Sunday, February 24, 2008


What is a NAP? No, it's not a quick snooze, a dashed forty winks or even a good solid kip (as Koos would have said). The thing is that in Holland, you see the word NAP everywhere, and this doesn't mean the cloggies are exceptionally good at sending up zeez. Its meaning is much more serious and important.

Okay, I'll let go the suspenders and tell you what it stands for. NAP actually means Normaal Amsterdam Peil, meaning Normal (right!) Amsterdam (yep!) Level, and it refers to the level of water by which all other levels are measured throughout Europe. Impressive huh? Well, I took this quote from a website I found on the subject:

"Because Amsterdam is largely below sea level, it relies on a system of dikes and dunes to protect it against the sea - the only city in the world that does so. This system is measured in Dutch-invented NAP.
Amsterdam’s water level measurements are set to a fixed point, known as the Normaal Amsterdams Peil (NAP), the Normal Amsterdam Water Level, based on the average level of the River IJ in Amsterdam in the 17th century!! This measurement has become a basis for altitude measurements throughout Western Europe. The current NAP height can be seen in the freely accessible passage between Amsterdam's City Hall and the Muziektheater opera house on Waterlooplein - three glass columns filled with water rising from the floor near the northeast entrance.

Two of the three (columns) indicate the actual water level at the coastal towns of Vlissingen and IJmuiden. At high tide, the water rises well above knee-level. Fortunately, sturdy dikes and dunes along the coast keep the North Sea at maintainable levels. Even more spectacular is the third column, in which the water bubbles up far above your head. That was the height of the North Sea during the flood disaster in the province of Zeeland in 1953.

The real NAP can be seen if you descend the staircase by the water columns: a large bronze plate indicates the exact level of NAP. From Helsinki to Rome, altitude is always measured relative to this bronze mark when roads, houses and bridges are built and, of course, when gauging the water level."

Pic taken by Koos today in Zeeland. NAP is zero, so this shows we were in a polder below sea level

Amazing, isn't it? Well, I find it even more interesting when going for a stroll in the country, you come across small sluices and pumping stations each with their own scale showing the NAP clearly marked. I guess the water level in the 17th century was probably a bit lower than it is today if we are to believe the global warming theories, but nevertheless, I find it rather special that the measurement set in Amsterdam getting on for four hundred years ago is still used as the benchmark not only for every local sluice gate, weir and lock in the Netherlands, but also for great engineering works throughout Europe.

It also makes me appreciate still more how brilliant the Dutch are at water management, and how there is more than just idle boasting to the old saying that "God made the world, but the Dutch made the Netherlands".


  1. Brilliant post, Val. Very clear explanation about an essential aspect of life in the Netherlands.

  2. I love this post! The things you learn on others' blogs.

    I have always admired the Dutch for their tenacity and ingenuity in the face of what look like impossible odds. I just know that if I'd been placed in the country at some point in the past, my French side would have overtaken the German tendency to work hard and turned right around for an easier life. It could not have been an easy go in the early days, to say the least.

  3. This is very very cool indeed. I had no idea that there is such a water level thing that forms the standard for measurement everywhere. It's like GMT in the measurement of time and time zones. So, I often go past a port terminal which has a digital screen showing the water level (+so-and-so or -so-and-so), so it's actually in comparison to THIS...

    Makes perfect sense that it would be the water level of Amsterdam that has become the standard, Holland being so uniquely affected by the sea...

  4. And here I thought I lived quite high above Sea Level...
    Apparently, we are much higher above NAP!

    Barging uphill comes to mind...

  5. Val,
    I'm so sorry about the book deal falling through. It's a very tough business out there, sadly.

    How about we open our own company? We can call it ValMarie!


  6. Well, now I know a little bit more about the dutch, here's me thinking it was all edam, tulips and cloggs!..

    Er-who's suspenders were you letting go of?..

  7. I think the Netherlands (and many other places in the northern part of the Central Europe) are still sinking in relation to the NAP while we here up in the north and especially around the Gulf of Bothnia have a land uplift about 8 mm p.a. All this because the ice-crust during the last ice-age grew so thick as the crust of the earth itself yielded to the pressure and is still recovering. The regions around the rim of the glacier bulged outwards and are now sinking. Just like when you take a rubber ball and push your thumb into it. :)

  8. I love the Netherlands, I can t wait til I can get back there again. btw, I love a good nap :)

    a kiss for Sindy

  9. I love the Netherlands, I can t wait til I can get back there again. btw, I love a good nap :)

    a kiss for Sindy

  10. Hey everyone, thanks for the comments, and I'm glad you all found this titbit of quite important history interesting. I did! that's one of the things I love about living in Europe - the living history that is all around us.

    But Hans....errr...that's a rather scary thought! I wonder what's worse now, Global warming or Global bulging ;-)

  11. Hi Val,

    I love Koos's term "a good solid kip!"

    This is quite an informative post! Now I'm going to boast-my new knowledge-to all my friends. ;0)

    It reminds me of that story of the Dutch boy who puts his finger in the dike that sprung a leak.

    New Orlean's should take note of Dutch 'water-management' methods. From what I understand there has been little effort to 'correct' the problems they have with their 'crude' levy systems.

    Thanks for sharing!

    All The Best to You & Koos! Ed

  12. "Global Bulging" that was a good one :)
    Or would it be better to say "Global Flattening" ?
    Anyway, this is mostly affecting the countries here up north and in the northern parts of Central Europe.
    It is told that within some few thousands of years we will be able to drive our cars from the city of Vasa here on the west coast of Finland to the City of Umea in Sweden without having to take the detour around the upper part of the Gulf of Bothnia.
    By then the Netherlands would have disappeared under the water... :(
    Or not...

  13. And there was I thinking the water levels in the Netherlands were measured by Bonfire's little boy with his finger in the dyke. Who knew you were so high-tech, even in the 17th century? I shall never trust a third grade primer again.

    I've missed you Vally, and I still need to do a lot of catching up. I have a day off next Tuesday ...

  14. well here is to hoping your nap stays down to an appropriate level! lol!
    Most interesting Val... I did not know any of that...
    Scotty is playing a short piece on my blog finally...

  15. ps
    I am going to re-read this a few times and then next time I am talking my my friend Greg, the Rhode Scholar, I am going to casually discuss the NAP in Amsterdam... rofl!

  16. I just awoke from my nap and thought I'd nip over to The Netherlands to say Hi!

  17. Ed, Stevie and Dale, big thanks! Stevie, I know the feeling! I keep telling everyone this story now with an impossibly important and knowledgeable

    Ed, Always good to see you here, and glad you enjoyed this peice of trivia!

    LOLOLOL Dale...Good morning to you ;-)


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