The Netherlands, on the coast of the North Sea, is twice the size of New Jersey. Part of the great plain of north and west Europe, the Netherlands has maximum dimensions of 190 by 160 mi (360 by 257 km) and is low and flat except in Limburg in the southeast, where some hills rise up to 322 m (1056 ft). About half the country's area is below sea level, making the famous Dutch dikes a requisite for the use of much of the land. Reclamation of land from the sea through dikes has continued through recent times. All drainage reaches the North Sea, and the principal rivers—Rhine, Maas (Meuse), and Schelde—have their sources outside the country.
After centuries of foreign rules by the Romans, Franks, Burgunds, Habsburgs, and Spaniards in 1648 the Dutch Republic became a free and sovereign state. During the 17th century, also called the 'Golden Age', the Republic became increasingly prosperous and a major colonial power, thanks largely to the Dutch East India Company (VOC). In 1815, the northern and southern Netherlands – today's Netherlands and Belgium – were combined to form the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In 1830 Belgium seceded and formed a separate kingdom. The Netherlands remained neutral in World War I but was invaded in World War II by Germany in May 1940 and occupied for five years.Today the Netherlands is a modern, industrialized nation and the third largest exporter of food. The country was a founding member of NATO and the EU, and participated in the introduction of the Euro in 1999
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