#7 – City Borders

Ten Things to Love about Dutch Towns
07# – City Borders
#08 – Bridges
#09 – Cityscapes and Skylines
#10 – Coffee

Aerial view of Naarden

Aerial view of Naarden (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All cities have borders. Really. Some borders are ancient city walls surviving in part, sometimes neglected and crumbling, sometimes restored breathtakingly. Others are invisible, stone remnants beneath the surface.

Some borders are the result modern techniques, like the London congestion charge. Many large towns and cities in Europe and beyond have large motorways closing around the suburbs. These, too, are a kind of modern city borders.

Most city borders in the Netherlands, especially in the North and West have one main characteristic: water. These borders are a visible defense system of canals. A beautiful example of this is the fortified town of Naarden.

The congestion charge used to apply to drivers...

The congestion charge used to apply to drivers within the London Inner Ring Road. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the west of Holland the land is lower than the sea, so making good use of water has ever been the ideal defense system. During the Eighty Year’s war, the Dutch rebels made the most of this fact. In 1574, the town of Leiden had been under siege by for more than a year. Townsfolk were starving and only the city’s strong defense walls kept the Spanish forces out. The Dutch rebel forces purposefully damaged the dikes and the favourable winds pushed the sea water inland, flooding the lands around the city and forcing the Spanish to flee. The Dutch army sailed up to Leiden and liberated its inhabitants.

The Relief of Leiden. Dutch School Printings from the 1940s, drawn by Isings. Part of a large collection on images of Dutch history.

Nowadays, many of these defense water ways are hidden within a town, only visible if one follows the course of the water and recognizing its pointed shapes. A map of Leiden will show you this, or take a look at Utrecht on Google maps and try to make out the shapes of the canals.

In these cities, too, modern borders are emerging: parking zones. These zones form an invisible, erratic line around the city. Inside, you have to pay a hefty amount to park your car for just one hour. Outside, parking is free – but chances are you’ll have trouble finding a decent parking spot and you’ll have to walk half an hour to get to the shops in the city centre.

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