Amsterdam: Living on Water
The Dutch has a long memory of the love-hate relationship with water out of which the Netherlands was formed. As one-third of the country is submerged below the sea level, its people steadfastly defend against the natural power by making use of it. So to say, Amsterdam is a supreme example.
From a Swamp to an Ocean
At the Maritime Museum in Amsterdam models of ancient ships that used to sail around the Good Hope are exhibited. One of them is the “Amsterdam”, a property of East India Company, which braved the storms and cut effortlessly through the waters of Portugal and Spain for the thriving spice trade.
Amsterdam began to flourish after the decline of Lisbon. It is said that during the 16th century Amsterdam possessed a fleet of 14,000 ships. Most historians agree that the growth of seafaring industry along with determination and recklessness of the Dutch sailors contributed to the country’s conquest of East Indies. Thanks to a very far-sighted move, Dutch traders subsidized the travel cost for exploring the land of spices and acted to protect their interest against Spanish oppression. Deriving from the Spice Traders’ Guild, the East India Company was set up in 1602. The company was the world’s first modern company run by executive committees from Amsterdam and neighboring towns. A cooperate charter was signed and small investors were encouraged to join in a cooperate venture.
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From a superficial impression, the charter suggests the rise of capitalism and financial strength. But the bottom line is the full authority for developing Amsterdam and its bordering counties in order to facilitate a constant flow of the East India. During the mid 16th century to the early 17th there were reconstruction of fortresses and expansion of cargo ports including new ferry routes from the 13th century. The new canals not only protected the city from floods but they also provided transportation link to Amsterdam. Surrounding the city were 4 layers of canals at the total length of about 100 kilometers with 16 water locks. The new canal system is known as the Singelgracht or the ring canal which later symbolized the innovation of town planning and the world’s architecture.
A Touch of Genius on the Water
Since the ground is mainly below the sea level, the lowest point is 6.67 meters below average while the highest point is 323 meters above average. The difference between the land and the water can be distinguished through naked eyes. No wonder a flood is the city’s worst nightmare. How did the people of the Netherlands manage to overcome the crisis?
… This is an intellectual merit acquiring from the determination to battle against the elements where lives of the people are at stake.
Scho kland and Surroundings: How the Dutch Overcome Water
Scho kland, a peninsular that turned into an island in the 15th century, was inhabited by settlers until there was a devastating flood in 1859. However, after the water was drained away from Zuider Zee during 1940, the area became part of the land. Traces of residential community in prehistoric times were found in Scho kland. This represented the Dutch’s heart and soul to overcome the persistent natural force.
Defence Line of Amsterdam
The Defence Line of Amsterdam was built between 1883 and 1920, expanding 135 km around the city. This one of a kind fortification was constructed in accordance with the principle of controlling the waters. Since the 16th century the Dutch have decided to adopt hydraulicengineering technology for defence purposes.
The heart of the country was protected by a network of 45 armed forts acting in concert with temporary flooding from polders and a sophisticated system of canals and locks.
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Mill Network at Kinderdijk-Elshout
The inventions in Kinderdijk-Elshout demonstrate a successful water management of the Dutch. Here hydraulically operated machines have been used in drainage systems in agricultural and residential areas since the medieval period. These world heritages include dykes, reservoirs, steam pumping stations, administrative buildings and windmills which all are perfectly preserved.
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Ir.D.F. Woudagemaal - D.F. Wouda Steam Pumping Station
Situated in Lemmer in the province of Friesland, the Wouda Pumping Station opened in1920.It is the largest steam-pumping station ever built and is still in operation.This masterpiece of the Dutch engineers and architects is another form of human endurance in protecting the land and the people from the force of the water.
Droogmakerij de Beemster - Beemster Polder
The Beemster Polder, (Beemster is land reclamation achieved by draining the big lakes) dating from the early 17th century, is a shining example of reclaimed land in the Netherlands. It has preserved intact its well-ordered landscape of fields, roads, canals, dykes and settlements, laid out in accordance with classical and Renaissance planning principles.
Seventeenth-century canal ring area of Amsterdam inside the Singelgracht
The historic urban ensemble of the canal district of Amsterdam was a project for a new ‘port city’ built at the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries. It comprises a network of canals to the west and south of the historic old town and the medieval port that encircled the old town, the Singelgracht. This was a long-term programme that involved extending the city by draining the swampland, using a system of canals in concentric arcs and filling in the intermediate spaces which allowed the development of a residential community.This urban extension was the largest and most homogeneous of its time. It was a model of large-scale town planning, and served as a reference throughout the world until the 19th century.In 2010 the Amsterdam Canal District was inscribed on the World Heritage List.
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Source : http://whc.unesco.org
Text: Sirion Rimpranee
Translate: Chuensumon Dhamanitayakul
- 4 october 2011
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