Utrecht played an important role in the founding of the Netherlands. In 1579 the ‘Unie van Utrecht’ (Union of Utrecht) was signed. The Union, a cooperation agreement between different states and cities, is generally seen as the beginning of the Netherlands.
In the centuries that followed, territories joined (for instance Limburg) and seceded (for instance parts of Belgium). Many wars were fought, often with a religious motive. International trade became important, especially in what is known as the Golden Age (1600-1700), which was a period of great wealth and notable achievements in arts and sciences.
In the last century the two World Wars defined the lives of many Dutch people. In World War I (1914-1918) the Netherlands remained neutral but in World War II (1940-1945) it was occupied by Nazi Germany.
After the Second World War, the Dutch started rebuilding their nation. In 1953 dikes in the south- west of the Netherlands broke and the entire area was flooded. As a result, the Dutch started improving their water works in the area, thereby further increasing their expertise in the field of water management.
To further international cooperation the Netherlands joined NATO and the European Union. The Netherlands also plays an important role in development organisations and international law.
For more information about the history of the Netherlands, visit Wikipedia.