You may have heard about the Zaanse Schans in North Holland, and about the working windmills you can see there. But did you know that these windmills introduced an industrial revolution, leading to the Dutch Golden Age?
As you can read on our page about Dutch Windmills, the Dutch used them to get their feet dry, and to create polders from the wetlands.
But soon, they found other uses for the power the windmills provided. They could be used to produce flour, hemp for rope, paint, and oil. But especially to saw wood to build ships and houses.
In the area above Amsterdam, around the river Zaan, a complete industrial area arose. In the 18th century, more than 900 windmills stood along an 11 kilometer (7 miles) stretch next to the river.
A lot of the production was for the city of Amsterdam close by. And for the large VOC ships, with which Holland conquered the world.
Today, you can still find working windmills in the 'Zaanse Schans'. There are multiple working windmills that can be visited that are used in the production of spices, lineseed oil, lumber and paint.
The windmills are located next to the traditional Dutch houses that display many interesting crafts and shops such as a cheese farm, a wooden shoe maker and a bakery.
De Zaanse Schans is located next to the river 'De Zaan'. During the 80 years war, an earthen wall fortification was created here, to defend against the Spanish troops.
Such a fortification is called a sconce or in Dutch a 'Schans'. Hence the name 'De Zaanse Schans' or 'The Zaanish Sconce'.
In the 1960's the area of the Zaanse Schans was declared a Dutch heritage site. Many of the historic buildings from nearby area's were moved to the Zaanse Schans for preservation.
In the 1980's the Zaanse Schans started to become more and more of a
popular tourist atraction. And now getting over 1.5 million visitors a
There are ten windmills in the Zaanse Schans. Remarkably, none of these are used for water management. For these, you have to go elsewhere in the Netherlands.
The windmills here are of different types. Most of them are "Bovenkruiers", which means that only the top of the mill can rotate towards the wind.
There is one special "Onderkruier" though. The complete structure of this mill needs to rotate towards the wind. Unfortunately, this windmill can only be watched from the outside.
Most of the other windmills are still in use, producing oil, flour, lumber and paint. During our visit we entered the following three of these working windmills. The small fee is definitely worth it.
We were welcomed by the young miller Mats into this beautiful 18th century Dutch windmill "De Kat" (the Cat).
Mats is one of the rare men that dedicate their life to keep this traditional job alive. Like all the other millers we met, he told us the story about the windmill with great passion and enthusiasm.
The windmill is currently used for the production of paint pigments such as ocher, lapis lazuli and bone black. When you enter the windmill you see two huge granite grinding stones that are used to grind up the materials into pigments.
You can climb the stairs and walk around the gallery of the windmill and have an amazing view of the area.
When entering this mill, the smell of wood and sawdust enters your nose. You will see the huge sawblades, which are cutting logs into planks.
The windmill still is functioning fully and the worked wood is made to be sold. The windmill has a large dock where the logs can be dragged onto. The intricate system of cogs and wheels are explained with a miniature.
In the old days, the planks were used for crafting ships and houses and many of the windmills around the Zaanse Schans area were used to produce wood. The visit is very educational.
The last mill in the stretch of windmills we visit, is a special one.It produces linseed oil.
The whole mill roars as we enter the building. The large grinding stones roll over the linseed, shoveled onto the bottom stone by the miller.
When the lineseed is crushed enough, it is heated and put in two sacks. These are positioned in an ingenious structure, so the oil can be squeezed out.
With a thunderous noise, a wooden hammer beats the oil out of the heated linseed. According to the miller, they get about one third of a barrel of oil out of one barrel of seeds.
The miller shows the whole process from seed to oil. Most of the oil is used in paint and each drop of oil they produce is already sold to a nearby company.
The wooden shoe workshop at the Zaanse Schans is certainly worth a visit. The klompenmaker or clog maker demonstrates how the shoes are made by using authentic tools from the correct period.
The workshop also features a small museum that shows amazing wooden shoes from history. In the museum you can see bridal clogs, clogs made for walking on ice and even beautifully decorated sunday clogs for going to church.
Of course you can end your walk through the workshop by trying out or buying a pair of wooden shoes yourself in the shop.
In addition to the old crafts, Dutch Cheese is also represented at the Zaanse Schans.
There is a big cheese shop where friendly young ladies in traditional clothing demonstrate the process of creating cheese.
You can taste different cheeses for free, and in the large cheese shop you can buy all the types of cheese your heart desires.
There are many other crafts demonstrated at the Zaanse Schans.
There is a barrel maker, a pewter caster, a traditional bakery, a choclate maker and much more.
There is plenty to see and do for young and old. Hope to see you there soon!
The Zaanse Schans is easy to reach by bus or train taking about 40 minutes.
The entrance to the Zaanse Schans is free. You can walk around all day and enjoy the scenery without paying anything. However some of the windmill owners charge a small fee to enter and explore the windmill. You can see the costs at www.dezaanseschans.nl
Half a day of Dutch fun! Go to the Zaanse Schans and visit windmills, cheese and wooden shoe museum. After that you will visit Volendam and Marken, where you can experience the cozy atmosphere of the Dutch fishing villages. Will you eat a raw herring with unions just like us?