The villages of Waterland, North Holland

As you might know, much of the western part of the Netherlands is under sea level. The altimeter in my previous car showed that I was mostly driving around at -5 meter, something visitors from outside of the Netherlands would always freak out on. This is possible due to the protection we get from the dikes against the sea, a never ending process that has characterized land development for centuries. With climate change, the intensity of raising and fortifying dikes needs to increase even further to stay ahead in this arms race against sea level rise coming from melting ice caps. The second process that creates the situation where land lies below the water level is due to the way land has been, and still is, won from the water. What we call a 'polder' is a patch of land which has been won back, sometimes from soggy marshland origins and sometimes from large bodies of water altogether. Varying in method but the essence is that a piece of land is 'diked in' and then pumped dry. Depending on the soil, this creates land that sits lower than the surrounding waterways. And with ground water levels declining, this land is continuously sinking ever so slightly. Land reclamation still happens today. For instance, the house that I live in today on the east side of Amsterdam was built on land that did not exist two decades ago. One of my main cycling routes from my house takes me north of the city, into an area known as Waterland. Here, land has been reclaimed for centuries and charming little villages have been built on that land. These villages are the topic of this post. Cycling through this 'polder' area, has made me discover these towns because while some may attract tourists, most of them are small and simple with little more than their famous wooden houses that protect its residents from the ever present wind. And a church. There is always a church.

Water is never far away [Ricoh GR III]
Waterways might outnumber roads in this area [Nikon Z6, Nikon 28mm F1.4]

The landscape itself is pretty boring. A sea of green pasture land cut into pieces by hundreds of waterways. Being on the waterways is an interesting experience as you will be elevated above the land itself. If you have the chance to do a kayak tour through this area I highly recommend you to do so. So with landscape this boring, the villages are what give the area its charm. Characteristic wooden houses are flanked by typical brick and square protestant churches that show a sense of permanence that contrasts with the fragility of the houses.


Defying the wind and made to last. [Leica SL, Voigtlander 21mm F1.4]
Due to the lack of high buildings, the church tower provides an easy way to find your way around [Nikon Z6, Nikon 28mm F1.4]

Most villages are very small, some with only a dozen houses. Habitation in this area goes back about a thousand years. Water has always been the dominant element. It was the main mode of transportation and also a constant threat, disaster looming with every storm.


Waterland around 1900
The colored wooden houses still stand today [Leica SL, Voigtlander 21mm F1.4]

With so many waterways, bridges are abundant and they come in all shapes and sizes. But, in line with the relative lack of density in population compared to other areas in the Netherlands, they are small in size as many roads are single lane.


A bridge at almost every corner [Ricoh GR III]
Only pedestrians and cyclists on this bridge [Leica SL, Voigtlander 21mm F1.4]
Every house has its own bridge [Leica SL, Voigtlander 75mm F1.5]
Some are big enough for cars {Leica SL, Zeiss Sonnar 50mm F1.5]

Probably the prettiest village is Broek in Waterland, situated about ten minutes north of Amsterdam. With roots that go back all the way to the 13th century, this town grew into prominence during the 17th century where it was a hub for trade, particularly for herring. The trade brought wealth to the village and one way to display that wealth was to paint your house in a vibrant color which was very expensive at the time. This created a sea of colors and even though many have been painted over in the later centuries when the fortunes of the village had faded and the cheap grey was the dominant choice, the village has retained some of this display of abundance.

Hints of color remain visible in Broek in Waterland [Leica SL, Voigtlander 75mm F1.5]
Classic facade of this area [Nikon Z6, Nikon 28mm F1.4]
The village has plenty of looks [Leica SL, Voigtlander 75mm F1.5]
The church foundations date back to the 16th century [Leica SL, Voigtlander 75mm F1.5]
The facade reveiled [Leica SL, Voigtlander 75mm F1.5]

I'll leave you with some other photos from the area. I will pass through here for many more hours, fighting the wind on my bicycle so I am pretty sure I will discover new angles to make a second series.





Sharing insights on the art of photography - Erwin Hartenberg Photo