|In the early 17th century high sea levels and winds in the area north of the River IJ caused erosion of the peat bogs, and good farming land was in short supply, so in 1607 the government decided to drain the Beemster. Amsterdam merchants and high-ranking officials arranged the financing and the engineer Jan Adriaensz. Leeghwater helped build the windmills. It was an exciting project, as no-one had much experience of such large-scale lake reclamation work. The result is a unique type of polder.
The reclamation was completed in 1612. The new land was 3.5 metres (11 feet) below sea level and turned out to be fertile clay. It was parcelled out in a rectangular grid, reflecting the 17th-century ideal of the harmonious relationship between man and his environment. The long rectangular plots, which were leased to arable and stock farmers, were just the right size. "They're 185 metres wide and 930 metres long, ideal for farming," says Gervien Pielage of De Waterlanden water control corporation. "Not too narrow, not too long." Originally the area was divided into four administrative areas for water control purposes; now there are seventy. "That enables us to gear water levels to the needs of residents and businesses."
The windmills that kept the Beemster dry have made way for pumping stations, and the country seats of the rich merchants have gone. Still left are the "cheese-cover" farmhouses, some of them dating back to the days when Beemster was new. Bordered by roads and intersected by straight ditches, the rectangular plots are still in evidence: they even figure in the logo of the Beemster World Heritage site. "We chose them deliberately," says Joke Benningen, "as they emphasize the distinctive Beemster look." The Beemster Polder is often visited by tourists from home and abroad, and this is only to be expected, says the Alderman: "It's a unique experience for any visitor to be in an area that is so far below sea level. And with the green landscape divided into rectangles, the unusual water management system and the rich history we have something fantastic to offer!"
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