The Dutch and the Windmills

Amsterdam is the bicycle capital of Europe , but some tourists realize early that bouncing over cobbled streets on a well-worn bone shaker is not their preferred choice to explore the city. For them Amsterdam is essentially a walking city and I too believe it is the best way to discover its charm.

We decided to explore the city with a mix of walking and tram-hopping. Traveling in trams is anyway inevitable. Rachit loves traveling in all possible modes of transport and on our arrival at Amsterdam centraal station, as soon as he sighted a tram, a promise of several tram rides is taken from us.

When I think about the Amsterdam, windmills are among the first few things that come to my mind. In my opinion, a trip to the Netherlands is incomplete without a visit to windmill. No-one in the world has harnessed wind-power as much as the Dutch have done. After the canal cruise, I enquired at a tourist reception centre about the possibility of visiting a wind-mill through a tram connection. On their suggestion, we boarded tram number ten from “Centraal Station” and stopped at Funenkade 7, Northeast of Artis Zoo, near an old brewery. This old brewery is today an elegant private house.

The old brewery, Amsterdam

The old brewery, Amsterdam

By this old brewery, there is a well-kept beautiful windmill. Looking at it, my imagination soared up to view the majestic and awe-inspiring sight of hundreds of such windmills working in perfect unison.

The windmill, Amsterdam

The windmill, Amsterdam

Rembrandt, the famous Dutch painter, is known to be fascinated by the romantic aura these windmills added to the Dutch landscape. His paintings and engravings of Dutch landscape invariably had them. And to remind this connection, a statue of Rembrandt at work can be seen near this windmill. When I first visited this place, I was ignorant of the European legends of art and was unaware of Rembrandt too, so when I was told that this legendary artist used to paint here, in these surroundings, I looked around and felt that the beautiful landscape was seductive enough to germinate an artist even in non-artistic soul like me.

The Statue of Rembrandt near the windmill and a picturesque surroundings

The Statue of Rembrandt near the windmill in a picturesque surroundings

The first windmill in the Netherlands was constructed for exploiting the windy climate of the country to generate energy for crushing and grinding the corns. Later ingenious Dutch started constructing them adjacent to the water channels and used them as pump-stations draining the excess water. As most of the Netherlands lie below sea-level, these mills soon become an important weapon to wage and win a war against the water. These windmills were fundamental in snatching new lands from the sea and keeping the country away from flooding. For centuries these windmills provided the Dutch abundant and renewable, non-polluting source of energy to drive saw-mills, grain-mills and the water-pumps. It would not be an exaggeration to claim that the windmills laid the foundation on which the Dutch economy was built. This was the time when the industrious Dutch were the envy of some, the fear of others and the wonder of all their neighbours.

Windmill at Zaans Museum, Photo courtesy Rajat Kulshrestha

Windmill at Zaans Museum, Photo courtesy Rajat Kulshrestha

In the nineteenth century the Netherlands had around ten thousand windmills. This is the largest number of windmills that ever existed in the country. After 1850, their number decreased steadily, at first slowly and later on rapidly. After the World-war II in 1946, the prospects of the survival of the windmills were extremely gloomy, a great many of them had been damaged or destroyed in the war. And the cash-strapped nation was not in a position to take care of the remaining ones as well. The sorry state of their old companions hurt the Dutch sensitivity. It was then that the Dutch Windmill Society decided to restore, repair and maintain them. Today around twelve thousand of these windmills have survived and most of them are in working condition.

Several Windmills in unison, photo courtesy Rajat Kulshrestha

Several Windmills in unison, photo courtesy Rajat Kulshrestha

Eleventh May is celebrated as National Wind-Mill Day in the Netherlands. On this day windmills are adorned with flowers, garlands, figures of angels and Dutch flag is unfurled over them.

There are several different types of windmills that can be seen and appreciated here. The Pillar windmills are the most ancient of all and were constructed in the thirteenth century. The Cable transmission shaft mills were used to drain the polders. Pasture windmills as the name suggests were used for irrigation. The Skirt windmills owe their name to their distinctive shape. Today only four of them are left which are used as saw mills. Round masonry windmills are also called monks due to their shapes. The windmills that were erected on raised platforms to avoid trees and tall buildings are called Gallery windmills.

The souvenirs

The windmill souveneirs

Dutch have elevated windmills to an art form. Planted solidly on the earth, these windmills seems like they had grown naturally from the soil. They form an integral part of their countryside surroundings and give Dutch landscape an aura of romanticism. Spread throughout the Netherlands, they are the pride of the country and there are eight of them in Amsterdam alone, waiting to be admired and adored.

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