Statistics, the European Netherlands has a total land area of 41,528 km2, including non-tidal water bodies. It lies between latitudes 50° and 54° N, and longitudes 3° and 8° E.
The Netherlands is geographically very low relative to sea level and is considered a flat country, with about 26% of its area and 21% of its population located below sea level, and only about 50% of its land exceed one metre above sea level. The European part of the country is for the most part flat, with the exception of foothills in the far southeast, up to a height of no more than 321 metres, and some low hill ranges in the central parts. Most of the areas below sea level are man-made, caused by peat extraction or achieved through land reclamation. Since the late 16th century, large polder areas are preserved through elaborate drainage systems that include dikes, canals and pumping stations. Nearly 17% of the country’s land area is reclaimed from the sea and from lakes.
Much of the country was originally formed by the estuaries of three large European rivers: the Rhine (Rijn), the Meuse (Maas) and the Scheldt (Schelde), as well as their tributaries. The south-western part of the Netherlands is to this day a river delta of these three rivers, the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta.
The European Netherlands is divided into north and south parts by the Rhine, the Waal, its main tributary branch, and the Meuse. In the past these rivers functioned as a natural barrier between fiefdoms and hence historically created a cultural divide, as is evident in some phonetic traits that are recognisable on either side of what the Dutch call their “Great Rivers” (de Grote Rivieren). Another significant branch of the Rhine, the IJssel river, discharges into Lake IJssel, the former Zuiderzee (‘southern sea’). Just like the previous, this river forms a linguistic divide: people to the northeast of this river speak Dutch Low Saxon dialects (except for the province of Friesland, which has its own language).