Up close is not the best way to see the world’s biggest gate. Standing alongside it from one end, where a three-story hinge links to a massive steel lattice, the Maeslant storm surge barrier resembles three crane towers toppled across one another. From the opposite end, nearly 280 yards away, it’s an imposing white wall, like a drive-in movie screen stretched the length of 2½ football fields.
And that’s only half of it. Taking in the view from a small hill — one of the highest points in this low-lying region of South Holland — the same enormous structure is repeated on the other side of a Rhine River shipping channel running from the North Sea to Rotterdam, Europe’s largest port. The two arms of the Maeslant barrier — each the size of the Eiffel Tower — stand ready to swing shut and lock in the middle of the channel when the sea kicks up devastating waves.