Zaanse Schans – Netherlands

This week’s journey takes us back to the charming and historic Dutch neighborhood of Zaanse Schans. Located on the Zaan river delta roughly 20 kilometers (13 miles) north of Amsterdam, this collection of historic windmills and houses offers visitors a glimpse into life in western Europe’s oldest industrial area.

During the 17th century, the Zaan region developed into a then-unprecedented industrial powerhouse, with at its peak over 600 active windmills. The Zaankanters – known for their entrepreneurial and community spirit – utilized the mills to produce a spectacular array of consumable and durable goods, from wood, paper, oils and dyes to spices, flour and fibers. The Zaan’s proximity to Amsterdam and favorable position on the water also helped it grow into a center of commercial shipbuilding, with at least 26 shipyards launching between 100 and 150 vessels annually. Production brought great prosperity to the district throughout the 18th and 19th century, as evidenced by the construction of fanciful, brightly colored homes for the mills’ wealthy owners, as well as traders, shipbuilders and other notables. In an effort to preserve both the mills and these structures during the 1960s and early 1970s, most were moved from their original locations to the neighborhood of Zaanse Schans. Today, the district’s towering mills – many still operational – are among the most popular tourist destinations in the Netherlands, attracting approximately 1.6 million visitors in 2014.

We visited Zaanse Schans with T.’s mum, brother and sister on a beautiful sunny day in August 2016. Many apologizes for the blurry spot on many of the photographs below – B. didn’t notice the smudged fingerprint on her camera lens until we were looking through the photos later in the day. Oops!

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The first mill we encountered at Zaanse Schans – the miniature Meadow mill De Hadel – was situated a short distance from the carpark. Built in the late 19th century and originally located in Midwoud, North Holland, De Hadel relocated to Zaanse Schans in 1968. While it currently serves no industrial purpose, the small mill – with only 8-meter diameter sails – drives a paddle wheel designed to cleanse the village waterway.

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The first working industrial mill we visited was De Huisman (The Houseman). Erected in Zaandam in 1786, the mill has operated on Zaanse Schans since 1955. At various times throughout its history, De Huisman has milled snuff (tobacco), mustard and timber. Today, it produces mustard using modern, rather than wind-powered, methods, and sits atop Indië’s Welvaren, a spice warehouse.

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The third mill we visited was De Gekroonde Poelenburg (The Crowned Poelenburg), a working wind-powered sawmill. Originally constructed in Koog aan de Zaan in 1867, De Gekroonde Poelenburg was moved to Zaanse Schans in 1963 to replace a pealing mill destroyed by fire in 1928. The restored mill was difficult to wind, however, and attempts to use it commercially were abandoned in 1966 (although the winding problem – a result of poor weight distribution – has long since been resolved). Today, the mill is operated by volunteers, and is open to the public one weekend per month.

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The mills below – De Bonte Hen (The Spotted Hen – left), Het Jonge Schaap (The Young Sheep – center), and De Kat (The Cat – right) – process oil, timber and dye, respectively.

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De Kat is the only remaining working windmill in the world that produces paint. The original De Kat was built in 1646 as an oil mill, but was destroyed by fire in 1782. Quickly rebuilt, De Kat continued in use until 1904, when it was partially demolished. In 1960, the octagonal paint mill De Duinjager (The Dune Hunter) was removed from its former position and placed atop the old storehouse of De Kat. Today, the mill – owned by the Vereniging de Zaansche Molen – grinds raw materials like chalk to make pigments for paint, using traditional methods.

For a small fee, B. ventured inside De Kat to observe the millstone at work. She also scaled the precarious (and very steep!) interior ladder to reach the exterior platform, which offers spectacular views across the Dutch countryside. A small gift shop inside sells quality paint pigments produced by the mill.

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As we were on our way from Amsterdam to Bruges on the date of our visit, we unfortunately had to cut our exploration short here. With more time, we would have liked to visit the various museums and shops on site. Hopefully next time!

Thank you for joining us on this adventure in Holland! – T. & B. June

Next week’s journey: Carvoeiro – Portugal

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