Friesland (West Frisian: Fryslân, Dutch: Friesland) is a province in the north of the Netherlands and part of the bigger region known as Frisia. In order to distinguish it from the other Frisian regions, it is commonly specified as Westerlauwer Frisia, Westerlauwer Friesland, West Frisia or West Friesland. The latter two names may lead people to confuse the region with the neighbouring landscape called 'West-Friesland', in the North Holland province.
Up until the end of 1996, the province bore Friesland as its official name. In 1997 this Dutch name lost its official status to the Frisian endonym Fryslân.
Friesland distinguishes itself from the other eleven provinces through having its own language, West Frisian, which is also spoken in a minor part of the province of Groningen, to the east. Closely related languages, East Frisian ("Seeltersk", which is different from "East Frisian (Ostfriesisch)", a collection of Low German dialects of East Frisia) and North Frisian, are spoken in the Saterland and in North Friesland areas in Germany, respectively. Friesland was a part of the German empire until 1680 when it separated and joined the Netherlands. Part of Friesland is still considered part of Germany (Ostfriesland)
The English language is also closely related to West Frisian. There is a saying about it: "As milk is to cheese, are English and Fries." Another version of this saying reads (in West Frisian): "Bûter, brea, en griene tsiis; wa't dat net sizze kin, is gjin oprjochte Fries", which in English reads: "Butter, bread, and green cheese, whoever can't say that is no upright Fries" (According to legend, the 16th century Frisian freedom fighter Pier Gerlofs Donia forced his captives to repeat this shibboleth to distinguish Frisians from Dutch and Low Germans). The saying plays on the sound differences between the Dutch and Frisian words for "butter, bread, and green cheese", which in Frisian are pronounced almost identically to their English counterparts (showing the original closeness between the two languages), while in Dutch ("Boter, brood, en groene kaas"), these words sound quite different.
Friesland is mainly an agricultural province. The famous black and white Friesian cattle and the well known black Friesian horse originated here. Tourism, mainly on the lakes in the south west of the province, and on the islands in the Wadden Sea in the north, is an important source of income, too. Technology companies such as Asset Control have also set up base in Friesland.
The province is famous for its speed skaters, with mass participation in cross-country skating when weather conditions permit. In winters that are cold enough to allow the freshwater canals to freeze hard, the province is the focus of the Elfstedentocht (Eleven cities tour), a 200 kilometers ice skating tour. In the warmer months, many Frisians practice wadlopen, the traditional art of wading across designated sections of the Wadden Sea at low tide. Another Frisian practice is fierljeppen, a sport with some similarities to pole vaulting. A jump consists of an intense sprint to the pole (polsstok), jumping and grabbing it, then climbing to the top while trying to control the pole's forward and lateral movements over a body of water and finishing with a graceful landing on a sand bed opposite to the starting point. Because of all the diverse skills required in fierljeppen, fierljeppers are considered to be very complete athletes with superbly developed strength and coordination. Another interesting feature are the many windmills. There are 195 windmills in the province of Friesland, from a total of about 1200 in the entire country.