A Merchants’ Retreat

Broek in Waterland, a tiny place only a few kilometers away from Amsterdam, was famous since the 17th century. It used to be called “the cleanest village in the world”, and it received many foreign visitors even in those times. Today it looks almost too good to be a true: a sort of real-life Disneyland, making guests feel like they are stepping into their favorite cartoon.

The fairy-tale atmosphere is easy to explain. Broek in Waterland was already in the 17th century a sort of holiday and retirement community for rich Amsterdam merchants and captains of the East India Company. The village’s traditional activities had already ceased, and many inhabitants earned their income from overseas trade and related activities like insurance. Apparently, the colors of the houses followed a code- bright colors for the former captains’ houses, grey for the rest of the locals.

The village lived a special moment in 1811. At that time, the Netherlands was part of the French empire, and Broek in Waterland received the visit of emperor Napoleon himself. Many anecdotes surround this visit, like the fact that even the emperor was obliged to take off his shoes when he visited one of the local houses. While we cannot be sure of that, it seems he was very pleased with what he had seen, since he recommended the village to empress Marie Louise. The mayor Harmen Janz Bakker, who had organized the visit, received the Legion d’honneur in December 1811.

The village has not changed much since Napoleon’s times. Most of the houses we see today were built before 1850, in a style that is unique to its region. It is a fairy tale come true, definitely worth a short stop on the way to the more popular fishing villages Marken and Volendam. A visit to the local pancake house will make the trip even more pleasant.

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