On the previous page sinking land, we saw that in Medieval Holland the draining of the land made it sink, and too wet for most agricultural purposes. Dairy farming however was an option. That rings a bell, no ?
But such a dramatic change, that's easier said than done. Because for dairy farming you need much less hands than for crop-growing farming. So many people faced starvation. Thousands emigrated, to parts of Europe where their particular skills in draining and the development of land were useful. To England and France, and even as far as East Prussia, Poland and Russia.
Most people stayed and tried to make a living as fishermen, sailors, traders or craftsmen. Resulting in a rapidly growing sailing fleet (with the connected infrastructure of shipbuilding and supplies), linked to an outburst in the development of (small) towns.
And it marked also the beginning of Holland as a trading nation. Since you can not live on milk and cheese alone, they had to get their wheat and rye from elsewhere, mainly from the Baltic. Over time Amsterdam became the focal point of European grain trade.
A trading nation sailing out, simply because people had no other choice if they wanted to survive.
So, although Holland started developing rather late for European standards, it very early became a relatively urbanised society. Where the towns set the tone, where society had to be well organised, the more because of the overwhelming urgency of a reliable water- (and dike-) management.
If one reads historical jurisdiction, even Medieval, it is striking that there is something like "live and let live" in existence. "As long as you don't break social harmony, and do your thing quietly, well, the law is flexible."
It's with this background in mind that you could look at the proverbial Dutch tolerance. Probably more a rational choice than a conviction, if you live in a country where you might need each other someday. Traditionally, that is.
When you cycle in and around Amsterdam, there are a couple more ways you can actually see that this country has a somewhat different mentality. Being on the one hand a 100% merchant business nation of individualists. On the other hand this strong tradition of solidarity, combined with an even stronger centralised bureaucracy. Legacies of history ?
Consider the way a high degree of urbanisation was carried out, and (social) housing development, especially during the last 150 years or so.
Sometimes it's a bit weird. You know perfectly well you're cycling close to, or even inside urban territory. Nevertheless, you have the impression of being in a rural area. An illusion, indeed. A direct result of a long tradition of careful and strongly directed urbanisation. Resulting in a typical Dutch "townscape".
As for houses and building, objects older than, let's say, 500 years are extremely rare. Muddy land, you know, and too many wars.
Nevertheless, it is very well possible to draw a picture of the evolution of housing through the ages. All kinds of housing : from humble dwellings to flats ; from castle to country mansion.
And on this subject, something very typical for the Netherlands : a special kind of massive social housing projects (some ugly, some just beautiful), based on a background of a strong sense of community and social justice. From early in the twentieth century till today, samples of all these projects in time are also within easy cycling range.
Regional history continues on page > How the Dutch tried to defend their country.