Frisian Islands: Wikis


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The Frisian Islands
Satellite image of the Dutch islands
Sand dunes and beach on Amrum
De Slufter, a nature reserve on Texel
Fortified coast line on Wangerooge
Sheep grazing on Mandø
View from the lighthouse of Borkum
Beach on Juist
Beach on Sylt
Bird's-eye view of Baltrum

The Frisian Islands, also known as the Wadden Islands or Wadden Sea Islands, form an archipelago at the eastern edge of the North Sea in northwestern Europe, stretching from the north-west of the Netherlands through Germany to the west of Denmark. The islands shield the mudflat region of the Wadden Sea (large parts of which fall dry during low tide) from the North Sea.

The Frisian Islands, along with the mainland coast in the German Bight, form the region of Frisia, traditional homeland of the Frisian people. Generally the term Frisian Islands is used for the islands where Frisian is spoken and the population is ethnically Frisian, while the term Wadden Islands is used for the entire archipelago, including the Danish-speaking Danish Wadden Sea Islands slightly further to the north on the western coast of Jutland, Denmark.

Most of the Frisian Islands are protected areas, and an international wildlife nature reserve is being coordinated between the countries of Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. Natural gas and oil drilling continue, however, and the presence of the Ems, Weser and Elbe estuaries and the ensuing ship traffic cause tension between wildlife protection and economic incentives.



During the last ice age, which ended approximately 12,000 years ago, the sea level was about 60 meters below the current level, and the North Sea was dry land. Due to melting of the ice caps the sea level rose and the water submerged the North Sea. The sea reached the current coast line approximately 7000 years ago. Due to the tides, large quantities of sand were transported to the coast. This sand piled up near rocks and behind vegetation. There a large and unbroken line of dunes originated which extended all the way from contemporary Belgium to the mouth of the river Elbe, where now Hamburg lies.

Around the beginning of the Holocene era the sea level stopped rising. The sea had however already found its way through the dunes transforming the lower country behind, to the current Wadden mudflats. The continuous tidal currents wore gutters into the plain and this way the Wadden Islands arose.


Island forming

The Dutch West Frisian and the German East Frisian Islands are barrier islands.[1] They arose along the breakers’ edge where the water surge piled up sediment, and behind which sediment was carried away by the breaking waves. Over time, shoals arose, which finally were only covered by infrequent storm floods.[1] Once plants began to colonise the sandbanks the land began to stabilise.[2]

The North Frisian Islands, on the other hand, arose from the remains of old Geestland islands, where the land was partially removed by storm floods and water action and then separated from the mainland. They are, therefore, often higher and their cores are less exposed to changes than the islands to the south. Beyond the core, however, the same processes are at work, particularly evident on Sylt, where the south of the island threatens to be broken away, while the harbour at List in the north silts up.[3] The Danish Islands, the next in the chain to the north, arose from sandbanks. Right up into the twentieth century, the silting up of the islands was a serious problem. To protect the islands, small woods were planted.


Long before the beginning of the modern era there were already humans inhabiting the Wadden area. Up to the 800 AD most inhabitants lived on terpen (manmade hills). The living conditions were bad, as this quote from Roman Pliny shows:

... what is nature and characterisations of living by people who live without trees or shrubs. We have indeed said that in the east, to the coasts of the ocean, a number of races in such needy conditions exist; but this also applies to the races of peoples which are called the large and small Ghaucen, which we have seen in the north. There, two times in each period of a day and a night, the ocean with a fast tide submerges an immense plain, thereby the hiding the secular fight of the Nature whether the area is sea or land. There this miserable race inhabits raised pieces ground or platforms, which they have moored by hand above the level of the highest known tide. Living in huts built on the chosen spots, they seem like sailors in ships if water covers the surrounding country, but like shipwrecked people when the tide has withdrawn itself, and around their huts they catch fish which tries to escape with the expiring tide. It is for them not possible to keep herds and live on milk such as the surrounding tribes, they cannot even fight with wild animals, because all the bush country lies too far away. They braid ropes of zegge and biezen from the marshes with which they make nets to be able to catch fish, and they dig up mud with their hands and dry it more in wind than in the sun, and with soil as fuel they heat their food and their own bodies, frozen in northern wind. Their only drink comes from storing rain water in tanks front of their houses. And these are the races which, if they were now conquered by the Roman nation, say that they will fall into slavery! It is only too true: Destiny saves people as a punishment.

Around the year 1000 dike construction started. An important role was played by monks, among others those of the convent of Aduard. But even earlier attempts had been undertaken to control the sea. At the Frisian Peins (in the municipality Franeker) a 40 meters long stretch of dike has been discovered that supposedly came from the first or second century BC.

In the late Middle Ages the bed calibration gets more and more form and the water nuisance decreased. From the seventeenth century, the dikes were built further outward due to land reclamation. The peak of this took place in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Conservation of the West Frisian/Dutch coast

The dunes south of the Wadden Sea were also liable to this process, but man’s intervention prevented the many storm surges from changing the coast of the provinces North Holland and South Holland into separate islands with Wadden mudflats behind them. However, storm surges, around 1200, did break up the northern coast of Western Friesland into five islands. Around 1600 four of these along the West coast had been again recovered, but Wieringen, to the south-east of Texel, remained an island up to the 20th century.

Embankment of the mudflat

In Friesland and Groningen plans have been made to embank and drain the Wadden Sea. As a result the islands would become part of the mainland. Nature - and environmental movements have always been able to prevent this.

The only plan ever to be carried out was the construction of a causeway from the Frisian Holwerd to Ameland, in 1872, which was not very successful. The causeway already had so much storm damage shortly after construction started that the dam was abandoned in 1882. The dam has been almost entirely eroded since that time, though there are still some remainders of the two ends.

In the northern Wadden Sea building dams proved to be considerably simpler. Nordstrand is now so much linked to the rampart by dikes that one can’t really call it an island anymore, and also Langeness, Oland, Nordstrandischmoor, Hamburger Hallig, Sylt and Rømø are all reachable by dams. Mandø is even reachable without a dam, by means of tidal road.



The Wadden Islands are in continuous movement. The most important movement is the 'migration': the islands themselves are slowly but certainly moving from West to East. On the West side most of the islands disappear slowly in the sea and on the East side ever larger sand-banks arise. This movement is also the reason that most of the villages themselves are on the West side of their island. When they were founded generally they were situated in the center. Over the course of the last few centuries many houses and even entire villages disappeared into the sea.

Hook shaping

The second movement is the development of a hook shape: along the sea breaches hookshaped sand ridges arise, which change form with the moving of the sea arm. By growth of these hooks new shoals arise such as the Noorder and Zuiderhaaks. Sometimes such a shoal grows, originating where an island has been ‘walking’, and as a result of which that island recovers its lost area.


Dutch Wadden Islands

(from West to East)


The Dutch islands have a surface of 405.2 km² and a total of 23,872 inhabitants.


The names of all these places suggest this is the transition area between island and shoal (plaat in Dutch). Griend and Rottumeroog are generally considered as an island, the others are considered to disappear from time to time into the waves. The former island of Wieringen can be found at the top of Noord-Holland, against the Afsluitdijk.

German Wadden Islands

(from West to East and south to North)



The German islands have a surface of 448.52 km² and a total of 53,296 inhabitants. It is possible to make a boat excursion from several German Wadden Islands to the small rock island of Helgoland which is situated 70 kilometres from the coast line in the German Bight. It is no real Wadden Island, but there are strong cultural links with the Wadden area. For one a dialect of North Frisian is spoken here.

Not all aforementioned islands are officially considered to be Wadden Islands. For the definition of an island a minimum of 160 hectares must no longer be submerged during average high water by the North Sea.

Danish Wadden Islands

(from South to North)

South of Rømø lay in the 20th century still the only Danish hallig, Jordsand, but in 1999, the last remains proved to be gone. North of Fanø the sand coast has been opened and closed numerous times in the course of history, but at the moment the coast line is closed, and forms a whole again save for two west coast fjords. The Danish islands have a total surface of 193.8 km² and a total of 4,173 inhabitants.

See also


Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

There is more than one place called Frisian Islands:



This article is a disambiguation page. If you arrived here by following a link from another page you can help by correcting it, so that it points to the appropriate disambiguated page.

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

FRISIAN ISLANDS, a chain of islands, lying from 3 to 20 M. from the mainland, and stretching from the Zuider Zee E. and N. as far as Jutland, along the coasts of Holland and Germany. They are divided into three groups: - (1) The West Frisian, (2) the East Frisian, and (3) the North Frisian.

The chain of the Frisian Islands marks the outer fringe of the former continental coast-line, and is separated from the mainland by shallows, known as Wadden or Watten, answering to the maria vadosa of the Romans. Notwithstanding the protection afforded by sand-dunes and earthen embankments backed by stones and timber, the Frisian Islands are slowly but surely crumbling away under the persistent attacks of storm and flood, and the old Frisian proverb "de nich will diken mut wiken" (" who will not build dikes must go away") still holds good. Many of the Frisian legends and folk-songs deal with the submerged villages and hamlets, which lie buried beneath the treacherous waters of the Wadden. Heinrich Heine made use of these legends in his Nordseebilder, composed during a visit to Norderney in 1825. The Prussian and Dutch governments annually expend large sums for the protection of the islands, and in some cases the erosion on the seaward side is counterbalanced by the accretion of land on the inner side, fine sandy beaches being formed well suited for sea-bathing, which attracts many visitors in summer. The inhabitants of these islands support themselves by seafaring, pilotage, grazing of cattle and sheep, fishing and a little agriculture, chiefly potato-growing.

The islands, though well lighted, are dangerous to navigation, and a glance at a wreck chart will show the entire chain to be densely dotted. One of the most remarkable disasters was the loss of H.M.S. "La Lutine," 32 guns, which was wrecked off Vlieland in October 1799, only one hand being saved, who died before reaching England. "La Lutine," which had been captured from the French by Admiral Duncan, was carrying a large quantity of bullion and specie, which was underwritten at Lloyd's. The Dutch government claimed the wreck and granted one-third of the salvage to bullion-fishers. Occasional recoveries were made of small quantities which led to repeated disputes and discussions, until eventually the king of the Netherlands ceded to Great Britain, for Lloyd's, half the remainder of the wreck. A Dutch salvage company, which began operations in August 1857, recovered £99,893 in the course of two years, but it was estimated that some £1,175,000 are still unaccounted for. The ship's rudder, which was recovered in 1859, has been fashioned into a chair and a table, now in the possession of Lloyd's.

The West Frisian Islands belong to the kingdom of the Netherlands, and embrace Texel or Tessel (71 sq. m.), Vlieland (19 sq.

m.), Terschelling (41 sq. m.), Ameland (23 sq. m.), Schiermonnikoog (19 sq. m.), as well as the much smaller islands of Boschplaat and Rottum, which are practically uninhabited. The northern end of Texel is called Eierland, or "island of eggs," in reference to the large number of sea-birds' eggs which are found there. It was joined to Texel by a sand-dike in 1629-1630, and is now undistinguishable from the main island. Texel was already separated from the mainland in the 8th century, but remained a Frisian province and countship, which once extended as far as Alkmaar in North Holland, until it came into the possession of the counts of Holland. The island was occupied by British troops from August to December 1799. The village of Oude Schild has a harbour. The island of Terschelling once formed a separate lordship, but was sold to the states of Holland. The principal village of West-Terschelling has a harbour. As early as the beginning of the 9th century Ameland was a lordship of the influential family of Cammingha who held immediately of the emperor, and in recognition of their independence the Amelanders were in 1369 declared to be neutral in the fighting between Holland and Friesland, while Cromwell made the same declaration in 1654 with respect to the war between England and the United Netherlands. The castle of the Camminghas in the village of Ballum remained standing till 1810, and finally disappeared in 1829 after four centuries. This island is joined to the mainland of Friesland by a stone dike constructed in 1873 for the purpose of promoting the deposit of mud. The island of Schiermonnikoog has a village and a lighthouse. Rottum was once the property of the ancient abbey at Rottum, 8 m. N. of Groningen, of which there are slight remains.

With the exception of Wangeroog, which belongs to the grand duchy of Oldenburg, the East Frisian Islands belong to Prussia. They comprise Borkum (122 sq. m.), with two light houses and connected by steamer with Emden and Leer; Memmert; Juist (24 sq. m.), with two lifeboat stations, and connected by steamer with Norddeich and Greetsiel; Norderney (52 sq. m.); Baltrum, with a lifeboat station; Langeoog (8 sq. m.), connected by steamer with the adjacent islands, and with Bensersiel on the mainland; Spiekeroog (4 sq. m.), with a tramway for conveyance to the bathing beach, and connected by steamer with Carolinenziel; and Wangeroog (2 sq. m.), with a lighthouse and lifeboat station. All these islands are visited for sea-bathing. In the beginning of the 18th century Wangeroog comprised eight times its present area. Borkum and Juist are two surviving fragments of the original island of Borkum (computed at 380 sq. m.), known to Drusus as Fabaria, and to Pliny as Burchana, which was rent asunder by the sea in 1170. Neuwerk and Scharhorn, situated off the mouth of the Elbe, are islands belonging to the state of Hamburg. Neuwerk, containing some marshland protected by dikes, has two lighthouses and a lifeboat station. At low water it can be reached from Duhnen by carriage.

About the year 1250 the area of the North Frisian Islands was estimated at 1065 sq. m.; by 1850 this had diminished to only 105 sq. m. This group embraces the islands of Nord strand 1 1 sq. m. which up to 1634 formed one 74 ?l )? P 34 larger island with the adjoining Pohnshallig and Nordstrandisch-Moor; Pellworm (164 sq. m.), protected by a circle of dikes and connected by steamer with Husum on the mainland; Amrum (102 sq. m.); Fohr (32 sq. m.); Sylt (38 sq. m.); Rom (16 sq. m.), with several villages, the principal of which is Kirkeby; Fano (21 sq. m.); and Heligoland (4 sq. m.). With the exception of Fano, which is Danish, all these islands belong to Prussia. In the North Frisian group there are also several smaller islands called Halligen. These rise generally only a few feet above the level of the sea, and are crowned by a single house standing on an artificial mound and protected by a surrounding dike or embankment.

BIS1.roGRAPHY. - Staring, De Bodem van Nederland (1856); Blink, Nederland en zijne Bewoners (1892); P. H. Witkamp, Aardrijkskundig Woordenboek van Nederland (1895); P. W. J. Teding van Berkhout, De Landaanwinning op de Friesche Wadden (1869); J. de Vries and T. Focken, Ostfriesland (1881); Dr D. F. Buitenrust Hettema, Fryske Bybleteek (Utrecht, 1895); Dr Eugen Traeger, Die Halligen der Nordsee (Stuttgart, 1892); also Globus, vol. lxxviii. (1900), No. 15; P. Axelsen, in Deut. Rundschau fur Geog. u. Statistik (1898); Christian Jensen, Vom Dilnenstrand der Nordsee and vom Wattenmeer (Schleswig, 1901), which contains a bibliography; Osterloh, Wangeroog and sein Seebad (Emden, 1884); Zwickert, Fiihrer durch das Nordseebad Wangeroog (Oldenburg, 1894); Nellner, Die Nordseeinsel Spickeroog (Emden, 1884); Tongers, Die Nordseeinsel Langeoog (2nd ed., Norden, 1892); Meier, Die Nordseeinsel Borkum (loth ed., Emden, 1894); Herquet, Die Insel Borkum, &c. (Emden, 1886); Scherz, Die Nordseeinsel .Tuist (2nd ed., Norden, 1893); von Bertouch, Vor 4 0 Jahren: Natur and Kultur auf der Insel Nordstrand (Weimar, 1891); W. G. Black, Heligoland and the Islands of the North Sea (Glasgow, 1888).

xi. 8a

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