The Netherlands is a country which is located mainly in Northwestern Europe. The European portion of the Netherlands consists of twelve provinces and borders Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, and the North Sea to the northwest, sharing maritime borders in the North Sea with Belgium, the United Kingdom, and Germany. The five largest cities in the Netherlands are Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht and Eindhoven. Amsterdam is the country's capital. Netherlands literally means lower countries, referring to its low land and flat geography, with only about 50% of its land exceeding 1 meter (3 ft. 3 in) above sea level. Most of the areas below sea level are the result of land reclamation beginning in the 16th century, resulting in large areas known as polders that amount to nearly 16-17% of the country's territory.With a population of nearly 17.25 million living within a total area of roughly 41,500 square kilometers (16,000 sq. mi), of which the land area is 33,700 square kilometers (13,000 sq. mi), the Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Nevertheless, it is the world's second-largest exporter of food and agricultural products after the United States, owing to its fertile soil, mild climate, and intensive agriculture. The Netherlands abolished the death penalty in 1870, allowed women's suffrage in 1917, and became the world's first country to legalise same-sex marriage in 2001. Amsterdam began building its famous canals in the 17th century during the Dutch Golden Age. The three main canals, Herengracht, Prinsengracht, and Keizersgracht form concentric belts around the city, known as the grachtengordel. Today there are over 100 km (60 miles) of canals and 1,500 bridges. Alongside the main canals are 1550 monumental buildings. Keukenhof Gardens is the world’s largest flower garden, and actually a promotion for the Dutch flower industry. Approximately seven million flower bulbs are planted annually in the park with not only tulips, but also hyacinths, daffodils and other spring flowers on display. The gardens are open from the last week in March to mid-May. Keukenhof is one of the most visit tourist attractions in the Netherlands.
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