Netherlands, constitutional monarchy of western Europe bordering the North Sea, Germany, and Belgium. It is popularly but inaccurately called Holland. Amsterdam is the capital; The Hague is the seat of government.
Land and climate
The country is a flat, low-lying area of 16,033 sq mi (41,526 sq km). Most (13,042 sq mi/33,779 sq km) is land: dunes along the sea coast; polders, drained areas below sea level that cover 40% of the country; the sand plains where the Maas (Meuse) and Rhine rivers flow; and the southern plains, a small fertile region. The Dutch reclaim land from the sea by building a dike to seal off an area and pumping out the water. The drained land is then transformed into fertile farmland. Electric pumps keep the polders drained, but some windmills are still used. The climate is damp and mild, averaging 60°–65°F (16°–18°C) in summer and near freezing in winter.
The Netherlands is one of the world's most densely populated countries. Nearly half the population lives close to the three largest cities—Amsterdam, The Hague, and Rotterdam, the chief port. There are 11 universities, including the famous public ones at Leiden, Utrecht, Groningen, and Amsterdam. Dutch is the official language. Roman Catholicism and Dutch Reformed are the major religions.
There are reserves of oil, natural gas, and coal, but most raw materials must be imported for industries; major ones include oil-refining, iron and steel, textiles, machinery, electrical equipment, and plastics. Dairy produce, the basis of The Netherlands' intensive agriculture, sustains a large food-processing industry. International financial services and petroleum interests, the diamond industry, and tourism contribute significantly, as does fishing and the advanced transportation system, which includes the natural waterways and canals that crisscross the country. Rotterdam, at the Rhine's mouth, handles more cargo than any other ocean port in the world. The Netherlands is a member of the European Common Market.
After the Romans left the Low Countries in the 5th century, Frankish tribes dominated. Dukes of Burgundy in the later Middle Ages began unifying the regions small principalities, which included Holland, Brabant, and Flanders. Through intermarriage, the Spanish King Phillip II was sovereign until the growing popularity of Calvinism in the late 16th century caused the Dutch to expel the Catholic Spanish, except in the south. Naval and economic eminence made the 17th century a golden age for the independent Dutch republic, then Europe's leading commercial nation. Philosopher Baruch Spinoza and the natural scientist Anton van Leeuwenhoek flourished, as did painters Rembrandt van Rijn and Jan Vermeer (the late-19th-century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh would equal their fame eventually). Wars and treaties with other European nations brought political confusion and economic decline after 1715. Napoleonic control (1795–1813) and revolutionary ferment ended with the issuance of a constitution (1814) providing a monarchy to rule the United Kingdom of The Netherlands, formed by the Congress of Vienna (1815). The kingdom ended (1830) when the Catholic people of the south seceded, founding modern-day Belgium. But The Netherlands remained a constitutional monarchy and is today a parliamentary democracy. Neutral in World War I but occupied by the Nazis in World War II, The Netherlands afterward became one of NATO's original members. In 1949 the Dutch recognized the independence of Indonesia, their colony since the 17th century, and in 1963 transferred to it another colony, West New Guinea. The Netherlands Antilles—2 groups of Caribbean islands—are still under Dutch control. At the end of the 1990s, the Dutch economy was one of the fastest growing economies in the European Union.