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Alkmaar - a historic city

Alkmaar - a historic city

Alkmaar is a historic city in the Province of North Holland in the Netherlands, about 10 km inland from the coast, and 40 km north-west of Amsterdam. The city's population is about 95 000, the whole urban area has about twice that number.

Alkmaar is the regional center for the northern part of the Province, serving about 600 000 people. The city center preserves the 17th-century pattern of canals and narrow streets, and has many historic buildings (and some ugly new ones). The nearby beaches and dune reserves are easily accessible from Alkmaar itself. Inland is a historic agricultural landscape, with 17th century polders: one (De Beemster) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

Alkmaar is on the 'peninsula' of Holland, north of Amsterdam and Haarlem. In the Middle Ages, this was a region of lakes and marshes, lying behind the coastal dunes. (The medieval coastline was different: the sea began north of the line Medemblik - Schagen - Petten). In the last 800 years, the region behind the dunes was reclaimed from lakes and the sea - often several times, as land was flooded again and again. The polders around Alkmaar are among the oldest in the Netherlands. The small Achtermeer, south of Alkmaar, was the first recorded drainage of a lake by windmills, in 1532.

Alkmaar began as a small settlement on higher ground, a natural sand ridge (old beach line). The oldest towns and villages in the County of Holland were built on these ridges, or at the edge of the dunes: Alkmaar is the most northern of the towns. The settlement was first recorded in the 9th century. As it grew, Alkmaar was granted city rights in 1254. It had a strategic importance as a defensive position for the County of Holland: the hostile West Frisian lands began on the other side of the moat, on the Oudorp side.

By the late Middle Ages, Alkmaar was the largest town north of Amsterdam and Haarlem, and it still is. It was a market town for the agricultural products of the region, and the Alkmaar cheese market is a reminder of that function. In 1573, during the Dutch Revolt, Alkmaar was besieged by the Spanish forces. The siege failed, and since then the 'victory at Alkmaar' is regarded as a turning point in the Netherlands' independence from Spain.

In the 17th century Alkmaar was an important provincial city, and the layout of the old city is mainly from this period. Some of the older buildings, including all the city gates, were demolished in the 19th century, but most of the damage to the historic character was done by urban renewal, from the 1960's onward.

Although it is near the sea, Alkmaar has no coastal harbor. The coastal dunes have no natural inlet, and shipping formerly sailed eastwards to the sea, via lakes and channels. Between Alkmaar and the coast are the forested dunes of the Schoorlse Duinen, most of it a nature reserve. At the edge of the dunes are the villages of Egmond-Binnen, Egmond aan den Hoef, Bergen, Schoorl and Groet. In late-medieval times the coast stopped just north of Groet, but the present coastline extends to Den Helder, a naval port at the northern tip of the province.

Alkmaar today is a medium-size Dutch city, and it has outgrown its municipal boundaries. Much of the the newest housing is in suburbanised villages such as Heerhugowaard, 10 km to the north-east of the old city. Together with the city, they house about 200 000 people. However Alkmaar is not an administrative capital, it has no university but it has a so-called university for professional education ('hogeschool' in Dutch), which offers bachelor's degrees in several programmes. Its proximity to Amsterdam prevents Alkmaar from being an independent regional urban center, like Zwolle or Maastricht.

Hotels in Alkmaar

Map of Alkmaar

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