1) Windmills used to be everywhere
A gentle creak and a soft ‘whoosh’ as the sails zip past is all you hear when standing close to a windmill. These days, it’s easy to forget that century or so ago this sound was ubiquitous. Windmills (molens) used to be everywhere: more than 10,000 fully operational windmills once dotted the Dutch landscape, being employed for industrial purposes. When the windmills found themselves in competition with steam and later diesel and electricity, they gradually disappeared from the Dutch landscape: 1,200 of them remain today. Being lovingly maintained and protected, they are now much-loved icons of the Dutch landscape, especially in Old Holland. One of the best places for windmill spotting is the Zaanse Schans, a free outdoor park with an impressive collection of historical windmills.
2) They are true all-rounders
Many people think windmills were only used to make flour out of grain, but in fact, there were many more functions. Windmills were draining the lowlands of excess water to reclaim polders, to press oil from seeds or to saw wood. One must-see is De Kat, a paint mill where dyes and chalk are still ground to produce pigments for traditional paint.
Image credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed via Wikimedia Commons
3) They started the world’s first industrial revolution
The mills that were used for sawing wood ensured a flourishing shipbuilding industry in the Zaanstreek region in Old Holland, which is where the world’s first bona fide industrial zone emerged in the 17th century. Around 1650, some 75 ships were built here each year. Even Tsar Peter the Great came over from Russia to learn how to build a ship in Zaandam!
4) There is a National Windmill Day
The Dutch love their windmills so much that they even have dedicated a special day to them. Every year in mid-May, the country celebrates National Windmill Day, for which windmills throughout the Netherlands are decorated with flowers, figures of angels or Dutch flags, and doors are thrown open to visitors.
5) You just need to jump on a bike to see lots of them
There are many ways to enjoy a day out windmill spotting. For example, numerous bus tours take visitors to the most interesting and picturesque specimens. But one of the loveliest ways is also the most Dutch one: hire a bike and step on the pedals! This cycling route through the Zaanstreek region, the historical windmill mecca, takes about three hours and passes a number of must-see mills (and even a windmill museum!).
Image credit: Cris Toala Olivares