A History of the Port of Rotterdam

Port of RotterdamRotterdam is undeniably important to the freight industry, and has served as a central hub for shipping in Europe for generations. But did you know that its history in freight dates back to the Late Middle Ages? Let’s set sail through history to discover the story of this key location.

Humble Beginnings

Records show that there has been settlement in the area currently known as Rotterdam since around the 900’s, when it was referred to as “Rotta,” referring to the muddy estuary of the Meuse (Dutch: Maas) river. A large dam was built in the 1260’s, changing the name of the town to “Rotterdam.” Shortly after becoming a city in 1340, the shipping canal known as the Rotterdam Schie was completed; this allowed the new city to cement its position as a shipping centre between the Netherlands, England and Germany.

Industrial Growth

As is the case with a lot of locations, the Industrial Revolution left an irreversible impression on the city. The growth of industry allowed Rotterdam to grow slowly and steadily as a global port town, and it became an important location for the Dutch East India Company. The most significant development in this era came near the end of the 1800’s in response to the ineffectiveness of the natural coastal features for industrial shipping. The marshy, shallow delta caused issues for industrial vessels, and a custom created shipping canal was conceived. This Nieuwe Waterweg (“New Waterway”) was completed in 1872, also serving to connect industry along the Rhine and Meuse rivers to the North Sea.

The Modern Era

The already bustling city saw immense growth during the 20th Century. The Nieuwe Waterweg was deepened several times to allow for increased use by larger and larger vessels. The Europoort (“Gate to Europe”) was developed in the 1960-70’s; a massive complex on the mouth of the Nieuwe Waterweg. The most notable part of the Europoort is the Maasvlakte, a man-made port, created by displacing a sand bank which was potentially dangerous to large shipping vessels. Construction on a second Maasvlakte, simply named Maasvlakte 2, commenced in 2008 and was opened for use in May 2013.

One for the Record Books

Apart from its role as the most significant port in Europe, Rotterdam was also the largest port in the world for 42 years, between 1962 and 2004. After developments to Port of Singapore, Rotterdam lost the title of “world’s largest port,” and the title has since now passed to Shanghai. Rotterdam is still Europe’s largest port, reported to cover a massive 41 square miles (105 sq km), and the quantity of shipping that passes through the port is mind blowing. 2014 saw 444.7 million tonnes of cargo pass through the Port of Rotterdam’s various facilities, ranking it 8th in the world for throughput for the period of 2012-2014.

Plans for the Future

There are a number of plans for the future of The Port of Rotterdam, outlined in the Port of Rotterdam Authority‘s Port Vision 2030 project. Port Vision 2030 relies on two “pillars,” the first is for Rotterdam to become the leading Intra-European cargo hub, by galvanising existing infrastructure and logistics chains and opening up its facilities to new types of cargo. The second pillar focuses on making Rotterdam an integrated hub of industry by 2030, alongside Antwerp, Moerdijk and Terneuzen. The port has a history of ties with the energy and petrochemical industry, and these developments seek to bolster ecological focus with sustainable energy sources across the complex.

The story of Rotterdam and its port reveal some key lessons for any company involved in logistics. Focus on flexibility and improvement, and improve wherever possible. As the the Port Vision 2030 page proudly states: “Industry and logistics have been the pillars of the port of Rotterdam for decades, thanks to its favourable location and an entrepreneurial spirit.” Rotterdam’s focus on functionality and development of its shipping facilities have kept it at the forefront of industry and commerce in Europe for centuries.

In this increasingly digital age, it’s easy to forget the sheer amount of physical goods that need to be transported around the world; but the need for devices, electronics and modern comforts make the process of shipping more important than ever. Rotterdam connects Western Europe to the world at large, and development shows no sign of stopping.