International Conference 2011

History of Rotterdam

Settlement at the lower end of the fen stream ‘Rotte’ (or ‘Rotta’, as it was then known, from rot, ‘muddy’ and a, ‘water’, thus ‘muddy water’) dates from at least 900. Around 1150, large floods in the area ended development, leading to the construction of protective dikes and dams, including Schielands Hoge Zeedijk (‘Schieland’s High Sea Dike’) along the northern banks of the present-day Nieuwe Maas. A dam on the Rotte or ‘Rotterdam’ was built in the 1260s and was located at the present-day Hoogstraat (‘High Street’).

On June 7 1340, Count Willem IV of Holland granted city rights to Rotterdam, which then had approximately 2,000 inhabitants. Around 1350, a shipping canal (the Rotterdamse Schie) was completed, which provided Rotterdam access to the larger towns in the north. Allowing it to become a local transshipment center between Holland, England and Germany, and to slowly urbanise.

The port of Rotterdam slowly but steadily grew into a port of importance, becoming the seat of one of the six ‘chambers’ of the ‘Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie’ (VOC), or the Dutch East India Company.

The greatest growth spurt, both in port activity and population, followed the completion of the Nieuwe Waterweg in 1872. The city and harbour started to expand on the south bank of the river. The ‘Witte Huis’ or ‘White House’ skyscraper, inspired by American office buildings and built in 1898 in the French chateau style, is evidence of Rotterdam’s rapid growth and success. It was at the time of completion the tallest office building in Europe, with a height of 45 m.

The German army invaded the Netherlands on May 10 1940. Germany had planned to conquer the country in one day, but after meeting unexpectedly fierce resistance, it finally forced the Dutch army to capitulate on May 14 1940 by bombing Rotterdam and threatening to bomb other cities. The heart of the city was almost completely destroyed by the German Luftwaffe, and 800 people were killed, while about 80,000 others were made homeless. Ossip Zadkine later captured the event strikingly with his statue ‘Stad zonder hart’ (‘City without a heart’). The City Hall, as well as Willem de Kooning Academy, survived the bombing. The statue is now located near the ‘Leuvehaven’, not far from the Erasmusbrug in the north of the city. From the 1950s through the 1970s, the city was rebuilt. It remained quite windy and open until the city councils from the 1980s on began developing an active architectural policy. Daring and new styles of apartments, office buildings and recreation facilities resulted in a more ‘livable’ city centre with a new skyline. In the 1990s, a new business centre on the south bank of the river, the Kop van Zuid, was built.

Skyline Rotterdam