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Port of Rotterdam

UNLESS you are a hermit, you own and consume things that have passed through the port of Rotterdam. Last year the port handled 466m tonnes of cargo, more than double the amount of Europe’s second port, Antwerp. The endless shifts in the size and composition of these flows provide an instant indicator of the state of the world economy. And the trends that are transforming the port’s operations—automation and the shift away from fossil fuels—give a sense of the future too.

Port of Rotterdam
Thanks to its easy access for big ships from the Atlantic and for barges from the interior, Rotterdam has been Europe’s dominant port for much of modern history. Its success is man-made: in the mid-19th century, when the Ruhr region of Germany was industrialising, Rotterdammers dug a channel to connect the Maas river, which runs through the city, to the Rhine, creating the most shipworthy route from Europe’s industrial heartland to the North Sea.