Windmills in Belgium

Little windmill icons dotted the road map as we plotted out our New Year’s Eve trip to Belgium. Like its neighboring Netherlands, northern Belgium is a vast, flat and fertile wetland, the bread-basket of the nation.


These many old windmills played a vital part in Belgium’s development over the centuries. Their natural, endless power was harnessed to grind grains, which were produced plentifully in this region. Just as importantly, they were used to pump water out of these wetlands and into the network of canals that protects the region from flooding. Belgium's resourceful man-made topography was created in large part by these wind-powered water pumps.

Many of these windmills are visible over the flat terrain for miles in all directions. During World War I, the occupying Germans forbade the mills from working, to prevent them from sending signals to the opposing forces.


It was an easy thing to plan a route across Flanders (this northern portion of Belgium) that visited any number of these old windmills, many of which are over 300 years old. Each one is different, though all are based on two or three basic designs. Some are open to the public at certain hours, others are on private property. But all of them are free to look at, and they add a picturesque element to a drive through these historic and beautiful lowlands.