Sites with a story you haven’t heard

For a small country, the Netherlands boasts many iconic attractions to see, and UNESCO World Heritage Sites are a great way to start. Varying greatly in size, age and beauty, each tells a remarkable story, creating a unique and beautiful image of the country’s rich history. These places shaped Dutch society and represent the urge to innovate and a talent for dealing with water. Why not look for some you’ve never heard of?

The Colonies of Benevolence offer a fascinating look at social reform in the Netherlands. The idea behind the Colonies of Benevolence, located in Drenthe, Overijssel and Flanders, was to reduce poverty by providing a way for low-income city dwellers to move to the country and work the land.

The Society of Benevolence was founded in 1818 to offer the poor a better life in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which then also included Belgium. King Willem I supported this initiative, and seven colonies were built: Frederiksoord, Wilhelminaoord, and Veenhuizen in Drenthe, Ommerschans and Willemsoord in Overijssel, and Wortel and Merksplas in Belgium. Five of these colonies have UNESCO World Heritage status, an important part of Dutch history. Visiting one of the colonies will really get you thinking.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of De Beemster is a unique polder area showing how the Dutch have controlled water and used it for centuries. More than 400 years ago, the Dutch succeeded in reclaiming land in an inland sea using 43 windmills. The De Beemster lake changed into a beautiful landscape lying 3.5 meters below sea level, divided into a tight geometric pattern of squares. It served as a model for many other land reclamation projects, including the Schermer. You can still see many water windmills in the Schermer landscape. Today, the area between De Beemster and De Schermer, Schermereiland (Schermer Island), is a popular nature reserve with unique swamp fowl and vegetation.

To farther prove that the Netherlands is a nation co-existing with a lot of water, visit the town of Lemmer in the province of Friesland. You’ll see from a great distance the 60-meter-tall chimney of one of Holland’s most splendid and innovative monuments, the D.F. Woudagemaal pumping station. It is the largest steam-powered pumping station in the world still in operation today. It is located in a stunning building inspired by the Amsterdam School’s architectural style.

The Netherlands’ beautiful UNESCO-listed monuments include the Amsterdam Canal Ring and the windmills of Kinderdijk. In 2014, the Van Nelle factory in Rotterdam was added to the list. Built-in 1925 as a coffee, tea, and tobacco factory, the building had a major influence on the development of modern architecture in Europe. Architect Leendert van der Vlugt created this building, where light, air, and space were central.

There are even more UNESCO World Heritage Sites to explore in the Netherlands, and they surely fit the bill for iconic sites in Europe!

Visit the amazing Woudagemaal steam pumping station
Visit the amazing Woudagemaal steam pumping station, © Sjoerd Bracke & Cuno de Bruin.

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