"Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet...", and so far Kipling's simple and powerful description almost applied to the natural and man-made wonders featured in this blog. People would build majestic cathedrals, splendid palaces and impregnable castles - and turn them into museums filled with art exhibits full of light and shadows, depth and contemplation, energy of desires, and disappointment following on the heels of dashed hopes. They would also design spacious parks and decorate them with refreshing fountains, proud or sad statues, and ever-beautiful flowers. Every now and then they would take a rest from their daily routines and indulge in little escapes (like day trips) or go on vacation, and travel far and wide - to see Nature-created snowy mountain peaks, cascading waterfalls, gushing geysers, mysterious and somewhat intimidating caves...For ages, the world of Men and the world of Nature would come together, temporarily rub shoulders and grow apart. In other words, these two worlds would permanently coexist but only occasionally interact, with only few and far-between exceptions - and even those have mostly been associated with remote fishing or hunting communities fully reliant on natural resources for survival. However, "mostly" doesn't mean "exclusively - and a notable example of not a small community but a big city, or even a bigger part of a country dovetailed with Nature, is Amsterdam and the Netherlands.
As late as the second part of the 16th century, it was actually known as "Spanish Netherlands" (literally, "low lands") - an insignificant province belonging to a mighty empire. It took the Dutch 69 years to convince Spain that the adjective was quite superfluous but in 1648 the newly liberated country was finally able to say to its former master "Thank you very much but here we part ways - and nice to never meet you again!" Soon after that the Dutch East India Company founded in 1602, began to take full advantage of the country's proximity to the Northern Sea. A simple trade route was established: textiles, rum and manufactured good went from the Netherlands to Africa - to be traded for slaves whose destination was the Americas where they were paid for with sugar, tobacco and cotton. Unheard of in Europe, the "big three" were sold at an exorbitant profit for long enough to turn the Dutch East India Company into a maritime superpower, and the whole country - into an economic one. As always in such cases, successful business owners wanted even more but they ran into a logistical problem: the overseas luxury goods had to be delivered to warehouses located in the city proper, and in the 17th century that was a slow process...
Shrewd merchants, the Dutch turned out to be inventive problem-solvers as well. Not happy with the necessity to bring warehouses to the Northern Sea, they did the exact opposite by creating a mind- blowing canal network that ran through the whole city of Amsterdam allowing laden ships to come literally next to warehouses in the trading areas. The turnaround time was decreased ten- and hundredfold - and the city's appearance was changed forever. Commerce reinvented the Netherlands and almost created it anew, as the mythological Pygmalion had created his Galatea - and both natural and artificial waterways became the chisel enabling that creation. In modern Amsterdam canals are as popular and efficient transportation routes - if not more! - as major thoroughfares. The canal network is a major hub of the city's social life, and quite a few families even live on them - quite literally turning old boats into summer cottages and even permanent residences.
Waterways (in particular, fast moving rivers) inevitably shaped the very toponymy of the country, as multiple dams were built to harness their energy for the sake of numerous mills. Villages were founded around the mills to serve their needs - and, as the mills grew, so did the villages. Towns appeared that later turned into cities...It so happened that the Dutch never thought twice about naming things. The main four churches in their capital are "creatively" named "Northern", "Southern", "Western" and "Eastern" - no wonder that those original villages had been named according to a similar principle: "a dam on such-and-such river". In short, "Amsterdam", "Rotterdam", "Volendam"... Even the capital's main square is known as "the square of the dam" - Damrak..