Welcome to The Netherlands
As my plane descends through the clouds toward Amsterdam, I notice something about the landscape – it is completely flat. It’s also criss-crossed with waterways. There are wide rivers and canals, lakes and ponds, and what looks like thousands of small ditches. The Netherlands is obviously a very watery place…and why are there no hills?
I read in my guidebook that 26% of the Netherlands lies below sea level – meaning the land actually sits lower than the level of the ocean’s surface. (We will investigate that later.) From the air, I imagine myself wandering along the famous canals of Amsterdam and taking a boat ride to get a different perspective.
The name ‘Netherlands’ means ‘low countries.’ It is located at the point where several of Europe’s large rivers empty into the sea. This means that much of the land was full of marshes and twisting rivers. People have settled here for thousands of years because these rivers create very fertile soil. However, these same rivers and high sea-tides often brought flooding.
For over 2,000 years the Dutch have been building dikes and dams to control these waters, and, in the process, drained marshes to create farmland. In fact, 17% of the country is actually man-made! This is why there are almost no hills. (More on this a little later in our journey.)
Like many other countries in Europe, the history of the Netherlands is one of changing borders and rule by foreign empires. The first settlers of this area were ancient tribes. In 50 BCE, the Roman Empire took control of the southern part of the Netherlands and ruled for 500 years. Control then passed to various royal families. Finally, after a long and bloody war, the Dutch gained independence in 1648.
In the 17th century the Netherlands was one of the richest places in the world. This period is often called ‘The Dutch Golden Age’ and during this time the Dutch explored, traded, and settled around the world. They even founded the city now called New York (did you know that its original name was ‘New Amsterdam’?)
Now that we’ve covered a bit of history, I can’t wait to take you through the Netherlands with me!