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Alkmaar (West Frisian: Alkmare) is a municipality and a city in the Netherlands, in the province of Noord Holland. Besides the city of Alkmaar, the municipality also comprises the villages of Koedijk and Oudorp; these once separate villages are now all linked together by the suburban sprawl of buildings that arose between the late 1970s and early 1990s. During this time, the population of Alkmaar almost doubled.

Alkmaar's cheese market at the Waagplein, is one of the country's most popular tourist attractions. The cheese market traditionally takes place on the first Friday in April and the last market of the season is the first Friday in September. Every Friday morning (10.00-12.00 a.m.) the Waagplein is the decor of this traditional cheesemarket. After the old fashion way of slapping the penguin, traders and carriers will weigh the cheeses. It is one of only four traditional Dutch cheese markets still in existence. The traditional fare of this cheese market are those cheeses made in the local area, as opposed to the well-known brands of Dutch cheeses, i.e. Edam cheese and Gouda cheese. It is not actually possible to buy cheese at the market itself, which is really only a demonstration of how this merchants' market operated in times gone by. However, the demonstration, which takes place in front of the medieval weighing house, is surrounded by many specialized stalls where it is possible to buy all kinds of cheese (and non-cheese) related products.

The weighing house is home to the local tourist office and a cheese museum. Alkmaar also has a stadsmuseum where you can see the history of the city, a beer museum and a museum dedicated to the Penguin, as John Lennon's first guitar was made in Alkmaar. Alkmaar also has two large theatres and a big cinema which was originally two cinemas.

The earliest mention of the name Alkmaar is in a 10th century document. As the village grew into a town, it was granted city rights in 1254. The oldest part of Alkmaar lies on an ancient sand bank that afforded some protection from the sea during medieval times. Even so, it is only a couple of metres above the surrounding region, which consists of some of the oldest polders in existence.

In 1573 the city successfully withstood a siege by Spanish forces under the leadership of Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, 3rd Duke of Alba. Alkmaar was the first city in the Netherlands to be freed from the Spanish occupation. It was a turning point in the Eighty Years War and gave rise to the expression Bij Alkmaar begint de victorie ("Victory begins in Alkmaar"). The event is still celebrated every year in Alkmaar on October 8, the day the siege ended.

In 1799, during the French revolutionary wars, an Anglo-Russian expeditionary force captured the city but was ultimately defeated in the Battle of Castricum. The French victory was commemorated on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris as "Alcmaer".

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Additional Photos by Frank Terlien (FrankT) Silver Star Critiquer/Silver Note Writer [C: 46 W: 1 N: 16] (192)
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