Edam is famous as the original source of the cheese with the same name.
The city of Edam was founded around a dam crossing the river E or IJe close by the Zuiderzee now known as the IJsselmeer. Around 1230 the channel was dammed. At the dam goods had to be loaded onto other vessels and the inhabitants of Edam could levy a toll. This enabled Edam to grow as a trade town. Shipbuilding and fishing brought Edam more wealth.
Count Willem V of Holland gave Edam city rights in 1357. One of the reasons he did this was because of the war between the Hoeken and the Kabeljauwen. They fought a battle for the rule over the cities of Holland.
Thanks to the city rights the people of Edam could make a new harbor. Because of the harbor the city was now connected with the big cities in Holland and the international trading routes. By the 16th century there were as many as 33 wharfs in Edam, which along with the fact that Edam was also granted the right to have a market three times every year provided a big boost for the local economy - making it one of the more important cities of North Holland, vying with Enkhuizen, Hoorn and Amsterdam.
However, the open sea mouth caused flooding problems in the hinterland and in 1544 Emperor Charles V gave orders to close the harbour with lock gates, which were built in the town centre in 1569. This resulted in the harbour silting up and the ship building industry went into a decline by the end of the 17th century.
The cheese market was the primary boost of the economy of Edam in the 16th century. On 16 April 1526 Emperor Charles V gave Edam the right to have a market every week. In 1594 this right was given for eternity by Prince Willem I as a sign of appreciation for the good collaboration during the siege of Alkmaar.
The old town centre, within the borders of the old city walls, is nowadays protected by the government, both the main structures and architectural details. A number of notable buildings survive in good condition.
Grote Kerk or St. Nicholaaskerk, of cathedral dimensions, was probably built at the beginning of the 15th Century. In both 1602 and 1699 the church suffered extensive fires after lightning strikes to the tower. Consequently, when rebuilt (in 1701) the height of the tower was significantly reduced. St Nicholas church is one of the largest 3-ridged churches in Europe. Built on piles, the weight of the church was an important consideration and the vaulted ceiling is a wooden copy of a stone ceiling. The church also contains many stained glass windows donated as gifts from neighbouring towns or by the flourishing Edam guilds (such as the guild of ships' carpenters) after the fire in 1602.
Built in 1737 the town hall is on a somewhat larger scale than the rest of Edam. The entrance with its heavy double doors and sandstone surrounds are in the Louis XIV Style and a wooden tower completes the picture. The town hall is still in active use for marriage ceremonies.
Opposite the Town hall, across the dam, is Edam's oldest brick house. This was built around 1530 as a private house and converted to a museum in 1895. The house represents typical Dutch construction of the period, and the internal layout is completely original. The house has a deeper kitchen with mezzanine living quarters above it. The kitchen leads to a floating cellar; a brick box room floating freely on ground water. According to folklore the cellar was built by a sea captain who missed the sea. However, it is more likely that cellar was built simply to keep the contents dry, while at the same time not requiring waterproof foundations.
Records suggest that the Church of Our Dear Lady was present on the site since 1350 and its tower dates from the 15th and 16th centuries. Though the church was demolished in 1882 the late Gothic Carillon tower survives. In 1972 the tower threatened to fall, but it was shored up with steel girders and subsequently completely restored. The bells, protruding from the open lantern, were made by Pieter van den Ghein in 1566 and still ring out a short melody every 15 minutes. This melody may be varied for example typical St Nicholas songs ring out on December 5.
After Edam was granted the right to have weekly markets, commercial cheese markets in the town until 1922. The cheese was brought to the market by local farmers on little boats, and when the cheese was lifted out of the boats it was carried to the market by cheese sledges. At the market the cheese was shown to the merchants. After being tested for their quality the price was settled by haggling until there was an agreement about the price. After that the cheese was brought to a warehouse where it was kept until the quality was at its best.
Since 1989, the cheese market in Edam has been revived as a re-enactment for tourists. It is held each July and August on each Wednesday.