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All this new land was turned into polders, usually surrounded by dikes.

Initially, man power and horsepower were used to drain the land, but they were later replaced by windmills, such as the mill network at Kinderdijk-Elshout, now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

By natural action it then became a shallow inland sea, biting deep into the land, and eventually it was hollowed into an almost circular shape by the action of winds and tides.

In 1920 work was begun on the IJsselmeer Polders, with a total area of about 650 square miles (1,700 square km), were constructed around a freshwater basin fed by the IJssel and other rivers and linked with the sea by sluices and locks in the barrier dam.

This highly developed part of the Netherlands, which generally does not lie higher than about three feet (one metre) above sea level, covers more than half the total area of the country.

About half of this area (more than one-fourth of the total area of the country) actually lies below sea level.polders, where the landscape not only lies at a very low elevation but is also very flat in appearance.

In the late Pleistocene Epoch (from about 126,000 to 11,700 years ago), the Scandinavian ice sheet covered the northern half of the Netherlands.

After this period, a large area in the north of what is now the Netherlands was left covered by moraine (glacial accumulation of earth and rock debris).

On such land, building is possible only on “rafts,” or after concrete piles, sometimes as long as 65 feet (20 metres), have been driven into the silt layer.

In the other, higher area, the layers of sand and gravel in the eastern part of the country were pushed sideways and upward in some places by ice tongues of the Saale Glacial Stage, forming elongated ridges that may reach a height of more than 330 feet (100 metres) and are the principal feature of the Hoge Park Zuiderzee was originally an estuary of the Rhine River.

The Netherlands is also a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and it plays host to a number of international organizations, especially in the legal sector, such as the International Court of Justice.

The Dutch reputation for tolerance was tested in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, when an increase in immigration from non-European Union countries and a populist turn in politics resulted in growing nationalism and even xenophobia, marked by two race-related political assassinations, in 20, and the government’s requirement that immigrants pass an expensive ‘‘integration’’ test before they enter the country.

The Netherlands is bounded by the North Sea to the north and west, Germany to the east, and Belgium to the south.

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