Zuider Zee: Wikis

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Historical map of the Netherlands (1658) with De Zuyder Zee'

The Zuiderzee (English pronunciation: /ˌzaɪdər ˈzeɪ/; Dutch: Zuiderzee, Dutch: [ˈzœydərzeː]) was a shallow inlet of the North Sea in the northwest of the Netherlands, extending about 100 km (62 miles) inland and at most 50 km (31 miles) wide, with an overall depth of about 4 to 5 metres (13-16 feet) and a coastline of about 300 km (186 miles). It covered 5,000 km² (2,000 square miles). Its name means "southern sea" in Dutch, indicating that the origin of the name can be found in Friesland to the north of the Zuiderzee (also see North Sea). In the 20th century the majority of the Zuiderzee was closed off from the North Sea (leaving the mouth of the inlet to become part of the Wadden Sea) and the salt water inlet changed into a fresh water lake called the IJsselmeer (IJssel-lake) after the river that drains into it. The river IJssel is an estuary branch of the river Rhine (Dutch: Rijn).


History and disasters

Approximate landscape in North Holland during the 1st century AD (left) and the 10th century AD (right)
Vliestroom indicated by arrow

In classical times there was already a body of water in this location, called Lacus Flevo ("Flevo Lake") by Roman authors. It was much smaller than its later forms and its connection to the main sea was much narrower; it may have been a complex of lakes and marshes and channels, rather than one lake. Over time these lakes gradually eroded their soft peat shores and spread (a process known as waterwolf). Some part of this area of water was later called the Vlie; it probably flowed into the sea through what is now the Vliestroom channel between the islands of Vlieland and Terschelling. The Marsdiep was once a river (fluvium Maresdeop) which may have been a distributary of the Vlie. During the early Middle Ages this began to change as rising sea levels and storms started to eat away at the coastal areas which consisted mainly of peatlands. In this period the inlet was referred to as the Almere, indicating it was still more of a lake, but when the mouth and size of the inlet were much widened in the 12th century and especially after a disastrous flood in 1282 [1] broke through the barrier dunes near Texel, the name "Zuiderzee"' came into general usage. The disaster was the making of the little village of Amsterdam, for seagoing traffic could now make it a rendezvous for the Baltic trade.

The size of this inland sea remained largely stable from the 15th century onwards due to improvements in dikes, but when storms pushed North Sea water into the inlet, the Zuiderzee became a volatile cauldron of water, frequently resulting in flooding and the loss of ships. For example, on 18 November 1421, a seawall at the Zuiderzee dike broke, which flooded 72 villages and killed about 10,000 people. This was the Second St. Elizabeth's Flood: see Sint-Elisabethsvloed (1421). An even more massive flood occurred 14 December 1287, when the seawalls broke during a storm, killing approximately 50,000 to 80,000 people in the fifth largest flood in recorded history: see St. Lucia's flood.

The Netherlands was part of the First French Empire between 1810 and 1813. A département was formed in 1811 and named as Zuyderzée after the Zuiderzee, of which the territory roughly corresponded to the present provinces of North Holland and Utrecht.

Geography and development

Landsat photo

Around the Zuiderzee many fishing villages grew up and several developed into walled towns with extensive trade connections, in particular Kampen, a town in Overijssel, and later also towns in Holland such as Amsterdam, Hoorn, and Enkhuizen. These towns traded at first with ports on the Baltic Sea, in England, and in the Hanseatic League, but later also with the rest of the world, when the Netherlands established its colonial empire. When that lucrative trade diminished, most of the towns fell back on fishing and some industry until the 20th century when tourism became the major source of income. Contained within the Zuiderzee were four small islands, the remains of what were once larger islands or peninsulas connected to the mainland. These were Wieringen, Urk, Schokland, and Marken. The inhabitants of these islands also subsisted mainly on fishing and related industries and still do in the case of Urk and Wieringen. All of these islands are now part of the mainland or connected to it.

Map of the Zuiderzeeworks in the Netherlands

The construction in the early 20th century of a large enclosing dam (the Afsluitdijk) tamed the Zuiderzee. The creation of this dam was a response to the flood of January 1916. Plans for closing the Zuiderzee had been made over thirty years earlier but had not yet passed in parliament. With the completion of the Afsluitdijk in 1932, the Zuiderzee became the IJsselmeer, and large areas of water could be reclaimed for farming and housing. These areas, known as polders, were respectively the Wieringermeer, the Noordoostpolder, and Flevoland. This enormous project under the direction of Cornelis Lely, called the Zuiderzeeworks, ran from 1919 to 1986, culminating in the creation of the new province of Flevoland. The reclamation project was originally intended to reclaim the former southwestern portion of the Zuiderzee, a body of water now known as the Markermeer, but this final stage of the reclamation project was indefinitely postponed in the 1980s.

In popular culture

  • Lyrics of the song "You're the Top" from the 1934 Broadway musical Anything Goes by Cole Porter: "...You're the boats that glide on the sleepy Zuiderzee."
  • In the Michael Peter Smith song "The Dutchman," made famous by Steve Goodman and also performed by Cashman and West, a line in the chorus reads "Let us go to the banks of the ocean, where the walls rise above the Zuiderzee..."
  • In the Brian Eno song "Mother Whale Eyeless," the inlet is mentioned: "What do I care? / I'm wasting fingers like I have them to spare / Plugging holes in the Zuiderzee."


  1. ^ Buisman, Jan, Duizend jaar weer, wind en water in de Lage Landen (Deel 1: tot 1300), ISBN 9789051940756

External links


Coordinates: 52°50′N 5°20′E / 52.833°N 5.333°E / 52.833; 5.333

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ZUIDER ZEE, or Zuyder Zee, a land-locked inlet on the coast of Holland, bounded N. by the chain of the Frisian Islands, and W., S., and E. by the provinces of North Holland, Utrecht, Gelderland, Overysel, and Friesland. It is about 85 m. long N. to S., and from 10 to 45 m. broad, with an area of 2027 sq. m., and contains the islands of Marken, Schokland, Urk, Wieringen, and Griend. In the early centuries of the Christian era the Zuider (i.e. Southern) Zee was a small inland lake situated in the southern part of the present gulf, and called Flevo by Tacitus, Pliny, and other early writers. It was separated from the sea by a belt of marsh and fen uniting Friesland and North Holland, the original coast-line being still indicated by the line of the Frisian Islands. Numerous streams, including the Vecht, Eem, and Ysel, discharged their waters into this lake and issued thence as the Vlie (Latin Flevus), which reached the North Sea by the Vliegat between the islands of Vlieland and Terschelling. In the Lex Frisonum the Vlie (Fli, or Flehi) is accepted as the boundary between the territory of the East and West Frisians. In time, however, and especially during the 12th century, high tides and north-west storms swept away the western banks of the Vlie and submerged great tracts of land. In 1170 the land between Stavoren, Texel, and Medemblik was washed away, and a century later the Zuider Zee was formed. The open waterway between Stavoren and Enkhuizen, however, as it now exists, dates from 1400. In the south and east the destruction was arrested by the high sandy shores of Gooi, Veluwe, Voorst, and Gasterland in the provinces of Utrecht, Gelderland, Overysel, and Friesland respectively.

The mean depth of the Zuider Zee is 11.48 ft.; depth in the southern basin of the former lake, 19 ft.; at Val van Urk (deep water to the west of the island of Urk), 142 ft. If a line be drawn from the island of Urk to Marken, and thence westwards to Hoorn (North Holland) and N.N.E. to Lemmer (Friesland), these lines will connect parts of the Zuider Zee having a uniform depth of 8 ft. The other parts on the coast are only 3 ft. deep or less. This shallowness of its waters served to protect the Zuider Zee from the invasion of large ships of war. It also explains how many once flourishing commercial towns, such as Stavoren, Medemblik, Enkhuizen, Hoorn, Monnikendam, declined to the rank of provincial trading and fishing ports. The fisheries of the Zuider Zee are of considerable importance. Eighty per cent. of the bottom consists of sea clay and the more recent silt of the Ysel; 20 per cent. of sand, partly in the north about Urk and Enkhuizen, partly in the south along the high shores of Gooi, Veluwe, &c. The shallowness of the sea and the character of its bottom, promising fertile soil, occasioned various projects of drainage. The scheme recommended by the Zuider Zee Vereeniging (1886) formed the subject of a report in 1894 by a state commission. The principal feature in the scheme was the building of a dike from the island of Wieringen to the coast of Friesland. The area south of this would be divided into four polders, with reservation, however, of a lake, Yselmeer, in the centre, whence branches would run to Ysel and the Zwolsche Diep, to Amsterdam, and, by sluices near Wieringen, to the northern part of the sea. The four polders with their areas of fertile soil would be: (I) North-west polder, area 53,599 acres; fertile soil, 46,189 acres.

(2) South-west „ „ 77, 8 54 „ „ 68,715 „ (3) South-east „ „ 266,167 „ „ „ 222,275 „ (4) North-east „ „ 12 5,599 „ 120,783 „ The Lake Yselmeer would have an area of 560 sq. m. The gain would be the addition to the kingdom of a new and fertile province of the area of North Brabant, a saving of expenses on dikes, diminution of inundations, improvement of communication between the south and the north of the kingdom, protection of isles of the sea, &c. The costs were calculated as follows: (I) enclosing dike, sluices, and regulation of Zwolsche Diep, £1,760,000; (2) reclamation of four polders, £5,200,000; (3) defensive works, £400,000; (4) indemnity to fishermen, £180,000; total, £7,540,000.

In 1901 the government introduced a bill in the States General, based on the recommendations of the commission, providing for enclosing the Zuider Zee by building a dike from the North Holland coast, through the Amsteldiep to Wieringen and from that island to the Friesland coast at Piaam; and further providing for the draining of two portions of the enclosed area, namely the N.W. and the S.W. polders shown in the table. The entire work was to be completed in 18 years at an estimated cost of £7,956,000. The bill failed to become law and in consequence of financial difficulties the project had not, up to 1910, advanced beyond the stage of consideration.

With the exception of Griend and Schokland, the islands of the Zuider Zee are inhabited by small fishing communities, who retain some archaic customs and a picturesque dress. Urk is already mentioned as an island in 966. The inhabitants of Schokland were compelled to leave the island by order of the state in 1859, it being considered insecure from inundation. The island of Griend (or Grind) once boasted a walled town, which was destroyed by flood at the end of the 13th century. But the island continued for some centuries to serve as a pasturage for cattle, giving its name to a well-known description of cheese. Like some of the other islands, sheep are still brought to graze upon it in summer, and a large number of birds' eggs are collected upon it in spring. Several of the islands were once the property of religious houses on the mainland.

The British Foreign Office report, Draining of the Zuiderzee (1901), gives full particulars of the Dutch government's scheme and a retrospect of all former proposals. See also De economische beteekens van de afsluiting en drooglegging der Zuiderzee vom ZuiderzeeVerein (2nd ed., 1901), and D. Bellet, "Le dessechement du Zuiderzee," Rev. Geog. (1902) and W. J. Tuyn, Oude Hollandsche Dorpen aan de Zuiderzee (Haarlem, 1900).

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