The mill town of Kinderdijk in Southern Holland
What would Holland, or rather the Netherlands, be without its most iconic emblem – mills? And in order to learn more about this phenomenon – where they came from and why in such numbers mills were built in several places in the country, we will try to find out by visiting one of them – Kinderdijk in Holland province (South Holland). It’s easy to get to this place from The Hague where we are staying – first of all by train to Rotterdam (half an hour, 5 €), then by boat on the river (half an hour, 8 €).
After disembarking at the pier, go to the reception and show our admission voucher, which was bought beforehand on https://www.kinderdijk.com/ (27 €). The village of Kinderdijk is situated at the confluence of two rivers, the Lek and the Nord, on drained and cultivated plots of lowlands, protected by dams from flooding. Here back in the XVIII century was built a system of 19 windmills, which in good health can be seen today.
With the name Kinderdijk (Kinderdijk), which is translated from Dutch as “child’s dam”, there is a legend according to which, during the most devastating flood in the history of the country called “Saint Elizabeth” that happened on November 18-19, 1421, a huge area of dry land was flooded. Suddenly, among the floating remains of wooden houses, people saw a cradle bobbing on the water. They did not expect to find anyone alive in it, but when it swam closer, they discovered that a baby was quietly sleeping inside…
In order to understand better the sense of events that took place here and how they began, the first thing you should do is to visit the small cinema hall where a 20-minute film about the history of the place is shown on several screens (you have to rotate your head to the full 360 degrees).
After watching the movie, you can either walk along the right side of the water street and visit the museum located in one of the mills, or take a boat ride for other shots of the mills taken from its deck. Or you could do both. But for an hour boat ride you have to pay an additional 27 €. By the way, it makes a couple of HopOn/HopOff stops, where you can get off, walk around, watch and go back on deck of another ship to continue the tour. This is good for old people and people who don’t really like to waste their energy walking. We decided to walk around on foot and then, at the conclusion, walk the canal on such a vessel. Basically, it’s “wasted” both money and time if you’ve already hiked this route…
Life has not been easy for the inhabitants of these places. The lowlands, called “polders” in the Netherlands, had to be drained by digging canals by hand. It was not until about the middle of the 18th century that a system of 19 windmills was built to drain the polders. This group of mills is now one of the largest concentrations of ancient windmills in the Netherlands and in 1997, this complex was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Kinderdijk Mill Museum
To the right of the path, which is also marked for cyclists, we see a bridge over the canal that leads to the museum located in the former mill building.
The truncated mill building itself is lined with brickwork. Inside such a building are both the mechanism of the windmill itself and the dwelling of the miller’s family. And yet so comfortable, as for those conditions of the 18th century. Let’s go inside and take a look – what is there and how…
Before visiting such a construction, I never thought that in addition to the mill mechanism can be placed there and quite comfortable (within certain limits, of course) dwelling. Everything, of course, is very compressed and compact. But on the first floor there is a small living room, which also has a dining table with a sewing machine standing on it, and a fireplace. There is also a small sleeping “room,” which can be seen in the background on the right.
In the sideboard is porcelain in blue and white colors, made by local craftsmen from the neighboring town of Delft.
On the wall in front of the street is a shelf with a collection of clogs in which peasants worked in the Middle Ages. These wooden shoes were called “Klompen”. They were waterproof and made of aspen or poplar wood. Their thick soles were often lined with straw, so that they would not “rattle” on the floorboards of the house.
The upper floors, of which there were three or four, were reached by a steep staircase. The middle of the mill space is occupied by the mill mechanism itself, a rather complex engineering device developed by Dutch craftsmen in the early Middle Ages.
During the tour of this museum mill, our guide told us that the drainage system is particularly important in the Netherlands. For a long time, the inhabitants of the low-lying areas of this country have needed an elaborate system of water level control in order to protect large agricultural areas from flooding – because, as you know, some parts of the Netherlands are below sea level. For the polder Alblasserwaard, where Kinderdijk is located, this problem became relevant in the XIII century.
Such areas of land on the sea side were protected by dams, while on the inner side of the polder groundwater level had to be regulated by drainage devices and pumping water. Everything is simple and clear – it was only necessary to implement the idea. And the Dutch did it, constructing in the Middle Ages a truly miracle of engineering creativity – windmills. And here we are inside this miracle and look at it from the inside.
The first thing that catches your eye is the windmill mechanism itself, which runs through it from floor to ceiling. Everything is in full view. And no protection from the teeth of the rotating flywheel. I just can’t imagine how young children, of which there were always about a dozen in those miller families, would spin among those cogged wheels. The guide told me that, of course, there were accidents when children and women fell down the stairs or got caught in the millstones…
As we climbed the steep stairs to the second floor, we could see the bedrooms – these little corners with beds about one and a half meters long.
Each door had its own “bathroom,” which included a wash jug and a potty.
A rounded wall held chests and chairs of very decent workmanship. No benches, typical of Russian peasant huts.
From photographs hanging on the walls, dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it is clear that Dutch peasants were no strangers to suits and ties, or women’s evening gowns.
The children of millers went to school and received an elementary education in this village.
After leaving the mill museum, we continued along the canal toward the other mills in the distance. There are nineteen of them in all in Kinderdijk, and they were all built around 1740 as part of a large water management system that prevented flooding.
On the other side of the canal was a parallel line of mills.
And, although this mill complex is a symbol of Holland’s water management, the water element, because of the dams it destroyed, has invaded this land more than once, flooding Kinderdijk…
In this photo you can see the canal of water intake, which was then transferred further into the river flowing to the sea.
Nowadays, houses are built next to the mills, expanding the family’s need for usable square meters, which are already equipped with the latest standards of comfortable life.
There were mills, the roofs of which were made of straw or, rather, reeds. We even came across one building whose walls were also made in this style.
The entire town of Kinderdijk, as I indicated above, was built beginning in 1740 and we see this date on one of the mills.
Where else can you see the mills?
Not far from Amsterdam, there is the Saanse-Schans Park, which has about 600 windmills in the area! At one time it was the world’s first industrial area, thanks to which shipbuilding was very developed in the country. In the center of Schiedam, not far from Rotterdam, there are five of the largest windmills in the world. Their height is about 40 meters (12-13 storey house!).
In all, there are more than a thousand windmills in the Netherlands. Some of them are still used for drainage, like two of the 19 mills of Kinderdijk.
And what is the situation with windmills in Russia and Ukraine? In Russia there are about 85 surviving mills, in Ukraine – 45.
For example, in the ethnographic place Pirogovo near Kiev, there is a small collection of windmills, which operated in different regions of the country. They were used mainly for grinding grain and no one lived in them.
Most Russian mills are made of wood and are in the Arkhangelsk region. Why? There was good maritime trade with European countries from there. Some examples of these mills can be seen in Malye Korely near Arkhangelsk, which houses the State Museum of Wooden Architecture and Folk Art of Northern Russia. This picture, for example, shows a mill from the village of Kimzha (Mezensky District, Arkhangelsk Region, Russia).
And this one is a mill from the village of Rovdina Gora (Kholmogorsky District, Arkhangelsk Region). It was built around the end of the 19th century.
To our countries, the technology of the mill was brought by the Germans and the Dutch, who at the invitation of Catherine II mastered the territory of the North, the Volga region and the Black Sea. They brought to this region a culture of hitherto unknown in Russia windmills, the production of ceramic and metal utensils, comfortable furniture instead of benches along the table, shipbuilding, construction, arrangement of houses and much more, without which there would be no modern Arkhangelsk, nor such developed already in the 18-19 centuries the northern regions of Russia.
What were the mills needed for in northern Russia? Mainly for the processing of grain in order to export it abroad and as sawmills for building materials.
Hotels in the mills
The scope of tourism and interest in such an interesting object as a windmill, prompted some owners of these structures to organize for themselves an easier and more profitable business on this interest – to repurpose them into hotels. And it worked! Among them, for example, is the Hunsingo hotel in the town of Onderdendam where a room costs 100 euros per night. And it’s full for the next two months!
Here we end our short excursion to one of the most iconic places in the Netherlands – the mill town of Kinderdijk. And it was all the more pleasant that such a meeting took place just on my birthday…
Our journey through Northwest Europe does not end there. Tomorrow will be an introduction to Amsterdam and then a flight to Copenhagen – in the direction of a two-week Scandinavian fairy tale, which will reveal its beauty to us in Denmark, Norway and Sweden…
The mills of Kinderdijk village. Netherlands
Kinderdijk (original Kinderdijk) is a small cozy village in the Netherlands. It is world famous for its ancient windmills, which were built here in the 18th century and still work.
Where is Kinderdijk
The village is nestled 10 km southeast of Rotterdam and 60 km from Amsterdam at the confluence of the rivers Nord (west) and Lek (north).
Why are there windmills here?
Mills in Kinderdijk are not used exactly as we are accustomed to. They do not produce flour, but pump water.
As you know, the name of the Netherlands means “low lands”. In other words, large areas of the country lie below sea level. Not like the Dead Sea, of course, but still. There is always the possibility of flooding.
To lower the water level, windmills have been built in the area. They pump water from the polders into the sea.
Polders are drained low-lying areas that often lie below sea level. In addition, they are extremely fertile lands.
To drain the land from 1738 to 1740 years was built a system of 19 mills. They were pumping the water out using the wind power for the water pumps.
It is the mills that help drain the lowlands here.
It is the largest collection of old windmills in the country and a popular tourist destination. They have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997.
A bit of history
Once upon a time the Netherlands (or more precisely the modern two provinces, known to us as Holland) was a powerful maritime power. Therefore, all the coastal land tried to use. Many areas were protected by dams, but there was always a high probability of flooding by groundwater.
In this region, flooding problems became evident as early as the 13th century, as the surrounding area was a swampy terrain. Initially, large canals called “weteringen” were dug here. They helped reduce the water level in the polders, but it was not possible to drain large areas with their help. Only a few centuries later they decided to build a complex of mills for drainage.
At one time there were about 150 windmills in the surrounding districts of Alblaßervar and Wijfherlenland. In the 1870s their number was reduced to 78. Now only 28 such mills remain in the entire region. 19 of them are concentrated in the village of Kinderdijk.
In 1868, a steam engine came to the aid of the windmills. In 1924, steam engines were replaced by diesel engines.
Although the windmills have been replaced by more efficient diesel pumps, they are still in good working order today. They are a backup in case the diesel pumps break down. But the last time they were used for their intended purpose was during World War II. Back then, the diesel pumps didn’t work because of fuel shortages.
Stone and wooden mills
Eight stone mills called Nederwaard were built in 1738. The wooden mills are called Overwaard. They were built in 1740. The Nederwaard mills pump water from the lower portions of the polders into one reservoir, and the Overwaard mills pump water from the higher polders into another reservoir. Both reservoirs were formerly used to drain water into the Lek River using special sluices. Today, modern pumping stations are in operation here.
Kinderdijk village legend
The name of the village can be translated as “children’s dam”. There is an old legend associated with the appearance of this name.
During the great flood of St. Elizabeth in November 1421, the polders were flooded. After the storm subsided, the people decided to assess the damage and came out of their shelters. As they approached the water that had flooded their surroundings, they saw a cradle floating leisurely. At first a cat appeared out of it. It tried in every way to keep the balance of its ship and jumped gracefully on the edges of the cradle. But what was their surprise when they found that inside the absolutely dry cradle there was a living baby.
Such a miracle became a symbol of hope and life for the locals.
The mills are lit up in the evening
Kiederdijk Mills in tourism
Now these places are quite famous among travelers. Sometimes in the summer the mills start working again. But only to show tourists a kind of attraction.
In one of the mills there is a museum, which introduces visitors to the principle of the mill water pumps. In addition, the mill is quite roomy. The miller Miller Hook’s family lived in it with thirteen children. You will have the opportunity to get acquainted with the life and life of this family.
Whole families lived in the mills.
In the visitor center, you can see the old Visboom Pumping Station, which was replaced by the Overwaard Pumping Unit in 1995. It uses impressive Archimedean screws to pump water.
Archimedean screws of the Kinderdijk pumping station
You can take a pleasure boat ride around the reservoirs. The trip lasts up to half an hour.
But in winter the reservoirs turn into a great skating rink.
Kinderdijk Reservoirs in Winter
Mills Kinderdijk especially like photographers, because here you get amazing and unique shots.
Great examples of work by professional photographers