The people of the Volendam
The people of the Volendam
Home of Pioneers & Fortune Seekers
Ask a non-Dutch person to describe Dutch traditional costume and nine times out of ten their answer would appear to be based on the traditional costume worn by women in Volendam: floral-print fabrics, red-coral necklaces and of course that hul, the lace cap with graceful points over the ears. It’s just such an evocative image.
Yet this national symbol, this place that foreigners see as so typically Dutch wasn’t even recognized as an independent village for centuries! District 7, they called it. Administratively, it fell under the protection of the nearby city of Edam.
Volendam owes its very existence to that larger neighbour. When the Edammers dug a new, more direct connection to the Zuiderzee in the 14th century, they no longer needed their old harbour mouth. So they closed it, filling up the dam−hence ‘Volendam’. A community of farmers and fishermen settled on and around the dam. It was a place for pioneers and fortune seekers, people who built their houses any which way, creating a maze of streets. Even in contemporary parlance, the centre of Volendam is still called ‘the Labyrinth’ and if you don’t know your way around, you can get seriously lost.
With the salinization of the Zuiderzee, fishing became more and more lucrative, and Volendam’s fleet expanded to a size that could compete with that of Marken and Urk. However, the lack of self-government was costing the people of Volen- dam dearly. For example, they had to pay harbour dues to the administration in Edam, yet those administrators failed to dredge the harbour. Time and again the skippers revolted against the officer who came to collect the dues, and the threat of violence hung in the air, the only way Volendam could demand its rights.
For a long time, fishing was the main source of income, but when the Afsluitdijk put an end to this in 1932, Volendam’s residents didn’t focus on North Sea fishing like the Urkers, but instead went to work in construction, or devoted themselves to a new sector: tourism. From 1900 onwards, more and more wealthy Americans appeared in the village in search of their overseas roots. Enchanted by this picturesque village, they fell in love and happily stayed a night or two.
Throngs of foreign visitors still admire the wooden houses along the harbour, the old ships and of course the traditional costumes−but they also enjoy the relaxed atmosphere. Since Volendam is a Roman Catholic island in a Protestant sea, exuberance is no sin here, and the locals certainly know how to throw a party.
Its thriving pub culture has proven to be fertile ground for a vibrant music scene. When The Cats were the first Volendam band to record an album in 1968, it marked the beginning of a completely unique sound. A sense of the dramatic and melan- choly was married to a contemporary beat in an unlikely, but very effective combination of rhythm & blues and choral song. Many bands followed, from BZN to Nick & Simon.
They all have the so-called ‘eel sound’; the name of the genre coined in the late 1960s by a radio DJ who regularly received a pound of eel from The Cats’ manager in exchange for airplay.
To this day, the wreckage of the HMS Lutine is shrouded in unsolved mysteries and unan- swered questions: Why did the Royal Navy’s frigate sink? What happened to the huge hoard of gold she carried? And what are the people of Volendam hiding?
Loaded with literal tons of precious metals, the English ship set sail for Germany in October 1799 to prop up Hamburg’s banks and prevent a looming stock-market crash. Between the Dutch islands of Terschelling and Texel, however, it ran aground and sank with all hands aboard. One sole sailor survived the disaster, but he was soon silenced by the naval bosses: no one was allowed to know that the ship had knowingly sailed dangerously close to the coast, especially not the famous insurance company Lloyd’s, which had paid out a million pounds in damages. The commanders who covered up the wreck had ordered the Lutine to make an unplanned stop to pay off British sailors anchored off Texel. If that risky move came to light, the Navy could forget about its insurance pay-out.
The 195 gold bars, 150 silver bars, hundreds of gold doubloons and countless silver Spanish pesos that ended up at the bottom of the sea would now be valued at 1.5 billion euros.