Rotterdam Before And After The 1940 Bombing

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These days, while most Dutch cities share similar architecture - think wonky houses with recognisable gables and narrow canals - Rotterdam is known for its unique and modern architecture. But why does Rotterdam look so different to other cities in the Netherlands?

How the 1940 Rotterdam bombing transformed the city

On May 14, 1940, the Netherlands’ second-biggest city was subjected to heavy bombing by the Luftwaffe during the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands. The attack, which has become known as the Rotterdam Blitz or the bombardement op Rotterdam, decimated the city and destroyed the historic centre of Rotterdam, and resulted in the death of 711 people. Around 85.000 people were left homeless as a result of the attack. 

Rotterdam is one of the few major Allied cities that were virtually destroyed in the Second World War. The decimation of the city meant residents were forced to rebuild after the war, and over the decades Rotterdam was transformed into a modern metropolis. Nowadays, it’s practically the only Dutch city with an abundance of skyscrapers, unlike its more traditional and historic neighbours of Leiden, Delft and Utrecht.

How the city looked before World War II

Before the war, Rotterdam had many of the elements you'd see across most Dutch cities, including windmills, gables, and canals. The photo below, taken between the years 1900 and 1908, showed what the Haringvliet area looked like from the top of Het Witte Huis:

Image via Stadsarchief Rotterdam / Topografie Rotterdam.View from the Witte Huis, Rotterdam (1900-1908)

Similarly, the photo below, taken from the top of the Sint-Laurenskerk in 1927, provides a stunning view of what looks to be a predominantly residential area. The Lange Torenstraat and Verlaatstraat can both be seen in the photo:

Image via Stadsarchief Rotterdam / Gemeente Rotterdam / Fototechnische Dienst Rotterdam.View from Sint-Laurenskerk, Lange Torenstraat, Verlaatstraat (1927), Rotterdam

Finally, this third image shows what the Beursplein looked like in the 1860s, well before Rotterdam was bombed by the Nazis:

Image Stadsarchief Rotterdam / Adolph (A.) Braun.Beurs / Beursplein (1863-1867) Rotterdam

Rotterdam decimated by German bombs

By the end of the day on May 14, 1940, Rotterdam looked very, very different. Areas of the city that had stood for decades or even centuries were wiped out in a matter of hours: 

Image: Oudehaven area via Stadsarchief Rotterdam / Anoniem.Rotterdam after the Rotterdam Blitz (May 14, 1940)

Image:  Lange Torenstraat / Sint-Jacobstraat via Stadsarchief Rotterdam / Anoniem. Lange Torenstraat / Sint-Jacobstraat Rotterdam Blitz

The Blitz also unearthed some underground structures. On the Beursplein, for example, clean-up units discovered a tunnel under what once had been the Beurs: 

Image Stadsarchief Rotterdam / Topografie Rotterdam.Beursplein Rotterdam Blitz

Rotterdam today: Amazing architecture and showstopping skyscrapers

Rotterdam's Beursplein is unrecognisable in the 21st century. These days it makes up a key part of the city centre, and is home to a number of popular high-street shops: 

Image: Zigres via Shutterstock.comBeursplein WTC Rotterdam

Nowadays, Rotterdam offers a great example of innovative and interesting Dutch design, and the city is known for a number of iconic pieces of architecture, including the Markthal and the Cube Houses. The Rotterdam skyline, with its imposing skyscrapers and the easily recognisable silhouette of the Erasmus Bridge, certainly makes for a beautiful sight:

Image: dropStock via Shutterstock.comRotterdam skyline at sunset

Buildings which survived the Rotterdam Blitz

There are, of course, some buildings that managed to survive the Rotterdam Blitz, including Het Witte Huis which is located in the Oudehaven - one of the oldest harbours in the Netherlands:

Image: JJFarq via Shutterstock.com.Oudehaven and Witte Huis in Rotterdam

Another historic piece of architecture that is still standing is the previous headquarters for the offices of the Holland-America Line. Dating back to 1901, the building is now used as a luxurious hotel in the city centre, right on the banks of the Maas River: 

Image: ColorMaker via Shutterstock.com.Holland America Line New York Hotel Rotterdam

Commemorating the bombardment of Rotterdam

Every year on May 14, Rotterdam commemorates the 1940 aerial bombardment with various events and gatherings across the city. Even just walking around the city, you'll be confronted with a number of statues and monuments made to commemorate the bombing.

Thumb: MikhailBerkut via Shutterstock.com.