Visiting the Volewijkspark, Amsterdam: recalling Medieval land reclamation

Flag of The Netherlands
Flag of The Netherlands | Source
Volewijkspark, Amsterdam
Volewijkspark, Amsterdam | Source
Map location of Amsterdam municipality
Map location of Amsterdam municipality | Source

Land for birds, eventually for people

This park in Amsterdam, North Holland (Dutch: Noord-Holland) province, The Netherlands, — more precisely, in the district of the city known as Amsterdam-North (Dutch: Amsterdam-Noord) is located on land with an interesing history. The name of the Park — the Volewijkspark (1) — refers both to the suburb of Volewijck, and also to what are known as the Volewijck Lands (Dutch: Volewijcklanden). The latter name refers to a tongue of land in the IJ (2), which, in the 15th century was emerging from the waters.

So what do cities in North America do, when the powers that be decide to expand their suburbs (and, yes, possibly just as tellingly, their local tax base)? The answer is, of course, that so often, through the good offices of their political friends, the boundaries of the city are simply moved outwards, to include adjacent territories. (So far, so good.)

But what do cities in The Netherlands do, when they need to expand outwards? Remember, as a country, The Netherlands is the most densely populated country in Europe (with the possible exception of microstates such as Monaco, the Vatican and San Marino) and much of its area lies below sea level. What Dutch cities have often done therefore is reclaim land that once lay below water. In the case of Amserdam, this process has been going on for many centuries. Forget, for the moment, that some Canadians are indulged to think that their huge country supposedly has 'too many immigrants': since the Middle Ages, the Dutch have turned to the waters that surround them, and have painstakingly drained them to create new lands, increment by increment.

This, then, is what happened in what is now the district of the City known as Amsterdam-Noord. The tongue of land, which became the basis for a land reclamation process, beginning in the Middle Ages, was initially referred to as the suburb (Dutch: wijk) where the birds (Dutch: vogels) would congregate, and this is how the eventual Volewijkspark got its name.

The Park is adjacent to another city park, the Florapark, from which it is separated by the North Holland Canal (Dutch: Noordhollands Kanaal), and by the Nieuwe Leeuwarderweg, which leads into the IJ-Tunnel. The Volewijkspark and the Florapark are sometimes collectively known as the Noorderpark, which totals 45 hectares.

Species of rarer birds spotted at the Volewijkspark include the Subalpine Warbler.

Interestingly, in World War Two, a Royal Air Force Lancaster from 97th Squadron crashed in the Volewijkspark on the night of December 20, 1942.

While, on the surface, the Volewijkspark might not seem one of the more 'exciting' of the City's localities, yet its past tells us a lot about the history of Amsterdam — indeed, of The Netherlands.

March 13, 2013

Notes

(1) The name is sometimes written Volewijckspark, a more archaic spelling.

(2) I have elsewhere discussed whether the IJ is, or was, a river, a lake, or a former branch of the Rhine.

Also worth seeing

In Amsterdam itself, the numerous visitor attractions include: the Nieuwe Kerk, the Royal Palace on the Dam, the Munt tower, the Anne Frank House, the striking Central Railroad Station (Dutch: Station Amsterdam-Centraal), the Rijksmuseum, and many others.

Haarlem (distance: 22 kilometres) is noted for its partly Medieval Bavokerk.

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How to get there: Airlines flying to Amsterdam-Schipol Airport from New York include Delta Airlines and KLM. There is car rental availability at Amsterdam airport. The Dutch railroad company NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen) maintains rail services between Amsterdam-Schipol and the Central Railroad Station in Downtown Amsterdam. Access to the Volewijkspark is via the IJ-Tunnel or the IJ Ferry, which depart for Amsterdam-North from the De Ruyterkade. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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