Impressions of North Holland, Netherlands
When you look on a map for North Holland, make sure it is one printed after the 1980s, because the land around it has grown in size and changed in shape. Between 1932 and the 1980s a giant project of water management and engineering was realised to reclaim the inner sea bay of the ‘Zuiderzee’ as polder land for agriculture and human settlement. An entire province, Flevoland, was thus created. In fact, plans were even more comprehensive: once the ‘Afsluitdijk’ in the North had cut off the ‘Zuiderzee’ from the North Sea, a much larger section of the ‘Zuiderzee’ was planned to be drained into a land reclaim. It did not happen, though, which is why whatever is left of the ‘Zuiderzee’ is now two lakes, the Markermeer and, to the South of it, the Ijsselmeer, separated from one another by yet another giant dike.
Dikes, dams, city canals, ponds and pools are omnipresent here in North Holland. Water, always water. No surprise, of course, because this part of the Netherlands is barely elevated above sea level, and at certain locations even as much as 6 metres under it. So, geography has not been an easy present for the Dutch. And yet, the sea has also brought them prosperity, inviting their ships to undertake long voyages to Asia, Africa and the Americas, in colonial competition with those other early European seafaring nations, Spain and Portugal, Britain and France. The prosperity it generated culminated in the Golden Age of the 17th century. Once the suffocating yoke of Spanish occupation had been thrown off, an independent Dutch Republic was created. A large influx of intelligentsia fleeing from the still Spanish-controlled Southern Low Lands, currently Flanders in Belgium, even accentuated the dynamics and resilience of the Netherlands in art, engineering, architecture and commerce. The reflection of all this is to be found today in the architecture and rustic atmosphere of the North Holland polder lands, dotted with quaint little towns, of which the names sometimes make us merely think of cheese, rather than the political power and artistic creativity they have contributed to the Dutch Golden Age and later pages of history and culture.
Before visiting the place of your choice:
Hoorn is located on the shores of the Markermeer and was chartered in 1357. It was the capital of medieval Westfriesland and as such one of the principal Dutch ports until the ‘Zuiderzee’ silted up in the 18th century. During the Dutch Golden century of the 1600s, Hoorn was an important city. Many of the merchant houses date back to this period. The main churches of Hoorn, to the contrary, were constructed in the 1880s, such as the Roman-Catholic Dome church (Koepelkerk) and next to it the ‘Grote Kerk’, the ‘Large Church’, Reformist, but desecrated in 1968.