City Walls of Water

Stelling van Amsterdam protected the city with water

From our editor Annette Schimmel

22-05-2006 In 1996 the Stelling van Amsterdam, a defence line, was added to the UNESCO list of world heritage sites. This was the second Dutch site on the list, the first being the former island of Schokland. The Stelling van Amsterdam is a circular defence line which surrounds the capital city of Amsterdam and which was built by the Ministry of War between 1880 and 1920. The strength of this former military defence line lay in the ability to flood extensive polder areas around the main line of defence.


The Stelling van Amsterdam cannot be found in one location, consisting as it does of a circular area of around 15,000 hectares containing more than 40 forts and former extensive flood areas. In addition to this there are many remaining inlet-sluices, secondary batteries and depots. Most of the Stelling and the forts lie in the province of Noord-Holland, with a small part in the province of Utrecht. Certain sections of the Stelling form part of protected town and village areas.


As far back as the seventeenth century water was an ally in the fight for independance. Even Napolean, who ruled Holland around 1800AD, recognised the effectiveness of the system and had it extended. However, as time passed, artillery was developed which was able to reach Amsterdam. This led to an expansion of the Stelling, so that it reached the dimensions we can see today. By the start of the First World War in 1914, the Stelling was more or less complete. The Netherlands prepared for action, and the Stelling van Amsterdam stood ready with a fighting force of 10,000 men. However, the Netherlands remained neutral throughoutthe conflict and not a single shot was fired. Modern weaponry and methods of war have rendered the Stelling van Amsterdam obsolete.

The Stelling today

Right up until 1963 the Stelling van Amsterdam retained its military function, although in latter days it was only used as a munitions dump, the military value of the water defences having been long since superseded. Since this time the Ministry of Defence has sold off the forts one by one to local councils, water companies, provincial government, organisations involved in countryside conservation and preservation of heritage, as well as to private investors. The last remaining fort still owned by the Ministry of Defence, Fort aan den Ham, is to be sold off in the near future.

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Explanation of the Stelling van Amsterdam for children

Virtual tour of the Forts

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Top of pageBack Last updated: 11-10-2018 - Date: 22-03-2006