November 28, 2007

Amsterdam side trips (Part 1a) – Zaanse Schans

The windmills so characteristic of Netherlands first appeared in the 13th century, transforming the rotation of their sails into mechanical energy via a system of cogs and gears, providing plenty of free power. Of the many thousands that once stood in towns and villages, and in rows on the dikes, less than a thousand working examples survive today.

Beautiful countryside scenery on the way to Zaanse Schans

Windmills can be seen at their best along the stretch of the River Zaan, where the winds powered an early industrial centre of worldwide significance. They were employed to grind wheat, barley, and oats; crush seeds to create mustard and vegetable oil; crushing pigments for paint; hull rice and peppercorns; and power sawmills and other industrial machinery. Most important of all, windmills kept the fertile polder land dry by pumping away surplus water and draining it into the rivers by way of a network of stepped canals. At its height, the Netherlands had about 10,000 windmills, 1,000 of which were located in the Zaan region.

On the northern edge of the Zaanstreek, on the east bank of the Zaan, is the picturesque windmill village of Zaanse Schans. It is a replica 17th- to 18th-century village made up of distinctive green-painted timber houses, windmills, and workshops that were moved to this site when industrialization leveled their original locations. The aim is to re-create the way of life along the Zaan in the 17th century. Most of the buildings on the 8-hectare (20-acre) site are still inhabited by people.
The village is crisscrossed by canals and paths that cross the water on bridges. There are four different kinds of big industrial windmills here, lined up along the Zaan shore. From south to north from the boat dock, these are Mosterdmolen De Huisman, where the renowned Zaanse mustard is produced; a sawmill, Houtzaagmolen De Gekroonde Poelenburg; Werfmolen De Kat, specialized in producing paint; and two mills that produce vegetable oil, Oliemolen De Zoeker and Oliemolen De Bonte Hen. These are among the dozen out of more than 500 windmills by the end of the 17th centuty that have survived intact in the Zaanstreek.

(to be continued…)

No comments: