I had visited Holland once before. That was Amsterdam and many years ago. I travelled by air and the flight was quick – Holland is nearer than one might think. But a trip to Rotterdam via Stena Line ferry from Harwich made that diverse and vibrant city even more accessible.
Rotterdam is the second-largest city in the Netherlands and one of the largest ports in the world. Starting as a dam constructed in 1270 on the Rotte River, Rotterdam is often called the ‘Gateway to Europe’. Rotterdam received its city charter in 1340.
The New Waterway canal was dug between 1866 and 1872, creating a transport route between the Maas River and the sea. The town of Delfshaven became part of Rotterdam and is the birthplace of Pieter Hein (1577 –1629) who was a Dutch naval officer and folk-hero during the Eighty Years’ War between the United Provinces and Spain. It’s also the harbour where the Pilgrim Fathers set off for America, and that practice of exodus from this port continued down the centuries.
The city has developed into a world port and is still the largest port in Europe and one of the busiest ports in the world, surpassed only by Shanghai. Rotterdam’s commercial success owes much to its location near the mouth of the Nieuwe Maas (New Meuse), in the delta formed by the Rhine and Meuse flowing into the North Sea. These rivers lead directly into the centre of Europe, opening markets along those wide shipping lanes.
Hotel Quartier du Port in Rotterdam is a smart 4-star boutique hotel conveniently situated in the old maritime quarter in renovated 18th century shipping offices. This neighbourhood still retains many classic buildings that one thinks of as being ‘typically Dutch’ – solid brick facades, tall and narrow. These streets give an impression of what Rotterdam must have been like before the ravages of war.
The Witte Huis or White House is a building and National Heritage Site in Rotterdam inspired by American skyscrapers, and built in 1898 in the Art Nouveau style. Its 10 floors made this a ground-breaking structure for its time.
Many Europeans sought a better life overseas and started their epic journeys from Rotterdam. These emigrants often headed for North America, just like those pilgrims, and in 1873 the Nederlandsch Amerikaanse Stoomvaart Maatschappij company was founded, officially renamed ‘Holland America Line’ in 1896. In 1971, after more than 100 years of transporting emigrants and pleasure seekers, the ship Nieuw Amsterdam was the last of that line to leave Rotterdam.
In 1977 the Holland America Line’s head office moved to Seattle and in 1984 the building on Wilhelmina Pier was put up for sale. Known as ‘The Grand Old Lady’, this office was built in the Jugendstil style in 1901 by the architects J. Muller, Droogleever Fortuin and C.B. van der Tak. It’s now occupied by the Hotel New York, a remarkable hotel and restaurant displaying many items of shipping memorabilia, and evocative of the heyday of passenger liners.
During World War II, the German army invaded the Netherlands and encountered fierce resistance, although the Dutch army was finally forced to capitulate on May 15, 1940, following Hitler’s bombing of Rotterdam on May 14. The centre of Rotterdam was almost completely destroyed by the blitz, which left 900 civilians dead and 80,000 homeless. A visit to the tourist office offers striking pictures of Rotterdam before the bombing and the horrific destruction that it caused.
Rotterdam has taken advantage of its tragic blank canvas and has built striking bridges, apartments and public spaces, along with a reputation for being a platform for architectural excellence. Rotterdam is celebrated for its Kubuswoningen or cube houses built by architect Piet Blom in 1984, as well as the iconic Erasmus Bridge designed by Ben van Berkel and completed in 1996.
Along with Porto, Rotterdam was European Capital of Culture in 2001. The city has its own orchestra, the Rotterdam Philharmonic. There is an exciting festival culture, with weeks promoting jazz, food and the arts in general. It’s an easy city to navigate with a creditable metro and tram system, and a train network for those who want to wander further.
This city is a living entity of multi-ethnic and multicultural diversity. 47.7% of the population are of non-Dutch origin or have at least one parent born outside the country. 173 nationalities are represented here. One might liken the city to an evolved modern family home: there is the old part of the house with many charming original features and uniquely Dutch characteristics; there is the new extension designed with innovation. It’s a place filled with imagination and respect for heritage. It’s a home-city that reflects the makeup of the current Rotterdammers, and they are a forward-looking and vibrant bunch.
Hotel New York
3072 AD Rotterdam
Visit New York Hotel here
Hotel Quartier Du Pont
Van Vollenhovenstraat 48-50
3016 BJ Rotterdam
Visit Hotel Quartier Du Pont here
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018