Beemster Polder: A UNESCO Site in the Countryside

Heather Tucker, Monday, July 1, 2013

In 1999 Beemster polder was placed on the UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites. But until my visit to the area, I didn’t really understand why. What I was to learn was that the Beemster area is an area of land that was reclaimed from the water primarily by windmills. The reclaimed land was divided up into a geometric layout using a symmetrical grid of roads and canals and was used not only for farming but also as a location for rich merchants from Amsterdam to build their grand country homes.

One of the best places to start your exploration of Beemster is in Middenbeemster, approximately 30 minutes from Amsterdam. Situated at the intersection of the Middenweg and the Rijperweg this village has a rectangular market square and more importantly a small tourist office. I was quickly provided with documents about the area including leaflets that highlighted churches, farms and forts in Beemster. I also received a recommendation to visit the Agrarisch Museum Westerhem and the Museum Betje Wolff.

With my leaflets in hand, I took off in the direction of the market square for some lunch before heading back to the museums. I had intended to visit both museums, especially since their leaflets suggested that neither was very big. Little did I know that I would be spending quite some time at the Museum Betje Wolff.

Born in Vlissingen, Betje Wolff was married in 1759 to the vicar, Adriaan Wolff. The vicarage where they lived is now the museum. A small leaflet is available in Dutch, which outlines the history and details of all the rooms you see in the house. Even without the leaflet it is easy to be drawn in by the furniture, decoration and items of the past. I was extra lucky to be the only person visiting the museum, which meant I got a private tour from the very well informed lady who was looking after the museum for the day.

Afterwards I jumped into the car and headed off in the direction of the farms listed in one of the leaflets I had received that morning. Most of the farms are private residences now, so you can only gawk at them from the side of the road.

Passing square after square of green land and looking at all the large farms leaves you trying to imagine what the area looked like when rich houses and pleasure gardens from a previous time also existed. But even without them, the area of Beemster is relaxing, picturesque and the perfect place to slow down and spend an enjoyable day in the countryside.