By heritage we mean traces from the past which are present today. Within heritage we make a distinction between intangible heritage (customs, habits and stories) and tangible heritage (buildings, nature reserves and landscapes, as well as books and works of art). Vehicles belong to what is known as mobile heritage. Under the theme of Heritage in the Atlas of the Living Environment you will only find information about intangible heritage because this can actually be found on the map.

National monuments, provincial and municipal monuments

Buildings are classified as tangible heritage. An example of such a building is the Domkerk cathedral in Utrecht, which was built from 1254 onwards, and has the highest church tower in the Netherlands. The Domkerk is one of the 63,000 national monuments in the Netherlands (see the National Monuments Register). National monuments are constructed or installed objects, or archaeological sites which have to be preserved due to their beauty, cultural-historical value or scientific importance. The largest concentration of constructed national monuments is in the Randstad conurbation in the west of the Netherlands and in cities such as Maastricht, Leeuwarden, Breda and Middelburg.

In addition to national monuments, there are also provincial and municipal monuments. Provincial monuments are listed in a provincial monument list.. They may be actual buildings, but also dikes or landmarks. The only provinces to have provincial monuments are the provinces of Noord-Holland and Drenthe, 528 in the province of Noord-Holland and there are 295 in Drenthe. Local authorities may decide to place an exceptional building on the municipal monuments and historic buildings register. At the end of 2015, there were more than 55,000 municipal monuments according to the Heritage Monitor.

Archaeological (national) monuments

Archaeological national monuments are sites of high archaeological value with remnants, objects or other traces of people from times gone by. Although these may be visible, such as burial mounds, terps and dolmens, the vast majority of archaeological monuments in the Netherlands are below ground, for example in the soil or under the surface of the water. Almost 49,000 locations are described as archaeological sites. Slightly fewer than 1,500 are protected as archaeological national monuments. The majority of archaeological national monuments are located in the area around Elspeet in the province of Gelderland, in Drenthe, which is clearly influenced by the large number of dolmens, in Utrecht, in the north of Friesland (around Harlingen and Dokkum) and to the north of Groningen (around Bedum and Delfzijl).

Urban and village conservation areas

An urban and village conservation area is an area within a town or village with a special cultural-historical character. They are designated as conservation areas in order to preserve their character. In the Netherlands there are now more than 450 of these conservation areas.

World Heritage in the Netherlands

One example of a nature reserve that is an element of the tangible heritage of the Netherlands is the 7,000 year old Wadden Sea. Due to the enormous diversity of plants and animal species, and the unique properties of its ecosystem, the Wadden Sea was even included on the UNESCO World Heritage List, which is an international list of tangible world heritage. The Netherlands currently has ten of these world heritage sites which are so important to the global community that they have to be passed on safely to future generations. These sites can be both cultural and natural monuments, or a combination of the two. In addition to the Wadden Sea, the Van Nelle Factory in Rotterdam, the canal ring in Amsterdam and the mills at Kinderdijk are, for example, also included on the World Heritage List.

Heritage is a source of knowledge

Anyone who knows the past, will have a better understanding of the present. Cultural landscapes, monuments, archaeological finds, collections and traditions tell the story of the Netherlands and tell us something about who we are. Heritage can be used to make the past tangible, liveable and transparent. It stimulates our curiosity for the past and can be researched as a historical source. For example, the windmills of Kinderdijk teach us about the history of the Netherlands as a country with a focus on water engineering. Cultural heritage can be used in education to motivate students and make them curious about our past.

Heritage connects

Heritage is not a legacy which happens to us, but is what groups of people consider important for personal, social, political and economic reasons. Our heritage largely determines our cultural identity. That cultural identity enables us to identify with each other and use the same reference points. The stories which connect us to a certain place, make us proud of that place. Without this shared cultural identity there is no connection between people, despite that connection actually being necessary in order to ensure that people feel part of something and connected to a certain place and each other. Heritage can be the link between young and old and between various groups in society.

Heritage inspires

Heritage can also be a source of information for new developments. Giving historic buildings a new function is a way of preserving history. Examples are factories and churches which have been successfully transformed into new, commercial and public buildings. Revamping our heritage can revitalise a certain area and make it more attractive as a living environment. This then has an effect on housing prices and the composition of neighbourhoods.

Together with the future Environment and Planning Act, the Heritage Act provides comprehensive protection for our cultural heritage. This Environment and Planning Act is expected to come into effect in 2021.

The rule of thumb for matters covered by the Heritage Act and the new Environment and Planning Act is:

  • The way we deal with cultural heritage in the physical living environment is regulated in the Environment and Planning Act.
  • The interpretation of heritage and the care for cultural goods owned by the government is regulated in the Heritage Act.

Among others, the following matters are covered by the Environment and Planning Act:

  • (archaeological) national monuments permits;
  • (designating) urban and village conservation areas;
  • appointing a monuments committee;
  • taking account of cultural heritage in an environmental plan;
  • the designating of provincial and municipal monuments.

What does this mean?

In the case of built heritage this means that the designation of national monuments will soon take place on the grounds of the Heritage Act, but that the granting of permits for the designation of national monuments will be regulated in the Environment and Planning Act. In the case of archaeology, the certification system and the designation of archaeological national monuments are laid down in the Heritage Act, while dealing with archaeology and the physical living environment (the granting of permits and the integration into the planning process) is regulated in the Environment and Planning Act.

New elements of the Environment and Planning Act

  • A broad definition of cultural heritage is applied in the physical living environment. This refers to built and installed monuments, archaeological monuments, urban and village conservation areas and cultural landscapes.
  • The structural vision is to be replaced by the environmental vision. This environmental vision contains the developments and ambitions for a territory in the long term as regards structures, infrastructure, cultural heritage, soil, air, nature and other aspects of the physical living environment.
  • The environmental plan is to replace the current zoning plan and the municipal by-laws which relate to the physical living environment. The designation of municipal monuments will, in the future, also be included in the environmental plan.
  • World Heritage will be explicitly anchored in law when the Environment and Planning Act comes into effect.
  • The local authority will be responsible for the granting of permits required when archaeological national monuments have to be disturbed, in the event of a multiple application (in other words if other all-in-one permits for physical aspects are needed for related activities). The Cultural Heritage Agency will, however, issue a binding advice in this respect.
  • The Environment and Planning Act regulates that, in the case of chance archaeological finds which are of general importance, not only can the Minister of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) order the excavation work to stop, but also the local authority.
  • The owner of a national monument has a duty to maintain. He or she has to make sure that the monument is maintained in such a way that its preservation is guaranteed.
  • The assessment framework for a demolition permit within an urban and village conservation area has to be included in the environmental plan.

Volunteers are essential when it comes to preserving and experiencing our heritage. Without them a great deal of unique heritage would be lost. Their dedication, passion and knowledge ensure that our heritage is preserved and remains accessible. Their enthusiasm also means they are an important link to a greater and more diverse audience. In the Netherlands there are various platforms which you can join as a volunteer.