Thanks to its swampy environment Amsterdam was largely uninhabited until setllement as as a small fishing town in the 12TH Century. It prospered as a trading hub for Southern Europe and the Baltic and North Seas in the 13 TH Century and reached the peak of its wealth and splendour in the 17TH Century (the so-called ''Golden Age''). This was a time of intellectual and artistic excellence for Amsterdam, as the town became a centre for book printing and political liberalism. In the 20TH Century Amsterdam moved away from fishing and trade towards more industrial pursuits. The city managed to survive WWI relatively unscathed, thanks to its status as the capital of a neutral Netherlands. This neutrality did not hold for WWII however, the Nazis invaded in May 1940 and Amsterdam's large Jewish population subsequently suffered ( with the highest proportion of murdered Jews in Western Europe).
Since the 1960s Amsterdam has established itself as the liberal and radical epicentre of Europe, with forward thinking social policies and a tolerant approach to individual lifestyle choice.