The Netherlands lies to the northwest of the European continent. The west and north of the country is surrounded by the North Sea and shares its borders with Belgium and Germany to the south and east respectively. The country is divided into 12 provinces under the rule of Queen Beatrix. The Netherlands is sometimes incorrectly referred to as Holland (North and South Holland are provinces). The capital of the country is Amsterdam which is in the province of North Holland whilst The Hague, the capital of the province of South Holland has the seat of government. The Hague is home to the international courts namely the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia as well as home to Europol, which is the intelligence agency for the European Union.
A quarter of the country and more than half of the population lies below the level of the sea as the country is low-lying with exception to low-hill ranges to the south east and central part. The Rhine, the Scheldt and Meuse Rivers and their tributaries come together to form an estuary which covers most of the country. These rivers divide the country into two, influencing traditional and religious values. After a disastrous flood, that killed more than 1,800 people and displaced thousands in 1953, Delta Works were constructed. These works took 44 years to complete to become one of the largest in world history.
The Netherlands are one of the most densely populated areas in the European continent and has a free market economy. It is one of the largest and most prosperous economies ranking 16th globally. The Hague is the legal capital of the world whereas Amsterdam is the financial capital of the country. The capital city is home to the oldest stock exchange in the world. The continent’s largest port is at Rotterdam which was the busiest before Singapore overtook it. The main port users are the petrochemical industries. One of the world’s largest natural gas reserves and fields lie in northern Netherlands. The Netherlands are the largest exporters of agricultural produce, after US and France, which includes flowers, tomatoes and peppers. The country has a knack of magnetising foreign investment whilst it invests in the United States.
The Netherlands is a secular country with just a quarter of the population being religious yet less than a fifth of them regularly go to church. Despite this, the country is renowned for its painters, philosophers, scientists and writers. The most famous painters include Rembrandt van Rijn and Vincent van Gogh whilst the most infamous art forger was Han van Meegeren. Christiaan Huygens was the scientist that discovered Titan, the moon of Saturn and invented the pendulum clock. Another scientist, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, observed under a microscope single-celled animal and described them. Some of the famous writers are Joost vanden Vondel and Gerard van het Reve. The Dutch are also legendary for their cheese, wooden clogs, Delftware pottery and windmills. The Netherlands is famed for being the most liberal country in the world.