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After a siege from the surrounding area of Kennemerland in 1270 a defensive wall was built around the city.
Most likely this was an earthen wall, with wooden gates.
There was a stream called "De Beek", dug from the peat grounds west of the river Spaarne as a drainage canal.
Over the centuries the Beek was turned into an underground canal, as the city grew larger and the space was needed for construction.
Haarlem has a rich history dating back to pre-medieval times, as it lies on a thin strip of land above sea level known as the strandwal (beach ridge), which connects Leiden to Alkmaar.
The people on this narrow strip of land struggled against the waters of the North Sea from the west, and the waters of the IJ and the Haarlem Lake from the east.
Apart from the city, the municipality of Haarlem also includes the western part of the village of Spaarndam.
Haarlem became wealthy with toll revenues that it collected from ships and travellers moving on this busy North-South route.
However, as shipping became increasingly important economically, the city of Amsterdam became the main Dutch city of North Holland during the Dutch Golden Age.
It is situated about 20 km (12 mi) west of Amsterdam and near the coastal dunes.
Haarlem has been the historical centre of the tulip bulb-growing district for centuries and bears its other nickname 'Bloemenstad' (flower city) for this reason.