Netherlands: Welcome to Holland
Welcome to Holland
I read in my guidebook that 26% of the Netherlands lies below the level of the sea, but I hadn’t expected this to be so obvious in the flatness of the land and the network of waterways designed to carry water to the sea.
The Netherlands (sometimes called ‘Holland’) literally means ‘low countries.’ Its location at the point where several of Europe’s largest rivers empty into the sea means that much of the land was full of marshes and meandering rivers. People have settled here for thousands of years because the rivers create very fertile soil, but the very same rivers and high sea-tides often brought flooding with great loss of life.
For over 2,000 years the locals have been building dikes and dams to control the 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 no hills, at least in the western part of the country around Amsterdam.
In the 17th century, the Netherlands was one of the richest places in the world. During this period, often called ‘The Dutch Golden Age’, the Dutch explored, traded, and settled around the world, including founding the city now called New York. (Did you know that its original name was ‘New Amsterdam’?)