“What giants?” asked Sancho Panza.
“Those you see over there,” replied his master, “with their long arms. Some of them have arms well nigh two leagues in length.”
“Take care, sir,” cried Sancho. “Those over there are not giants but windmills.” ~ Don Quixote
Yesterday as we sailed into die Nederlands, the focus seemed to be on windmills, and I thought you might also like to see some of what I saw along the riverbank.
Windmills are an essential part of the Dutch landscape, and responsible for keeping half the country above water. They convert the energy of wind into rotational energy by means of vanes, which are called sails.
There are still over a thousand windmills throughout the Netherlands and they are often the first thing that people recall about the country. I remember visiting some of my dad’s family in Amsterdam when I was a child, and the windmills left a lasting impression on my memory.
Windmills are said to have existed in Holland from about 1200, and today, are characteristic of the Dutch landscape and a symbol of the Dutch people’s endless struggle with water.
In the nineteenth century, Holland had about 9,500 windmills. Can you imagine what it must have been like with all those turning sails, working virtually day and night?
Originally windmills were developed for milling grain for food production, but over time they were adapted to many other industrial uses.
An important non-milling use is to pump land water for drainage. Since the 16th century, the Dutch have made more and more progress in the fight against their hereditary foe, water, and have managed to keep their country dry, in spite of the fact that it lies several feet below sea level.
Holland owes its creation as well as its development in the most literal sense to the windmills, for it was thanks solely to the windmills that is was possible to repeatedly reclaim new land for the evergrowing population.
Since the 16th century, many Dutch people have been living on land that lies below sea level, or has even been reclaimed from the sea. In order to make this possible, windmills were used to drain the ‘polders’ and keep them dry.
Late yesterday afternoon, we went on a tour of Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the most picturesque and iconic sites in Holland.
Kinderdijk got its name after a notorious flood which devastated the area in 1421. A heavy storm off the North Sea coast caused tsunami-like waves that broke through the dikes, swallowing the surrounding villages. Legends were told about the tragic event which claimed thousands of lives.
One such legend was about a child in a cradle that was kept afloat by a cat jumping from side to side, in order to keep it balanced. The cat and the cradle became a popular fairytale, and the area became known as “Child’s Dike” which is Kinderdijk in Dutch. To this day, all the cats around windmills are protected and honoured as “windmill cats.” Here is a reconstructed room in one of the windmills.
Kinderdijk is a tiny village located on a strip of land between the Lek and Noord Rivers,and has the largest concentration of operational windmills, nineteen of them dating back to the 14th century. I didn’t see any windmill cats around, but they were probably far too sensible to be out in the pouring rain. We arrived back at the ship, looking like ‘drowned rats’, and had hardly any time to make ourselves presentable in time for the Captain’s dinner. 🙂
I hope you’ve enjoyed my post entirely focused on windmills. 🙂 To see more interpretations of the challenge, just click here.