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This relative independence of outlook was evident as early as the 16th and 17th centuries, when the Dutch rejected monarchical controls and took a relatively enlightened view of other cultures, especially when they brought wealth and capital to the country’s trading centres.In that period Dutch merchant ships sailed the world and helped lay the foundations of a great trading country characterized by a vigorous spirit of enterprise.Despite government-encouraged emigration after World War II, which prompted some 500,000 persons to leave the country, the Netherlands is today one of the world’s most densely populated countries.Although the population as a whole is “graying” rapidly, with a high percentage over age 65, Amsterdam has remained one of the liveliest centres of international youth culture.There, perhaps more than anywhere else in the country, the Dutch tradition of social tolerance is readily encountered.Prostitution, “soft-drug” (marijuana and hashish) use, and euthanasia are all legal but carefully regulated in the Netherlands, which was also the first country to legalize same-sex marriage.
In the southwest, the disastrous gales and spring tide of February 1, 1953, which flooded some 400,000 acres (162,000 hectares) of land and killed 1,800 people, accelerated the implementation of the Delta Project, which aimed to close off most of the sea inlets of the southwestern delta.
If the Netherlands were to lose the protection of its dunes and dikes, the most densely populated part of the country would be inundated (largely by the sea but also in part by the rivers).
This highly developed part of the Netherlands, which generally does not lie higher than about three feet (one metre) above sea level, covers more than half the total area of the country.
In the other, higher area, the layers of sand and gravel in the eastern part of the country were pushed sideways and upward in some places by ice tongues of the Saale Glacial Stage, forming elongated ridges that may reach a height of more than 330 feet (100 metres) and are the principal feature of the Hoge Park Zuiderzee was originally an estuary of the Rhine River.
By natural action it then became a shallow inland sea, biting deep into the land, and eventually it was hollowed into an almost circular shape by the action of winds and tides.