Defence Line of Amsterdam
The Defence Line of Amsterdam was built between 1883 and 1920 to guard the capital Amsterdam. It is the only example of a fortification based on the control of water.
The protection of the centre of the country was ensured by a network of 45 forts and their artillery acting in concert with temporary flooding from polders and an intricate system of canals and locks.
Map of Defence Line of AmsterdamLoad map
Visit October 2002
For my visit to the Defense Line I chose Muiden and Pampus, two of the most accessible locations. Muiden is a historical fortress-town to the east of Amsterdam. The whole town is like an open air museum and has a real historical feel to it. The Muiden Castle is also a must.
From Muiden I took the ferry to Pampus. This island became the final part of the Defense Line: it had to guard the entrance to Amsterdam via the IJ-river. Soldiers were trained here between the two World Wars, but never has the island been used in combat. The place was already outdated when its construction had finished.
Nowadays Pampus sees 35.000 visitors a year. Since 1990 it has been privately owned by a foundation that wants to maintain and restore the fortress-island. They haven't been lucky in finding funds though, and so the site is in really bad repair. Not as bad however as when they acquired it twelve years ago, when there were rats everywhere and trees grew out of the buildings.
If you look at our rating the Amsterdam Defence Line is not a popular WHS. In any case it offers a rather unique and interesting story which is inextricably connected to older similar defence lines, the most important of which were the Old and the New Dutch Waterline. All of them were huge enterprises including dozens of forts, dykes and sluices. They all use water which the Dutch normally have to fight against as a weapon against invading enemies. If that is not original enough they also flooded their own, mostly agricultural but also populated land on huge areas as you can see on the maps of the Dutch Waterline on Wikipedia for example, which is rather self destructive. I find it also funny that the land had to be flooded very shallowly since too low water would still allow driving and walking and to high water levels would allow boats.
It is a bit surprising that the Amsterdam Defence Line was the first of these lines that made the list since one would think that the oldest lines were the revolutionary undertakings and most worth of an inscription and the later lines could be regarded as more of a imitation or continuation. As I could find out there seem to be two reasons for this: The Amsterdam Line as the newest project is the best preserved of the three. And since the older lines belong to several provinces they had supposedly a hard time to come up with a common application while the region of nord Holland seem to have been quicker with the presentation of its application.
Well, what is there to see? Basically it is a big circle of mostly 20th century forts in a big ring around the city of Amsterdam surrounded with much typical Dutch countryside of fields, canals etc. Since the forts were kept for possible future use between the two world wars they were off limits and even there construction was often kept secret. As a consequence most forts still are surrounded by natural habitats, where rare animals and plants can be found. Therefore this WHS should be high on the list for our bird watchers!
It may be a real pleasure to bike along the line from Edam to Muiden and its surrounding forts, especially for the natural landscape. The visit of the forts may get monotone after a while but most forts are closed anyway.
I had this time only one day for this WHS and my first idea was to visit the Beemster Polder, a WHS which contains in its core zone at least three of the forts of the Amsterdam Line. That sounds cool and one of them is even a nice hotel. But since the Beemster Polder is on this website described as a rather underwhelming WHS I decided to visit it rather in a warmer season when the flora as more attractive.
Therefore I decided to concentrate on the eastern end of the defence line. If you study the official map of the Amsterdam Line you see that there are only two historic townscapes included in the core zone: Muiden and Weesp. Since both are easily reachable by public transport from Amsterdam and both contain historic town centers with fortifications from different eras, so this seemed a good choice. Both of them were also part of the Old and the New Dutch Waterline and have constructions from all three projects. I decided to include nearby Naarden as well, since it was part of both Dutch waterlines and is included in the nomination of the New Dutch Waterline.
To Weesp you can get easily and several times per hour by Sprinter train from Amsterdam Duiverdrecht. The city has a fortified island in its harbour on which you find Fort Ossenmarkt, a round fort with a moat that is closed to visitors. This island has also bastions that can be seen easily from the town and I did not explore them by foot. In the summer season there seems to be a very nice looking garden on the island called De Theetuin.
I walked around the very pretty town center which was the liveliest of the four I saw on this day. There is a majestic church (closed like most Dutch churches and only open on summer weekends), a grand town hall with an interesting looking museum (open Wed through Sun), a yacht harbour and a working windmill beyond the southern canal (open only on Saturdays). Helas, when I was there everything was closed and after walking around for a good hour I walked back to the train station to catch the bus to Muiden.
The bus runs once an hour and goes directly to Muiden. You get off at Muiden Centrum. From there you walk a few minutes to the town center. The old city is less interesting then Weesp if you look at the houses and streets but it has two great advantages: Its location near the IJmeer and its castle.
This castle is supposedly the best conserved castle in the Netherlands and while it is small and simple compared with grand castles in other countries it is certainly worth a visit. It was a key factor for Dutch waterlines since it controlled the acces to the river Veesp from the IJmeer which was at that time still part of the sea since the Markerwaarddijk was only added in the 20th century. While it is nice to walk through the castle and along the walls and to climb the towers it is at least as interesting to see the walls, fortifications and dikes around the castle since it stood in an neverending struggle with possible invaders and the sea. This was a very important strategic position at all times.
Nearby is the modern fort of Muiden, the so called Museum Muizenfort. While the castle is closed on Mondays the Muizenfort is closed on Sundays. Therefore I planned my trip for a Tuesday. So I could see the old and the new fortifications. While the fort is certainly nice to walk around the so called Museum was a disappointment: There are a few vitrines with town memorabilia and a few panels explaining the fortification but only in Dutch. The fort is also used as a tourist information with brochures and maps. But it is very, very small and, as I mentioned before, only in Dutch, therefore do not plan your trip around it. There are two more modern forts in Muiden that are not open to visitors and I was content to see them from a distance.
In the summertime you can take the boat from Muiden to Pampus Island, a large modern fort. It looks very interesting but in this season I had no possibility to visit it.
From Muiden Centrum I took the hourly bus to Naarden and you need to change buses once if you want to get to the old city. This town played a key role in the defence of Amsterdam and was fortified several times which underlines its importance. It has the shape of a slightly elongated star with six arrow shaped green bastions which alternate with six similarly shaped defence islands.
Some fortified towns like Neuf Brisach are such a great sight on pictures from the air that they disappoint at least slightly when you visit them and can see just from the horizontal perspective. Not so here: The water in the two moats makes a big difference and your ever changing perspective goes from the town with the big church tower to the surrounding bastions and on to the fortified island and the surrounding dike that seperates the inner from the outer moat. The latter is planted with poplar trees and is used by the towns people to run or walk their dogs.
Since the weather had turned rather bad by then I decided to visit the Vestingmuseum (closed on Mondays). This is a quite interesting museum that leads you through long corridors but there is no audio guide and almost all panels are only in Dutch. This was even more annoying since there was a whole section about the Dutch waterline! You do get a couple of sheets with some information in English but it is not much. A bit odd in a country where most people speak English well or even excellently.
After the museum I walked on to the next bastion to the East. Here they used the subterranean hallways for a restaurant, shops and firms by adding several glass roofs. This looked like a excellent project to use the old fortifications for new goals. I continued to the Utrecht gate. There you find the tourist information and you can cross a dike to one of the former defence islands which is now used for a galerie and a shop, everything done very tastefully and reminding of a hobbit village.
I had initially planned to walk around the whole town since the fortification looked so great but since the bad weather continued I cut into town. The impressive church was closed, perhaps because they were doing renovations. There is an adorable renaissance town hall but it is open only on weekends in the afternoon. Furthermore there is a museum about the important Czech humanist and pedagogue Comenius (including his mausoleum) and the old harbor with the former Arsenal. Here as well you find several buildings gently turned into shops and offices, probably a good thing to keep the town alive. But not just the fortifications seem perfectly preserved here, also the town is beautifully renovated and inhabited. I will try and come back some day in nice weather and walk around the fortifications, explore the town and take a boat ride. You can certainly spend an active and relaxing day here.
This town must be part of the nomination of the New Dutch Waterline. It is so well preserved that you could wonder why it wasn’t even nominated on its own. While the Belgians were so successful to position almost all of there (often wonderful) towns on the list the Dutch stuck more to their (often striking) water management and left almost all of their well preserved and beautiful towns out of consideration. While several of them would have given good arguments for inscription at an earlier time by now they might have more chance as part of this waterline nomination.
I finished my time in Naarden after a few hours because of the rain and took the bus to the next larger village, Laren, which was recommended by my host. It is a famous village and hosted a group of painters with the same name. The excellent American painter and collector William Henry Singer settled there too and his collection is the core of a famous museum featuring impressionist and expressionist art. There is a wonderful cafe with original paintings and a sculpure garden too. This was a nice alternative for bad weather, if though not UNESCO related, and I returned happily to Amsterdam by bus after a full day.
I have visited this WHS in September 2016. The Defence line of Amsterdam symbolises the engineering skills of the people from the Netherlands in water management. It also illustrates the spirit and atmosphere existing in Western Europe in the late 18th and early 19th centuries when most of countries were facing internal tensions as well as external pressures, increasing the likelihood of the occurence of a war and making necessary to all countries to erect defence lines and fortifications.
I have visited forts in Weesp, Muiden, Abcoude, Hinderdam and Nekkerweg. Other forts will come during my next trips to the Netherlands.
Because I had limited time in and around Amsterdam when visiting in 2014, I concentrated on a section of the Defense Line just outside Haarlem, which included Fort Liebrug and Fort Penningsveer. The walk to the forts was scenic, bypassing a recreation area on the west side of the Liede River. Both forts are on the east bank of the Liede. Fort Liebrug was closed, so I only got to see it from the road, but Fort Penningsveer was open on a Thursday afternoon in the summer. Fort Penningsveer is tree-covered and surrounded by a moat, and has several earth-covered bunkers and trails to explore. I encountered a youth camp unexpectedly on the back side of the fort, but I later found out on the Defence Line of Amsterdam website that the fort is being used for educational camps. The forts weren't the most breathtaking World Heritage Sites I've seen, but they were a pleasant way to spend a summer afternoon.
Logistics: Train to Haarlem Spaarnwoude station (near Haarlem IKEA); walking path to the east bank of the Liede River to find both Fort Liebrug and Fort Penningsveer.
Since I was in Essen, Germany, visiting the Zolverein WHS, on 17/12, I thought I would go to Amsterdam just for one night on 18/12 to attend a concert at the Gebouw for the first time. But because I had been to Amsterdam once before, instead of roaming the city before the concert, I thought I'd go check out another World Heritage site, the Amsterdam Defense Circle. It was a last minute decision, meaning I was not well-prepared. Once in Amsterdam I just walked into a tourist office, and a staff there recommended the city of Naarden to see part of the circle, showing me the impressive aerial photo of the city.
So I went to Naarden, and it was fascinating to learn at the defense museum how the people in the low lands in Netherlands naturally came up with the idea of using water to defend themselves.
But then after the concert in my hotel I checked the UNESCO website and started wondering if Naarden is really part of the WHS, despite the fact that a staff at the museum specifically told me that the whole town of Naarden was a part of that WHS.
Because of my suspicion I quickly decided to visit the fortress at Weesp in the early next morning before my train departs from Amsterdam Central at 9 am. From the Weesp train station, I walked in the rain to the fortress at 7 am in the early morning winter darkness.
By now I know that Naarden is not part of the WHS but is included in the tentative New Holland Waterline.
I visited this WHS several times but I remember in December 2010 the canals were totally frozen! This defence system based on the principle of controlling the waters is quite unique and well worth a visit by boat (perhaps when the canals are not frozen!)
This is a pretty interesting and unique site, but one that is a bit challenging to visit. It consists of over 30 separate sites within a 15 to 20-km radius around Amsterdam, all in various states of repair, with many not accessible to the public. The highlight is the small (artificial) island of Pampus in the IJsselmeer, which can be reached by ferry from Muiden. The military and civilian installations there are still very impressive and give a good idea of what life was like for the soldiers stationed there (it was only fully staffed during WW I). The guided tours seem to be in Dutch only, but you can get a map and walk around on your own. The pretty port city of Muiden has a nice maritime atmosphere and features, besides the interesting Muiden Castle, another part of the WHS - the Muizenfort, which includes some well-preserved trenches. The West Battery is directly opposite the castle and can be seen from the ferry (it would be a very long walk there). In the nearby town of Weesp (where the buses to Muiden leave), I went to see the Fort aan de Ossenmarkt, which looks quite impressive and well-preserved from the outside, but can't be visited. These sites are all southeast of Amsterdam and seem to be the ones that can be visited most easily. After my visit to Beemster (north of A'dam), I went to the nearby town of Edam, which is most famous for its cheese-making tradition. The Fort bij Edam can be reached in a (very) long walk from the centre. It is only open on selected days (first and second Sundays of each month from April to October, and afternoons only), because it is run and staffed by volunteers. It is not in a very good shape, but it was still interesting to walk around in the dark alleys and small exhibition rooms. Apart from Amsterdam's canal area, this was the most interesting WHS I have yet seen in the Netherlands.
Although a number of the forts were closed I did manage to visit a few of them:
Aalsmeer fort - got a guided tour from the curator of the museum here, saw the facilities provided for the troops stationed here virtually undergound and enclosed in a massive reinforced concrete structure (train to Schiphol Airport then bus #198 to Aalsmeerdenbrug).
Fort Uitermeer - a circular fort (train to Weesp then bus #106 to Rondelvrugt.
Vesting Weesp - a circular fort (train to Weesp)
Muiden Slot - has more an appearance of a stately home or castle than a defence installation (by bus from Weesp).
Pampus Island - the ferry ride from Muiden included an extensive guided tour of the fort.
Amstelhoek fort - by bus #142 from Amsterdam Centraal to Tienboerenweg, Uithoorn.
Fort an der Drecht - now a restaurant, winery and art studio (bus #170 from Uithoorn).
Fort Vijfhuizen - now an art centre (by bus #140 from Uithoorn to Hoofddorp then bus #300).
Fort Veldhuis and Fort an der Ham - found these on a hike along the dykes from Heemskerk (bus #167 from Beverwijk station) to Krommenie-Assendelft station.
Some friends of mine invited me to go to Amsterdam with them. Since I had seen Amsterdam before, I decided to visit the defense line. Our stay wasn’t going to be long and I was going to rely on public transportion. So I decided to search on the internet which parts of the defense line were the easiest to reach from the city. Combining the world heritage website, google maps, some others and this very excellent site on the defense line (in Dutch and English) I choose the following fortresses:
- Fort aan de Ossenmarkt (Weesp)
- All the fortresses in the town of Muiden
- Fort bij Penningsveer (Haarlemmerliede)
- Fort aan den Ham (Uitgeest)
First I took the train from Amsterdam Central station to Weesp Station (+/- 15 min) and from there I took the bus to Muiden (stop brandweerkazerne: +/- 10 minutes). There I saw the complex of sluices, the westbattery, Muizenfort and I also visited the nicely preserved Muiderslot (which I can recommend taking some time for). Unfortunatly the boat to Pampus didn’t sail out this season, so I could only glimpse it from the shores of the Ijssel lake.
The thing I liked most here was the west battery, I found it to be an intruiging structure. Unfortunatly I could only see it from outside, as the inside seems to be used for youth organisations. The muizenfort contains a museum, but this too was closed. Muiden is a nice town though with a nice maritime feel to it. And thank heavens for the zoom on my camera so I atleast had a decent picture of Pampus.
I took the bus back to Weesp and had to walk about 1 km from the station to come across “Fort aan de Ossenmarkt”. A somewhat similar building to the westbattery in Muiden, though it seems to have stood the test of time in a better way. This fort is also not open to visitors and can only be viewed from the outside. After +/-15 minutes with the train I stood back in Amsterdam.
The next day I took the train to Krommenie-Assendelft station (+/- 25 minutes, all trains are direct from Amsterdam). And I seem to come out in the middle of nowhere, along a seemingly major road. The station was quite modern though. From Google maps I knew I had to walk about 2 km. This had to be over the cycling facilities since they were no facilities for pedestrians. I had to admit, I didn’t feel quite safe, walking alone on that long road in what seemed the middle of nowhere (just a long road, some polders and town centres in the difference). Eventually I arrived at the fort (aan den Ham), you can see it from a distance, but the gates are closed. It opens up like once a month. Not the greatest thing I ever saw, though it’s considerably bigger then the ones in Muiden and Weesp.
Back to Amsterdam with the train (the one I didn’t miss by a minute) and from there I took the train again to Haarlem-Spaarnwoude (+/- 13 minutes). When you’re nearing the station you can glimpse another fort from out the window of the train. The station (another modern one) is nearby an Ikea store and after walking over the huge parking area and following the map I had I came into a nature reserve (Spaarnwoude I believe it’s called). Which was a bit disorienting, especially since google maps seems to have troubles with such areas. Fortunatly 2 friendly Dutch ladies pointed out the right way for me. It seemed a much longer walk then Google indicated (1 km). I walked around the moat of the fort (Penningsveer), but all you saw was some trees, a hill and here and there some small manmade stuff.
I reached the front, where some information signs stand and another closed gate. One of the signs reading you can book entrance. I admired the fortress from behind the gates (so you don’t see much) and turned back to the train station. I returned to Amsterdam, and went shopping with my friends. One should always make time for shopping ;-).
The forts ring Amsterdam so if you travel about 15km out from the centre you will be pretty close to one of them.
After a recommendation from Els we headed out to Muiden. There are two forts here as well as a ferry link to a third at Pampus. We first stopped at the Muiden fort near the lock at the centre of town. Having looked at the forts in aerial photos this was the classic shape of the majority of the forts, it is a sort of arrowhead shape surrounded by a moat. We had a look inside but most of the things were closed, there was information leaflets about the other forts along the New Holland Waterline (on the Dutch tentative list).
We then walked out to the West battery (pictured), here you could get a better overview of the fort and its ring of water, it is now used as a meeting place for scouts. It was very hot so we went to the extremely small beach behind the battery and relaxed with the locals, looking out towards the fortress island of Pampus.
Muiden was an exceedingly charming place to visit and the castle is very impressive, we had a lovely time here sitting in the café next to the lock watching the boats move past. It was worth making the short trip out, there are hourly buses to and from Amsterdam Amstelstation and it takes about 30 minutes.
We saw three of the forts at Beemster, the one at Spijkerboor is open to visitors and has explanations about how the forts work, it was closed when we got there though. When you are taking off/landing at Schiphol keep an eye out as a fair few of the sites are located almost literally at the ends of the runways, I managed to see two more like this.
It is quite hard to grasp entirely how these forts work, and as they are so disparate I never really got a full sense of their worth. The engineering is impressive and it is a distinctly Dutch interpretation of defence. As a casual tourist I wouldn’t suggest the sites themselves are really worth trekking out to see but are wide spread so a visit to many places just outside Amsterdam should give you a chance to view at least one of them.
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