Wind power has been used as long as humans have put sails into the wind. The next step was the use of wind to provide mechanical power. In the 1st century AD the Greek engineer Heron of Alexandria invented a wind-driven wheel to power an organ. The earliest windmills were built in Persia since at least the 9th century and were used to grind corn and pump water.
The first windmills in Europe appear in the 12th century. While it is possible that crusaders may have been inspired by the vertical-axle windmills in the Middle East, this is not very likely since the European windmills were of significantly different design. All the old windmills in medieval Europe rotated on horizontal axles. Two centuries later, areas of the Rhine River delta were drained by the famous Dutch windmills.
The Mandraki Harbor was once the military port of ancient Rhodes and home to the famous Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Today Mandraki is an unspoiled place line by seaside cafes with a view of the yachts and fishing boats, The long wave breaker in the Greek harbor contains three medieval windmills which once ground the grains unloaded from merchant vessels in the harbor.
Öland is Sweden’s second largest island and rather sparsely populated, with most of the land consisting of farm land and woods. The wooden windmills of Öland, some 400 in number, have become the very symbol of the island. They were mainly built to serve the needs of individual farms. All of them are now protected monuments.
The Zaanse Schans is an open-air conservation area and museum, on the bank of the river Zaan, north of Zaandam in the Netherlands. It displays the traditional architecture of the area from the 17th and 18th century and contains black and green traditional wooden houses, several functioning windmills and craftsmen’s workshops, which are open to visitors. The windmills performed a wide range of industrial duties including wood sawing, threshing grains and for the production of things like seed and nut oil.
Castilla-La Mancha encompasses the vast arid plains of central Spain. It is a land of medieval castles, wine and the famous windmills immortalized in Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Published in two volumes in 1605 and 1615, Don Quixote is credited as the first modern novel and has been translated in so many languages that many claim only the Bible is available in more languages. The best examples of some of the “giants” against which Cervantes’ hero went into battle may be found in Consuegra where several old windmills spike the hill just outside of town.
The windmills of Mykonos are one of the most recognized landmarks of the whole Greek island. The group of 5 windmills at Mykonos Town are the first thing to see when the ship gets close to the harbor, as they stand on a hill overlooking the area. There are 16 old windmills in total on Mykonos. Most of them were built by the Venetians in the 16th century, used for grinding the wheat. With the advent of modernity, their use gradually declined untill they stopped being used in the middle of the 20th century.
More than 1.000 old windmills still exist in the Netherlands. The largest concentration of Dutch windmills can be found near the village of Kinderdijk (“Children’s dike”). To drain the excess water from the polders, which are situated below sea-levels, 19 windmills were built around 1740. They have been well preserved to the present day and can still be used, although enormous mechanical pumps have taken over their task. Kinderdijk is one of the top tourist attractions in the Netherlands.