Souvenirs from Netherlands
Among endless fields of tulips, glittering waters and cloudy skies, the windmill is a symbol of Dutch landscape. Its historical importance is still remembered and celebrated today when the 1,000 mills left in the Netherlands are attentively restored and promoted. For centuries, windmills have been built and used mainly to drain the excess of water from Holland’s low areas creating a landscape of unique charm. Heavy and unpractical, the windmills were often unsophisticated mechanisms used in pre-industrial times. Today’s Dutch windmills are a reminder of the country’s rural past and its struggle with flooding waters in a complex system of dykes and fortifications strategically built to drain Netherlands’ lakes. A resin fridge magnet souvenir elegantly celebrates the symbolism of the Dutch windmill.
The History of the Dutch Windmill
The oldest written record of a Dutch windmill is a document giving privileges to the inhabitants of Haarlem by the Count Floris V at the beginning of the 13th century. Later references mention the mills surrounding Amsterdam and Utrecht but only in the 16th century the Dutch started a complex system of draining the water from the lands (the so-called polders) using mostly windmills; now these picturesque old fashioned structures have been replaced by the modern efficient draining machines and most windmills are historic monuments kept for touristic purposes. Despite being perceived as typically Dutch inventions, the windmills were not created in Netherlands. Still during the 17th century the country experienced a blooming period when its economy and culture developed at unprecedented levels. In order to support its growing shipbuilding industry, the windmills were the main tools for wood sawing or basic food production (such as flour and oil). Windmills were also used as national symbols in a cultural revolution aiming at depicting ‘the new Netherlands”: 17th century Dutch painting and the Hague School celebrated the beauty of windmills and made them a central theme of their art.
Holland, a Landscape of Water and Wind
The history of the Dutch windmills is shaped around a landscape transformed by wind, water and a practical mentality of simplicity. The first windmills in Netherlands are believed to have been built around 1200 even if the first record of a draining mill dates from the beginning of the 15th century when cows and horses were used to power it. In the 19th century, the windmill gradually replaced the water mill and one of the most active mill districts is Netherlands’ Zaan where mills produced a wide range of goods from barley to cocoa and mustard. It was here that the large-scale production supported a flourishing economy and a cultural revolution. Rich traders commissioned architects and painters to build and decorate their houses and shipbuilding developed to cope with this growing wealthy middle class whose economic power and exotic tastes shaped Netherlands’ astonishing 17th century Golden Age.
Netherlands’ Most Popular Windmills
The charming village of Kinderdijk is Holland’s most popular site for visiting polder mills. In Zaanse Schans, the former home of over 600 windmills throughout 250 years of history, tourists can see functional windmills in a village of typical Dutch charm. Situated on the Zaan River, the place is a picturesque display of colorful houses and open museums such as the Clock Museum or the first Albert Heijn Sweets Shop displaying traditional Dutch products. Different types of mills successfully reproduce a typical 17th century village landscape. In Schiedam tourists can marvel at the world’s biggest windmills used for producing Dutch gin while the best windmill routes also include the island of Tholen, Betuwe and Achterhoek , all under the protection of the Dutch Windmill Society.