About Old Holland
Windmills, clogs (‘klompen’) and tulips: those are the hallmarks of Holland that almost everyone immediately recognises. While you can see them all in Amsterdam in the form of trinkets for tourists, head further north to historic Old Holland to see and experience them for real.
Old Holland is one of the oldest industrial areas in Europe, and wind and water played an essential role in its success. The Zaan region, with its hundreds of windmills, was once the stockroom of the Netherlands, providing most of the country’s food and goods. At its peak, around 1720, approximately 600 mills were in business in the region. Dozens of mills have been rebuilt over the centuries, as many were destroyed by fire or storm.
The region fared economically well in the 17th and 18th centuries. Weaving mills, starch factories, tarpaulin factories, paper, tobacco, paint, candles, snuff, bluing, cocoa, blacksmiths, sawmills, shipbuilding, shipping, trade and animal husbandry was all made and done in Old Holland. With the arrival of the steam engine, most mills disappeared and left a somewhat different landscape. Only 15 industrial windmills have been preserved. The industrial revolution changed the region, but the arts and crafts of old remained essential to the people of Old Holland. You can still experience them up close in the many towns scattered throughout the area.
Old Holland towns such as Volendam, Zaandam and Alkmaar showcase the traditional skills of the region: shipbuilding, fishing and cheese-making in particular. Modern-day Zaandam blends the old with the new and finds innovative ways to repurpose and showcase its industrial character. Perhaps the first sign you’ll see of this is when marvelling at the eye-catching façade of the Inntel Hotel Zaandam, a stack of almost seventy individual Zaan houses in four hues of the traditional Zaan green colour. For a fantastic trip back into ‘Old Holland’, head to Volendam and neighbouring Edam, and Marken - picturesque towns on the shores of the Markermeer. And then there’s the Waterland area just above Amsterdam, which is perfect for a bike trip from the city.
The industrial heritage of the area gives an insight into another, very interesting part of Dutch history. There’s the Dutch Defence Line, with its many forts, and the Hembrugterrein, once a factory for the production of ammunition and weaponry, producing artillery and firearms for the Dutch army.