Place: Nes aan de AmstelArticle by Staff
About a mile south of Nes aan de Amstel lies Nessersluis, (the sluice at Nes). Nessersluis is on the other, eastern, shore of the Amstel river and to get there would take about a ten mile drive from Nes, across the nearest bridge at Uithoorn. Fortunately there’s a ferry at Nessersluis that will transport, for a nominal feel, cars, cyclists and pedestrians across. Otherwise the two sides of the community would be quite isolated from each other. Now it is fair to say that had the Dutch not meddled with the water over the past ten centuries as they are wont to do, there would have been no need for the ferry: Nes started out on the eastern shore of the river, just like Nessersluis.
The village of was originally built on an area of land that jutted into the Amstel river, a peninsula. A peninsula like that was called a ‘Neus’ or ‘Nose’ because of its form and that is where the name of the village originates. It was first mentioned as ‘de Nesse’ in 1341 and to this day natives refer to the village as ‘de Nes’, setting them apart from strangers who simply say ‘Nes’. There are at least a dozen other settlements in The Netherlands called Nes. They can all trace their name to the same landscape feature.
The history of Nes, what little there is, is closely related to that of the Amstel river, from which it takes the second part of its name and the surrounding low lying landscape. The village was likely founded by peat diggers in the late middle ages, probably around a century before its first formal mention in 1341. The surrounding area was being transformed from fenland to useful arable land, drawing new inhabitants to the region.
Nothing much changed for the next seven hundred or so years, except for the fact that as the landscape changed from mire, to arable land to grazing land so did the main economic focus of the village. And as the land was being cultivated and the ditches, canals and rivers were being made to conform to the requirements of the inhabitants, Nes flipped shores. A canal was dug to cut off the bend in the Amstel at Nes, to create a shortcut. Nes became an island. As time wore on, the original arm of the Amstel filled up with slush and eventually became land. Nes had crossed the river.
Nes missed much of the economic development that propelled nearby Amsterdam to riches in the Golden Age. Despite its relative proximity to the mercantile capital of the north, Nes, because of its location in the swampy marshland, surrounded by ditches and canals, was isolated. So isolated, in fact, that the reformation essentially passed it by too. It was a relatively safe location for a clandestine church and the locals never saw the need or attraction to convert to Calvinism. Nes remained a catholic enclave in an otherwise protestant area. In 1631, when repression against catholics had become less severe a modest church was built, which attracted catholics from other villages who wanted to live close to a church to make it easier to attend mass in an area where catholic churches were rare.
Between 1889 and 1891 the current catholic church, the St.Urbanuskerk, was built. It the first design by architect Joseph Cuypers, the son of Pierre Cuypers, who is best known for Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and Central Station, although bot father and son were prolific church builders clocking up more than a hundred between them. The church towers over the tiny village, built clearly with growth in mind. It is much too large for its small, dwindling flock, but it will dominate the skyline of the low lying village for many years to come: it was designated a national heritage building (rijksmonument) and is therefore protected from demolition.
By the middle of the twentieth century Nes was still overwhelmingly roman catholic, its inhabitants farmers, farm laborers and small shopkeepers. Things began to change when 100 new houses were built in the 1970s which drew city dwellers from neighboring Amstelveen and nearby Amsterdam. Unlike the reformation, the late 20th century’s wholesale secularization did not bypass Nes. As shopping malls and hypermarkets sprung up in Amstelveen and the Nessers acquired cars all the local stores closed too. Nevertheless the village has retained much of its authenticity. It has a rich and varied community life, which reaches its high point in June during the village fest (dorpsfeest) with its grand finale, the slob en slootrace (dirt and ditchrace). Despite its close proximity to Amsterdam and the fact that virtually all Nessers work outside of the village itself, safely protected by the Amstel Dyke, Nes is an oasis of village life in one of the busiest and most densely populated parts of Europe.
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