South Holland is a province in the northwestern Netherlands. It has a population of just over 3.5 million (as of 2013) and a population density of about , making it the country's most populous province and one of the world's most densely populated areas. Situated on the North Sea in the west of the Netherlands, South Holland covers an area of , of which is water. It borders North Holland to the north, Utrecht and Gelderland to the east, and North Brabant and Zeeland to the south. The provincial capital is The Hague, while its largest city is Rotterdam.
Archaeological discoveries in Hardinxveld-Giessendam indicate that the area of South Holland has been inhabited since at least ca. 5500 B.C., likely by nomadic hunter-gatherers. Agriculture and permanent settlements likely originated around 2,000 years later, based on excavations near Vlaardingen. In the classical antiquity, South Holland was part of the Roman Province of Germania Inferior, and the border of the Roman Empire ran along the Old Rhine and reached the North Sea near Katwijk. The Romans built fortresses along the border, such as Praetorium Agrippinae near modern-day Valkenburg, Matilo near modern-day Leiden, and Albaniana near modern-day Alphen aan de Rijn. A city was founded near modern-day Voorburg, Forum Hadriani. It was built according to the grid plan, and facilitated a square, a court, a bathhouse and several temples.
After the departure of the Romans, the area belonged to the Frisian Kingdom, after which it was conquered by the Frankish king Dagobert I in 636. In 690, the Anglo-Saxon monk Willibrord arrived near Katwijk and was granted permission to spread Roman Catholicism by the Frankish king Pepin II. He accordingly founded a church in Oegstgeest, after which the entire area gradually Christianised. The area was appointed to East Francia in the Treaty of Verdun in 843, after which the king granted lands to Gerolf, who had helped him claim the lands. This was the birth of the County of Holland. Gerolf was later succeeded by Dirk I, who continued to rule Holland under the Frankish king. In 1248, count William II ordered the construction of the Ridderzaal, which was later finished by his son and successor Floris V.
The United Netherlands declared their independence in 1581, and Holland quickly emerged as the country's dominant province, with important trading cities such as Leiden, Delft, Gouda and Dordrecht. In 1575, the Netherlands' first university was founded in Leiden by William the Silent. The Hague, which had originated around the castle of the counts of Holland, became its new political centre. Both the States of Holland and the States General seated in the Binnenhof. The Dutch Golden Age blossomed in the 17th century. The south of Holland, back then often referred to as the Zuiderkwartier (literally "South Quarter"), was the birthplace and residence of scientists such as Antoni van Leeuwenhoek and Christiaan Huygens, philosophers such as Baruch Spinoza and Pierre Bayle, and painters such as Johannes Vermeer, Rembrandt van Rijn and Jan Steen.
As a province
The province of South Holland as it is today has its origins in the period of French rule from 1795 to 1813. This was a time of bewildering changes to the Dutch system of provinces. In 1795, the Batavian Republic was proclaimed and the old order was swept away by a series of constitutional changes in the following years. In the Constitution enacted on 23 April 1798, the old borders were radically changed. The republic was reorganised into eight departments with roughly equal populations. The south of Holland was split up into three departments. The islands in the south were merged with Zeeland and the west of North Brabant to form the Department of the Scheldt and Meuse. The north of the area became the Department of the Delf. A small region in the east of the area became part of the Department of the Rhine, which spanned much of Gelderland and Utrecht. In 1801, the old borders were restored when the department of Holland was created. The reorganisation had been short-lived, but it gave birth to the concept of a division of Holland, creating less dominant provinces. In 1807, Holland was reorganised once again. This time, the department was split in two. The south, what would later become South Holland, was called the Department of Maasland. This also did not last long. In 1810, all the Dutch provinces were integrated into the French Empire, and Maasland was renamed Bouches-de-la-Meuse.
After the defeat of the French in 1813, this organisation remained unchanged for a year or so. When the 1814 Constitution was introduced, most borders were restored to their situation before the French period. The north and south of Holland were reunited as the province of Holland. However, the division hadn't completely been undone. Since its re-establishment in 1814, Holland had always had two King's Commissioners, one for the north and one for the south. Even though the province had been reunited, the two areas were still treated differently in some ways and the idea of dividing Holland remained alive. In 1840, it was decided to once again split Holland into North and South Holland, because the province of Holland was deemed too dominant in area, population and wealth. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, three municipalities were transferred from South Holland to Utrecht; Oudewater in 1970, Woerden in 1989, and Vianen in 2002.
The construction of the Nieuwe Waterweg in 1863 marked the start of the growth of the Port of Rotterdam. On 14 May 1940, during the Second World War, the centre of Rotterdam was destroyed by a German bombardment. The subsequent German occupation of the Netherlands resulted in anti-Jewish measures, and many members of Dutch resistance were captured and executed on the Waalsdorpervlakte. At the same time, the Atlantikwall was constructed along the coast. After the Second World War, in 1953, the south of South Holland was heavily struck by the North Sea flood, which took the lives of 677 South Hollanders. After this, the Dutch government decided for the construction of the Delta Works, which came to an end with the completion of the Maeslantkering in 1997.