The Wonderful Windmills of Holland
While windmills of various types are tourist attractions in many European countries, they are a defining characteristic of Holland where prior to the 19th century Industrial Revolution, an estimated 10,000 windmills dotted the countryside. Today, there are around 1,000 Dutch windmills standing, the most of which are kept in running order for their historical and tourism value. In addition to being used to power saw-mills and grain-mills, windmills kept many parts of Holland from being flooded as they pumped water from low-lying areas.
Located at the confluence of the Lek and Noord Rivers, around 15 km east of Rotterdam, Kinderdijk was kept from being flooded by a system of 19 windmills which were built in the mid-1700s. Today most of the work of keeping the area drained of water is done by diesel pumping stations, but at the time when the windmills were built, this was their primary function. The windmills of Kinderdijk are a picture-postcard scene and have been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997.
Another historic attraction featuring Dutch windmills is Zaanse Schans, a neighborhood of Zaandam, near Zaandijk in North Holland. As part of the Zaans Museum, Established in 1994, historic windmills and houses were relocated to this area, which now features on the European Route of Industrial Heritage, reportedly receiving up to 900,000 visitors a year. The eight windmills at Zaanse Schans each have an interesting history and some have been restored to working order. For example, De Huisman is a small octagonal mill which at different times functioned as a mustard mill, a snuff mill and a saw mill. Today visitors can watch as it processes mustard. De Kat is the only working windmill in the world that grinds raw materials to make paint in the traditional way. De Zoeker is the only oil mill still in operation, grinding seeds to extract their oil, while Het Klaverblad continues to function as a saw mill.
Prior to the industrial revolution, there were as many as 200,000 windmills throughout Europe, and around 500,000 waterwheels. While machinery proved to be faster and more reliable, these striking landmarks stand as a tribute to the ingenuity of the designers of the time.