“God created the world, but the Dutch created Holland” is an expression often used when referring to the Netherlands, often referred to, erroneously, as Holland. Amsterdam started out as a fishers village in 1125 when fishermen built huts along the mouth of the Amstel river, the river which would give present day Amsterdam its name.
More than half of the Netherlands is located approximately 6 meters below sea level and more than 20% of the land has been reclaimed from the sea and turned into polders. The polders were first created through the use of drainage mills, which were invented in 1414. By 1450 many of the total number of 10,000 water- and windmills which dotted the landscape were located along the Southwest coast of the Netherlands.
While the water- and windmills were said to have been introduced to the Netherlands via the Middle East during the Crusades, the Netherlands is unique in the diversity of mills it used. The industrial revolution saw an end to the usage of the mills, however, and by 1923 only three thousand mills remained which further declined to the approximately 900 mills remaining today.
The Netherlands has always been known as a tolerant country which welcomed the Portuguese Jews, the French Huguenots, and the Flemish Protestants when these were suppressed in their respective countries. The refugees contributed greatly to the economic development of the Netherlands, which prospered in the 17th century, also known as Holland’s Golden Age, which saw the foundation of the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC) in 1602 and the Dutch West Indies Company in 1621. This time period also blossomed on a cultural level as depicted in the works of art by the Dutch Masters Rembrandt, Vermeer and Jan Steen.
The tulips, which brighten the Dutch countryside so famously each springtime, were first brought there by herbalist Carolus Clusius in 1593 who planted imported bulbs from Turkey in the Hortus Botanicus (Botanical Garden) in Leiden. The Dutch craze with tulips dates back to “tulip mania’ in 1620 when investors paid for rare bulbs with their weight in gold, forcing prices up until the market collapsed in 1636.
Today, the Netherlands exports 6.5 billion bulbs worldwide which generates more than $500 million a year. Every spring, approximately 1.5 million tourists from all over the world visit the blooming bulb fields of the Netherlands.
Amongst the above mentioned trades, the Netherlands is also best known as a cheese-producing country. This history dates back the Middle Ages which was a significant period in the dairy industry when the official dairy markets and weigh-houses were introduced, which both controlled the quality and weight of the cheese.
The port of Edam exported one million pounds of cheese in 1649 alone. All the cheeses produced came from farms in the provinces of North and South Holland, Friesland, and western Utrecht.
Although production has been taken over by factories, today there are still over 600 farms that produce their own cheese, known as “Boerenkaas” (farmer’s cheese), from unpasteurized milk. The farmer used to take his cheeses to a nearby cheese market once a week looking for a bidder and this tradition can still be seen in the towns of Gouda and Alkmaar which re-enact the the ritual during the summer months. The Netherlands offers many types of cheeses some of which include Frisian, Gouda, Edam, Maasdam, Leiden, Bluefort, etc. which are all unique in their flavor.
The Dutch cities of Amsterdam, The Hague and Maastricht each offer a unique view of the country. Amsterdam is the country’s capital and holds the economic heartbeat and is known for its concentric canal ring. The Hague houses the Royal Dutch Family of Orange-Nassau and the government of Holland. Maastricht is the oldest city of Holland located in the hills of Limburg and is the host of various Roman ruins and caves.
There is something to do and to see for everybody in the Netherlands. Visit its many museums, cycle through the bulb fields, sail the Dutch waterways, sleep in its castle/hotels, use it as your gateway to Europe. Most people in the Netherlands speak English.
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