Zaanse Schans – Overdose of Windmills

A Short Windmill History

DSC_6119Before visiting the windmills it would be nice to know something about them, and about why they are so appreciated. Yes, the mills are fascinating to watch, but the looks are not what drove Dutch people to build them in first place.

So, then why so many windmills?

The first time in Dutch history when windmills are mentioned, is around the year 1200. During that time, the country wasn’t the ideal place to live in, as Netherlands was a combination of swamps and wetlands, separated by sea and sand, with cities and villages often destroyed by terrible floods.

As soon as the water was pushed away after the construction of dams, the windmills were built as an effort to drain the land. In the 16th century, after a few adjustments to the structure of the mills, they started being used in the building ships industry, and in the flower, oil and mustard production. This caused an explosion of mills to appear everywhere around the country, and by the 19th century, their number was close to 9,000!

How not to love them? Netherlands is where it is today, because of the mills!

About Zaanse Schans


The fascinating village is located in the province of North Holland, on the banks of Zaan river. With a history dating all the way back to the 17th century, Zaanse Schans is a stunning community, which consists of historic windmills and traditional style houses. Because of the rapid urban development in the region, many windmills and buildings were moved to Zaanse Schans from other parts of the country.

What I’ve found particularly extraordinary are the efforts made to restore the windmills and keeping them running through the years. Also, all the windmills are working, performing various functions.

The village is absolutely gorgeous and the color combinations blend perfectly with the colors of nature. In the area you can visit saw mills, mustard mills, grinding paint pigments mills, and oil mills, every single one with its own fascinating history and evolution.

The Windmills

There is so much to say about the mills. Every story is complex and complicated, presenting the twisted evolution and change of every windmill, through the time. Also, no story is even close to any of the other stories.

Here are a few of the most important moments in the life of Zaanse Schans’ mills.

DSC_6154De Huisman – located in the village since 1955, is a mustard windmill, built in 1786. The mill was previously used as a tobacco mill, and later as a sawing mill. Only after the move to Zaanse Schans, the mill became once again a mustard mill.

DSC_6155De Gekroonde Poelenburg – is a paltrok mill, used as a wind-powered sawmill, listed as a Rijksmonument. It has a complicated history, and is the result of several combined windmills. Originally built in 1869 in Koog aan de Zaan, the mill was rebuilt completely, after a fire destroyed it completly. It was moved in the village in 1963.

DSC_6157De Kat – is the only remaining working windmill in the world which makes paint pigments, the old way. It was built in Kalverringdijk between 1646 – 1696, working initially as an oil mill. In 1782 it was destroyed by a fire, being rebuilt fast afterwards. It’s been in Zaanse Schans since 1960.

DSC_6159De Zoeker – is a very old oil mill, built in 1672 in Zaandijk, where it was used initially for draining the land, later for paint, and even later turned into a oil mill. Now that’s what I call adapting. Relocated in 1968, the move was extremely difficult, taking one day and one night, during which the mill was transported also by boat and lifted over several railway lines.

DSC_6160Het Jonge Schaap – is a sawmill originally built in 1680 in Westzijderveld, used until 1942, when it was demolished. It was rebuilt in 2007, using as much as possible the 17th century methods.

DSC_6163De Bonte Hen – is a oil mill built in 1693, with a long history of lighting strikes and fires, always making a miraculous escape, in time. I guess we are lucky to still see it around.

The best way to see the windmills and learn something about the history of Zaanse Schans is by boat, so I highly recommend a cruise on the river.

DSC_3092Besides the windmills, which obviously are the main attraction, you can also see demonstrations of crafts, from woodworking to cheese making.

Unfortunately the village became a bit too touristic in the past years but it still has its charm, thanks to the constant efforts made to keeping alive the spirit of the old times.

All the windmills are beautiful, and definitely worth seeing. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I guess we all have our own. Which one is yours?

To the Windmill!

20141019_1407111A windy day is a perfect day to visit a windmill and actually see it work. So, I hopped on my bicycle and started the trip towards a beautiful mill, from the beginning of 1900. You might think: ‘1900?! Oh, it’s probably a museum.’ Guess again! It’s still working, and it does a fantastic job.

Even before getting close to the fascinating building, I could see the enormous blades turning. What a fantastic mechanism!

I couldn’t believe my ears when the miller told me they used the windmill even during storms with wind speeds of 89–102 km/h. And I have to say, I was very impressed by the power such a construction can develop. Being inside, I could feel the entire mill moving. As soon as the wind starts, it all comes alive! This explains why it is used for such a large spectrum of activities. Historically speaking, the windmills kept Netherlands going, being used in pumping the excess water from the land into the sea, in cutting the wood needed for building ships, and, of course, as a source of power. The millers even use the windmill to pull the bags of grains, at the desired floor.


The bags of grains are ready!

I was touched to see all the work and dedication invested into maintaining everything. Basically, being a miller is not a job or a hobby, but a way of life. You have to love what you do, in order to feel the mechanism and understand it perfectly.

Not an easy job I would say, but people really love their mills, and take very good care of them. Hard work, as the reparations have to be done in the same way and with the same type of materials used by the original constructors. This was learned the hard way, when the mill was repaired, at one point, by a contractor who used new, fancy construction materials. From the very first use of the windmill, it was easy to see that the newly set bricks couldn’t support the movement of the entire structure. The whole reparation had to be restarted, and done properly, the ‘old fashioned’ way.

Very imposing and fascinating buildings, and all the respect for the millers who invest so much time and energy into keeping them going!