If visiting a miniature version of a country the size of a postage stamp makes no sense to you, stay away from Madurodam, a top tourist attraction in Den Haag featuring historic Dutch towns, ports, canals, roads and monuments re-created on a 1/25 scale. On the other hand, if you fancy learning about the history of a nation that would be underwater were it not for Dutch ingenuity, by all means visit this interactive park that tells the story behind the battle against water, as well as many historic venues that still exist in Holland today.
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Holland's Sweetest Spring
Opened in 1952, Madurodam was initially funded by the parents of George Maduro as a monument to their only son, a cavalry officer from Curaçao who died in Dachau. In numerous exhibits, it honors heroes of World War II. This one depicts the liberation of the Netherlands on May 5, 1945 with the help of American, British, Canadian, Polish and French forces.
Sadly, liberation occurred after more than 18,000 Dutch civilians starved to death during the 1944 Hongerwinter (Hunger Winter), when Amsterdam and other populated areas were cut off from food supplies. Today, Bevrijdingsdag (Liberation Day) is celebrated annually in Holland on May 5 to commemorate the end of Nazi occupation.
Income from Madurodam now supports charities focused on youth and sustainable projects for young people.
Madurodam is a great place for kids of all ages to experience many aspects of Dutch culture and society, from Golden Age shipping to historic events that took place centuries ago at monuments that still stand today. Holland's maritime trade and relationship with the treacherous sea are represented in displays showcasing the port of Rotterdam and the Oosterschelde, as well as the intricate network dikes and polders the Dutch used to create Holland.
At interactive displays, you can experience life as a 17th century dock worker, loading and unloading containers from ships. Using a mechanical crane, compete for the title of fastest, most accurate loader. Operate the Oosterscheldekering storm surge barrier and become a hero by preventing the village behind it from flooding.
A trio of realms comprises Madurodam: Wetland, where water is showcased as friend and enemy; City/Empire, where Holland evolves from a pastoral bog studded with windmills to a sophisticated nation with world-class cities, monuments and transportation; and Resourceful, tracing Dutch architecture, innovation, logistics, entertainment and design as inspiration for the world.
All models for the displays are manufactured in Madurodam, in the park's own studios. While originally crafted from wood, they're now made primarily with plastics processed by computer-controlled milling machines.
Many of the displays feature moving cars, boats, planes, trains and trams, offering a bird's-a view of Holland, from past to present.
There's no tourist-packed Damrak in this downtown Amsterdam scene at Madurodam, a theme park in Den Haag that depicts Holland in miniature, through the ages. While the display has tiny moving cars and buses, it lacks the array of tacky souvenir shops, neon signs and fast food joints that now the boulevard leading from Central Station to Dam Square.
Amsterdam's renowned phallic-shaped National Monument, the New Church, Royal Palace and Magna Plaza Shopping Center look pretty much as they do today in the surreal miniature landscape, minus the tram lines, billboards and other more contemporary urban trappings that arrived in the Dutch capital in the 19th through 20th centuries.
Kids can breeze down a zip line like pirates at Madurodam's Wadden Sea-themed playground. In one sandy area, a replica of a 17th century ship features chutes and ladders for climbing, as well as a hammock for weary parents.
One Dutch kid of 19th century literary fame receives special recognition at the Den Haag theme park: the brave boy in Mary Mapes Dodge's classic children's novel. In the book, young Hans Brinker saves Holland from flooding by poking his finger in a hole in the dyke.
Amsterdam's Concertgebouw: Exceptional Acoustics for a Royal Orchestra
Amsterdam's famed Concertgebouw (Concert Building) is among many historic Dutch landmarks depicted at Madurodam. The 19th century neoclassical building has been home to the renowned Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, as well as the Dutch Philharmonic and Dutch Chamber Orchestras, for over a century.
The Concertgebouw's Grote Zaal (big hall) is internationally recognized for its exceptional acoustics. Opened in 1888, it has earned its reputation among music lovers as one of the world's most sophisticated concert halls. What this model does not show is a modern wing that was added in a 1982–1995 restoration project that allowed for uninterrupted concert activity while adding more space for concerts and receptions.
Today more than 800,000 visitors enjoy nearly 800 classical music concerts each year, in addition to jazz and pop shows. Special events, congresses and weddings also are held at the beloved venue on Museumplein, facing the Rijksmuseum.
In addition to Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra evening concerts, Robeco Summer Concerts feature visiting soloists and orchestras. Sunday morning and Saturday matinee concerts are popular with Dutch families. They're broadcast on Dutch radio for those who can't make it to the concert hall. Free Wednesday Lunch Concerts showcase Dutch and foreign orchestras; show up early if you're intent on getting a seat. Guided tours of the Concertgebouw are offered in Dutch and English.
Water has always played a significant role as both friend and enemy in Holland―a country that would be underwater were it not for Dutch ingenuity in managing the ever-encroaching sea. During Holland's Golden Age, when the Netherlands was the largest trading nation in the world, water provided passage for thousands of Dutch ships traveling to distant lands to gather spices and other treasures. Long before the height of 17th century trading, water played foe to lowlanders who learned to ignore geographical borders in order to bond together in a constant battle against flooding.
For centuries, an intricate network of man-made dykes held back the North Sea in the Netherlands. In 1953, disaster struck when a combination of wind, high tide and low pressure caused a storm surge that overwhelmed sea defenses. More than 1,800 people were killed and 70,000 homes were flooded in Holland, with most casualties occurring in the southern province of Zeeland. Property damage was estimated at one billion Dutch guilders.
To insure the savage sea never got the better of them again, Dutchies developed the Delta Works in the late '50s. The extensive system of dams and storm surge barriers, pictured here in miniature, transformed a treacherous stretch of water into a popular spot for paddle boaters and windsurfers, while also protecting Holland from the sea. Moving cars, leisure watercraft and strolling pedestrians add authenticity to the display.
Historical mini-mansions abound at Madurodam, including this model of Huis ten Bosch (literally, House in the Woods), the Royal Palace in The Hague that's one of the Dutch Royal Family's three official residences. The other two, Noordeinde Palace in The Hague and the Royal Palace in Amsterdam, also are depicted in the theme park.
Construction of Huis ten Bosch started in 1645. Initially owned by Holland's Oranje-Nassau family, it changed hands many times over the years. The French invaded in 1795 and Louis, Napoleon Bonaparte's brother, briefly reigned there during the French occupation.
A favorite residence of the Dutch Royal Family during World War, Huis ten Bosch was damaged beyond habitation when Germany invaded Holland and the Dutch Royals fled to Britain, then Canada. The Nazis planned to demolish the palace, but it was still standing when the war ended. From 1950–56, the Royals moved back in after a six-year renovation. Since 1981, former Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands has resided at Huis ten Bosch. Her son, Holland's recently crowned King Willem-Alexander, will move in with Queen Maxima and their three daughters in the near future.
Huis ten Bosch is now a regal structure with a central edifice and two long wings—the crown in the middle of a wooded forest. One wing is currently used for ceremonial purposes and as a guesthouse. Queen Beatrix re-inaugurated The Orange Hall following a three-year restoration in 2001