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Water as a defence

In the 16 th century, the Duke of Alva, while subjecting the rebellious Netherlands to the Spanish rule, already complained that with every town or village to be conquered there was water to be crossed. For the defence of the Netherlands against foreign invaders, water became Holland’s ally.

Dutch waterline fortifications

In the beginning of the 17 th century the Dutch Waterline, a system of inundations was set up as a defence against the Spaniards. A unique defence system, born out of lack of time and money. A small town in the middle of the country, part of the Dutch waterline was given new fortifications in 1673. By building a sluice for inundation under the town hall angry farmers could be prevented from obstructing the inundation.

Star-shaped fortresses

Simon Stevin, the mathematician who had fled from the southern Netherlands was the theoretician of the Oud Nederlandse Stelsel(Old Dutch System), the defence system consisting of a system of pentagonal earth bastions and ravelines (without casemates) stimulated by the great Spanish sieges and based on mathematical principles.

A perfect example of this, situated strategically on a sandridge in marshland, can be foud in the northern part of Holland. In a riverside town in the southern part of Holland, a garrison town built along Renaissance principles, and, in 1586 provided with a wall shaped like a seven-pointed star, many traces of the fortification period are still to be seen.

Entrenched beauty

Naarden, struck by the Spaniards in 1572, is according to Menno van Coehoorn’s fortification-building ideas, enclosed by the most perfect defences of the Nieuw Nederlandse Stelsel (New Dutch System) including larger bastions, improved storage of ammunition , accommodation for soldiers and closing of outworks. Enemy armies on their way to Amsterdam could not go round Naarden. A walk along the Naarden bastions will teach you more about the relationship between mathematical fortresss-building and water. One can also see how military constructions have been given a modern function. Some other fortified towns in the Netherlands show you that defence walls could be used for housing. The poor inhabitants were thus spared the building of a wall.


In Naarden’s Fortress Museum you have a unique chance to see the entrails of a bastion, the listening-corridor, poterne, cannon-cellars and embrasures.

House of Orange

In the river landscape of central Holland lies a pictoresque little fortified town with old ties with the Dutch royal family.

Military beauty

In the New Holland Waterline you will find a fortress which has besides great cultural-historical value also important nature values.

Fortress Ring of Amsterdam

In the 16-th century Amsterdam became the most important city of the province of Holland and was called the navel of the world. That’s why the city had to be well protected, but it was not until 1799 that there was a closed line of defences round the city.
At the outbreak of the First World War de Stelling van Amsterdam (the Fortress Ring of Amsterdam) was as good as finished: 30 concrete fortresses and 2 defensive works in a radius of 15 kilometres round Amsterdam with a total length of 135 kilometres.

In 1996 the Stelling van Amsterdam, Holland’s national reduit, was added to the Unesco World Heritage list. How such an old fortress was adapted to the demands of modern times is something you can observe yourself by visiting one of the Stelling van Amsterdam fortresses. The HollandThe RideWay programme offers you a good introduction to a defence system which is unique in the world.

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© illustration: Lex Tempelman

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