Discover UNESCO: Mill Network at Kinderdijk-Elshout
Windmills are great. They are not only great because their slowly turning wings look beautiful in the flat, windswept landscapes, but also because they are an extremely fascinating type of historical architecture. These huge wood and brick machines were both workplace and home for many Dutch families in the past. Nowadays, they stand as visual testimonies of these labor-intense days that have long since gone by. Most of these great manually operated windmills have vanished forever, but luckily in the UNESCO enlisted Kinderdijk area the greatest concentration of Dutch windmills has been preserved and can be visited.
- This UNESCO site is an open area with dykes and windmills. The highlights can be seen on foot or by boat, while the greater area can be explored by rental bike.
- Most windmills were constructed around 1740, while the UNESCO inscription happened in 1997.
- This UNESCO site consists of 19 functioning windmills, dykes, reservoirs, pumping stations and administrative buildings.
- The Kinderdijk area is generally accessible, but the museum windmills and the pumping station are open from 9am to 5.30pm between March and October and 11am to 4pm in November and December.
- Two windmills have been converted into a museum, the first of which is well worth the visit for 6.5 euros, while admittance into the other costs 8.5 euros per person.
Kinderdijk Windmills and Canals
Private Windmills of Kinderdijk
Why this is a UNESCO Site
The whole Alblasserwaard and Vijfheerenlanden area, which once consisted of over 150 windmills, is an amazing man-made landmark dedicated to water handling and land drainage. The original drainage system, which started during the Middle Ages to provide additional agricultural land, resulted in what is nowadays the highest concentration of decommissioned Dutch windmills.
Thoughts and Observations
I always thought that windmills were fascinating structures and whenever possible I would try to visit them, especially if they were still operational. At the Kinderdijk area all 19 windmills are in fact still operational, but most of them are privately owned and off-limits for visitors. Luckily two windmills could be visited from the inside, which was especially great because I had no real clue what all these windmills were actually used for.
Admittedly I thought windmills were always made to grind wheat into flour for baking purposes, but that was not the case at the Kinderdijk UNESCO site. These windmills were actually water windmills and their only function was to drain land. As a good portion of the Netherlands actually lies below sea level, the water not only has to be kept out by dykes but the fields also have to be constantly drained to make them agriculturally viable.
So as it turned out, in an extremely sophisticated way, these Kinderdijk windmills would drain an area of 50 hectares through a network of water canals. These canals were constructed on two different levels and each line of windmills would shovel the water one step higher before it finally reached the draining river. Nowadays these windmills have become obsolete as more efficient pumping stations do their job, but seeing the windmills and understanding their actual purpose plus the way they functioned was quite fascinating.
Kinderdijk Windmill Museum
Tips and Recommendations
- If you are on a budget, park for free in the close-by village and walk to the Kinderdijk area without paying any entrance fees.
- For a better understanding of the functions of the UNESCO enlisted windmills, spend 6.5 euros and visit the first museum windmill. The same ticket gets you into the pumping station where not only the old steam-driven pumps can be seen, but a short film is screened about the history of Kinderdijk.
- Check out the living conditions inside the windmill museum and spot the old-fashioned ice skates that were used in the wintertime to move about on the frozen drainage canals.
- Go right now!
- Definitely go soon
- Go if you are around
- Stop by if you are bored
- Consider missing it
Even if this UNESCO site covers a large area, as almost all the windmills are off-limits, a visit is not necessarily a day filling event. But seeing all the great windmills from the outside and visiting the museum mill was definitely a really great thing to do while travelling the Netherlands.
Kinderdijk is located just outside of Rotterdam in a town called Alblasserdam. It can be conveniently reached with personal transport, but apparently even public transport options are available.
Have you ever visited a functioning Dutch windmill that could shovel water?
This post is part of Travel Photo Mondays and Sunday Traveler above.