be open to the public for the first time in two hundred years.
The Royal Concertgebouw
Amsterdam has a long history as a centre for the performing arts, and the Royal Concertgebouw, with its acclaimed acoustics, is one of the most prestigious concert halls in the world. This year it will celebrate its one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary with a special Jubilee Concert series. This series will last the entire year, and every month a new roster of international stars will perform.
Reopening of the Rijksmusuem
The famous Rijksmuseum, dedicated to the art and history of the Netherlands, had been closed for ten years, but in 2013 it re-opened its doors after extensive renovations. An amazing 8,000 items are on display, spanning almost a mile of exhibits. The pieces on display cover a period of time dating back to the Middle Ages, and will include masterpieces by artists such as Rembrandt, Vermeer and Frans Hals.
The Van Gogh Museum
The Van Gogh Museum is the most visited museum in the Netherlands, and in 2013 it too will reopen its doors after renovations. The museum features the largest collection of Van Gogh paintings in the world, but is also home to a multitude of works by his contemporaries, showcasing the marvellous richness and diversity of nineteenth century Dutch art. This year the museum celebrates its fortieth anniversary, as well as the one hundred and sixtieth anniversary of Van Gogh's birth.
Amsterdam has a tremendous artistic and cultural legacy, and this year the spotlight on this famous city will only intensify. As well as the five milestones listed above, a number of other landmark events will take place in 2013. The oldest zoo in the Netherlands, the Artis Zoo, and the Frans Hals Museum will also be celebrating anniversaries. The one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the Netherlands and its colonies will be celebrated, and major exhibitions highlighting the history of Dutch-Russian relations will also run for most of the year. Always a colourful and popular tourist destination, in 2013 Amsterdam will be sure to reach splendid new heights. So, what are you waiting for? Book a flight to Amsterdam now, and soak up the culture and history of this unique city.
Jon Piggins is a writer and travel addict. He has been to Amsterdam several times and loves the city's historic layout.