Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Z is for...

Welcome to the bottom of the sea


When people (especially Johnny Foreigner) ask me where I live, I usually say I live on the bottom of the sea, making me a mermaid. Well, the mermaid part might be a bit of a stretch, but I do live on the bottom of the sea. Of course it isn't a sea anymore, otherwise I would have to seriously learn how to live under water or move away, but it used to be a sea.

The situation in the past, the red cross shows where I live now, click to enlarge to see!

In the nineteenth century the population of the Netherlands was growing and there wasn't that much space. So, the ideas of closing the sea and turning it into a lake and making land in that land were taken out of the cupboard again. It wasn't the first time this was thought of and indeed it wasn't the first time it was done. Most of the west of the country used to be water at some point or other, before being dried out by man (and windmills) and put to use as land. But this was going to be the most ambitious project yet!

The first thing they needed to do was close off the sea. It was only an inland sea, but it had an open connection with the Waddensea and the Northsea beyond. After a massive flood in 1916 parliament finally passed the law to close it off (it had been on the shelf for 30 years) and work started in 1920 on the Amstelmeerdijk. When that was finished, work started on the first and only Zuiderzeepolder: Wieringermeer, named for the island Wieringen which would be incorporated into the new polder*. Work was finished in 1930. Two years later the Afsluitdijk(Closing Dyke) was finished, turning the salt/brackish water of the Zuiderzee into the fresh water of the IJsselmeer (Lake IJssel). The sea was no more...

The current situation with the finishing dates; the little black cross shows where I live.

The Noordoostpolder (North East Polder) was the first IJsselmeerpolder and was finished in 1942. It incorporated two islands: Urk and the empty Schokland. After the war two more polders were formed: Eastern Flevoland and Southern Flevoland, the last being finished in 1967. In 1976 a dyke was created so a new polder could be formed (Markermeer), but during the 1980's those plans were put on ice indefinitely.

For more information please check out this Wikipedia article.

For more Z-letters from around the world check out ABC Wednesday and join in the fun!

*) Polder: tract of low land, especially in the Netherlands, reclaimed from the sea or other body of water and protected by dykes. In the olden days kept dry by windmills, nowadays more usually by diesel operated pumping stations.


  1. I really love your knowledge. I know nothing about nothing!

  2. Interesting information. I still remember the children story of a young boy single handed (using his hand) to block the water leak from the dyke thus saved Netherlands.

  3. Very interesting actually it's pretty amazing. You explained it very well. Thanks.

  4. Great stuff. As I have said before, I used to teach this material, and it's nice to be reminded.

  5. Well, that was fascinating! Particularly so for two reasons: one, I too live on reclaimed land (East Anglian fens) and two, I was taught about the Zuider Zee in school, but was under the impression that it was completely finished!

    But I don't see a red dot in your first picture.

  6. @Just Breathe: I have the basic knowledge and that will be enough to make me search wikipedia for more.

    @Grace and Bradley: Ah, Hansje Brinker! Made up by an American as nobody would be able to stop the force of the water. Nice story though...

    @James: thank you so much.

    @Anvilcloud: as I said to a history teacher on my last trip to Ireland: if a teacher on the subject thinks I'm doing fine, I'm well chuffed.

    @Jay: I forgot to say you have to enlarge the picture and thèn you will see the red cross in the water!

  7. I actually remember learning about the Zuiderzee (I learned it as two words) in grade school in upstate NYS. As you may know, the Dutch settled much of eastern New York State, so somehow learning about the first motherland was considered important.

  8. I've heard of the Zuiderzee before, but didn't know all of this information about the reclaiming of the land. Thank you for sharing--it was so interesting! Looking at the map was fun, too--my ancestors came from Germany, just across the border from you. When they came to America, they had to drain the swampy ground here in order to farm, knowledge they brought with them from their marshy homeland.

  9. Nice post and thanks for sharing.

  10. Thank you for all of the interesting information. That's what I love about blogging. I learn something new all the time.

  11. I didn't know that this all took place in the 20th century, for some reason I thought it was earlier. Terrific bit of land reclamation. Love that old map. Years ago on a very windy but warmish day I walked on the banking by the Markermeer which was lovely.

  12. @Roger Owen Green: Yeah, I still think we were cheated out of New Amsterdam...

    @Rose: The Germans have had similar problems in the north of their country, trying to keep the water out, however not like the Dutch.

    @Regina: thank you.

    @Photowannabe: you are very welcome. I just hope it doesn't sound too schoolteacherish...

    @Joy: It seems as if it was a long time ago, but when you walk around in the area I live in, it's quite clear that it is relatively new. We celebrated our 70th birthday 7 years ago...

  13. Nice post about the polders and dykes. It's good that you explained what a polder is. I always do it myself each time I walk or cycle in our polders. It's so really Dutch.

  14. This is perfect for the letter. No stretching the theme and full of fascinating information. Thank you so much for all this.

  15. We did the same too, reclaimed the land from the sea to expand out tiny island. And recently, beside the reclaiming the marina area, the once sea water was transformed into a reservoir of drinkable water!

  16. Absolutely fascinating! I'm happy to learn that you aren't a mermaid, though!


Any weighty (and not so weighty) comments are welcome!