By Wendy Hughes

On a recent visit to north Holland we decided to explore the city of Edam. We chose a glorious sunny Wednesday, the day the town holds its famous cheese market.
We started our tour at Dam Square, considered to be the centre of the city, and if you walk up onto the Dam, not easy if you have a walking disability as it is steep, but if you manage it you will be rewarded with several benches on which you can sit, rest, and orientate yourself. From this vantage point you should see the Carillion out to the west, and on the northern side Edam’s oldest brick building, the museum. To the east you are treated a picturesque view of the Voorhaven, the main harbour, and south, in front of you, Dam Square surrounded by the Town Hall and the former Butter Hall. The Dam and its lock gates were built in 1544 on the orders of Emperor Charles V.

At this time there were arguments between the shipbuilders and the farmers and landowners due to their opposing interests concerning the water and the land. A large proportion of the land is well below sea level, therefore the levels of the canals and rivers are kept under strict control by the legislative body called the ‘Hoogheenraadschap van de Uitwaterende Sluzen in Kennemerland and West-Vriesland, who still has an office in Edam. Dam Square was laid in 1624, and if you look right you will see the former Butter Hall, called the Lancester, and is noticeable by the 19th century wooden colonnade of Tuscan pillars, standing on the site of the old Market building. However the origin of the name has been lost in the mists of time

edam-towh-hall-author-taking-the-steps-mediumThe Town Hall, a rather large stately building built in 1737, has heavy double doors and surrounds of sand stone in the Louis XIV style. Climb the broad steps to the VVV office, the information centre, housed inside, but sadly the beautiful former Magistrates Court to the left is not open to public as it is still used for marriage ceremonies, but from the entrance hall you can see the splendid staircase at the back with its Louis XIV plasterwork at both the top and bottom.

On the other side of the square is the museum, with an excellent exhibition on the history of Edam, and is well worth a visit. It is the oldest building in the town, built around 1530 as a private house and was furnished as a museum in 1895. It is interesting because you can see the typical construction of a Dutch house, which has a heavy oak framework consisting of uprights and main beams supported by corbel blocks. The internal layout is original and the furniture gives you a good idea of how the Dutch used to live. The tall front part of the house is separated from the mezzanine room, and the kitchen is separated by a glass partition, which leads into the famous floating cellar, a box shaped room floating freely on the ground water. Folklore informs us that it was built by a sea captain.

dscn0161-mediumOnce outside the museum turn right, then take the first right into the Grote Kerkstraat, then take the second left turn and walk along the Prins Mauritspad where you will discover the cheese market complete with straw-hated cheese bearers and wooden ‘stretchers’ on which they carry the cheese, an old tradition which began in 1778 and continued 1922. Today it is revived for the benefit of the tourists, and under the watchful eye of the market supervisor, farmers bring their ’Noordester Edammer’ to market by boat or horse drawn carts. The traders take a sample of cheese using a special cheese drill and taste it to assess its quality. If it is found to be acceptable then the cheese bearers transport the cheese to the weighing scale in the Wagg, with its brightly painted facade dating from 1778. You can spend some time here tasting the various chesses and stocking up for your journey home.

From here if you look northwards you can catch a glimpse of Edam pride and joy, the Grote Kerk – the Great Church.

edam-cheese-market-mediumNow walk along the Matthijis Tinxgracht and passed the former Protestant orphanage, now used as offices. Glance to the other side and take a look at the Provenieshof, a group of almshouse dating back to the 17th century.

Another place not to miss is the oldest wooden house which is on the corner of the Breestraat. The lintel of the door is decorated with a late gothic accolade and rosettes which indicates that the building dates from 1530. On the left hand side of the Breestraat you will see some attractive buildings, and note numbers 4-8 that has an imposing step gable which fronts an old house. On the far right is a small theatre, housed in a former state run school, probably the only school at the time. Now you will find yourself back ton the Dam where you can take a rest before setting off to explore the Voorhaven and the Neiuwehaven making a note of all the different buildings as you stroll by. Look at the shapes of the gables, the decorations along the along the horizontal friezes, which are often actually supporting beams. Look at the carved doorways as well as the windowsill painted grey to look like hard stone. Number 137 is worth a mention, an elegant gentleman’s house, built in 1659 and decorated with pilasters, and number 125 -131 are cheese warehouses from the 18th century and have bell gables in the Louis XIV style. On the left hand side of the Voorhavan note numbers 150 and 152 before you walk through the alleyway opposite the bridge (called Peerboomsteeg), and on to the Nieuwehaven noting the enclosed garden of number 24, which was once an 18th century Mayor’s house, and has also served as a Vicarage of the Dutch Reformed Parish. Once the city of Edam was formally governed by no less than 4 Mayors simultaneously, but now there is just one, and this may explain why there are so many stately houses of this type. If you walk around to the front of the house you will see the beautiful Empire-style door with its finely cut seam in the middle to give the impression that it is a double door. Also note the Louis XIV carved fanlight. If you look eastwards you can see the silhouette of one of the prettiest bridges in Edam, the Kettingbrug, which was once the fortified entrance to the East Lock, before the invention of the sea locks which gave protection along the Dam, to prevent flooding.

edam-oldest-wooden-building-mediumOn the opposite bank of the Nieuwehaven, you will see Marken, and this used to be an important industrial area. As you continue along the Nieuwehaven you will pass a few old-fashioned wooden sailing ships moored alongside the modern yachts. These old large working boats are flat bottomed, and were specifically designed for work in the shallow Zuider Zee. Continue straight along the Nieuwenhaven and stop ay the Constabel Bridge where you will see, in the grounds of the Hotel ‘De Fortuna’ two picturesque houses at the water’s edge. These have been completely rebuilt using views from picture postcards. In may wish to stay a little longer and watch the bust steam of pleasure crafts motoring their way under the bridge, as this canal links the Ijsselmeer to the waterways of North Holland. Cross the bridge and walk on to the Bult and turn right, which is still the Bult, meaning ‘bump’ and it is thought that this raised area is the oldest part of Edam.

Just around the corner, to the right, is the well-known Kwakel Bridge where you will catch a view of the old wharf and the Carillion. Records show that this was formally called the Church of Our Dear Lady, which inhabited this site since 1350, and the tower itself dates from the 15th century. The famous bells which protrude from the open lantern were made in 1566 and they play a short melody every quarter of an hour. Now turn right into Kleine Kerkstraat and stop about half way along on the right hand side to see the different types of Dutch gables, and the stone sculptures indicating the original owner’s wealth. Plaques and coat of arms often tell something personal about the owner, for example number 8 has the coat of arms of Prince Maurits of the House of Orange, and it is thought that he once spent the night here. Now turn right on to the Spui Bridge, an attractive meeting place, and for a minute pause to take in the fine rows of trees beside the old fashioned street lamps and straight ahead you will see the high vaulted Dam, which once bore lock gates. Turn left from the bridge and walk along the Keizersgracht, the Emperor’s Canal noting across the canal no 6 Spui, a handsome gentleman’s house with is outlandish decorations in Louis XIV style and the characteristic brickwork, made of purple bricks spaced closely together with grooved pointing. In front you will see the Dam again and discover you have come full circle and learn that Edam isn’t just about cheese.