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Historical map of the Netherlands (1658) with the Zuyder Zee Jansoni.jpg
Historical map of the Netherlands (1658) with the Zuyder Zee

The Zuiderzee or Zuider Zee ( /ˌzdərˈz,-ˈz/ ZY-dər ZEE, -ZAY, also US: /ˌzɔɪdərˈz/ ZOY-dər ZAY, [1] [2] [3] [4] Dutch:  [ˌzœydərˈzeː] ( Loudspeaker.svg listen ); old spelling Zuyderzee or Zuyder Zee) was a shallow bay of the North Sea in the northwest of the Netherlands, extending about 100 km (60 miles) inland and at most 50 km (30 miles) wide, with an overall depth of about 4 to 5 metres (13–16 feet) and a coastline of about 300 km (200 miles). It covered 5,000 km2 (1,900 sq mi). Its name is Dutch for "southern sea", indicating that the name originates in Friesland, to the north of the Zuiderzee (cf. North Sea).[ citation needed ] In the 20th century the majority of the Zuiderzee was closed off from the North Sea by the construction of the Afsluitdijk, leaving the mouth of the inlet to become part of the Wadden Sea. The salt water inlet changed into a fresh water lake now called the IJsselmeer (IJssel Lake) after the river that drains into it, and by means of drainage and polders, an area of some 1,500 km2 (580 sq mi) was reclaimed as land. This land eventually became the province of Flevoland, with a population of nearly 400,000 (2011).


History and disasters

The Dutch defeat the Spanish fleet at the Battle on the Zuiderzee in 1573. Slag op de Zuiderzee, 6 oktober 1573 (Abraham de Verwer, 1621).jpg
The Dutch defeat the Spanish fleet at the Battle on the Zuiderzee in 1573.

In classical times there was already a body of water in this location, called Lacus Flevo 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.

Vliestroom indicated by arrow Vliestroom-Position.JPG
Vliestroom indicated by arrow

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 the mouth and size of the inlet were much widened in the 12th century and especially after a disastrous flood in 1282 [5] broke through the barrier dunes near Texel. The disaster marked the rise of Amsterdam on the southwestern end of the bay, since seagoing traffic of the Baltic trade could now visit.

The even more massive St. Lucia's 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. The name "Zuiderzee" came into general usage around this period.

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.

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.

In 1928, the 6-meter and 8-meter sailing events for the Amsterdam Summer Olympics were held on the Zuiderzee. [6]

Geography and development

Landsat photo Zuider1.jpeg
Landsat photo
Map of the Zuiderzee Works in the Netherlands NL-Zuiderzeeworks.svg
Map of the Zuiderzee Works in the Netherlands

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 five small islands, the remains of what were once larger islands, peninsulas connected to the mainland, or in the case of Pampus, an artificial island. These were Wieringen, Urk, Schokland, Pampus, 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, except for Pampus, are now part of the mainland or connected to it.

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 Zuiderzee Works, ran from 1919 to 1986, culminating in the creation of the new province of Flevoland. The reclamation project was originally intended to also reclaim the former southwestern portion of the Zuiderzee, a polder that would have been called the Markerwaard, but this final stage of the reclamation project was indefinitely postponed in the 1980s.

See also

Related Research Articles

Flevoland Province of the Netherlands

Flevoland is the 12th and youngest province of the Netherlands, established in 1986, when the southern and eastern Flevopolders were merged into one provincial entity. It is located in the centre of the country, where the former Zuiderzee was. Almost all of the land belonging to Flevoland was reclaimed only in the 1950s and 1960s. The province has a population of 422,202 as of November 2019 and consists of six municipalities. Its capital is Lelystad and most populous city is Almere.

Lelystad City and Municipality in Flevoland, Netherlands

Lelystad is a municipality and a city in the centre of the Netherlands, and it is the capital of the province of Flevoland. The city, built on reclaimed land, was founded in 1967 and was named after Cornelis Lely, who engineered the Afsluitdijk, making the reclamation possible. Lelystad is approximately 3 metres below sea level.

IJsselmeer Lake in the Netherlands

The IJsselmeer, also known as Lake IJssel in English, is a closed off inland bay in the central Netherlands bordering the provinces of Flevoland, North Holland and Friesland. It covers an area of 1,100 km2 (420 sq mi) with an average depth of 5.5 m (18 ft). The river IJssel flows into the IJsselmeer.

IJssel branch of the Rhine

The river IJssel, sometimes called Gelderse IJssel to avoid confusion with the Hollandse IJssel, is the branch of the Rhine in the Dutch provinces of Gelderland and Overijssel. The Romans knew the river as Isala. The IJssel flows from Westervoort, east of the city of Arnhem, until it discharges into the IJsselmeer. The River IJssel is one of the three major distributary branches into which the Rhine divides shortly after crossing the German-Dutch border.

Zuiderzee Works

The Zuiderzee Works is a man-made system of dams and dikes, land reclamation and water drainage work, in total the largest hydraulic engineering project undertaken by the Netherlands during the twentieth century. The project involved the damming of the Zuiderzee, a large, shallow inlet of the North Sea, and the reclamation of land in the newly enclosed water using polders. Its main purposes are to improve flood protection and create additional land for agriculture.

Almere City and municipality in Flevoland, Netherlands

Almere is a planned city and municipality in the province of Flevoland, Netherlands, bordering Lelystad and Zeewolde. The municipality of Almere comprises six official areas that are the districts of Almere Stad, Almere Buiten and Almere Pampus, and the boroughs of Almere Haven, Almere Hout and Almere Poort. Four of them feature official district or borough offices. Furthermore, it also comprises the unofficial historic district and neighborhood Oostvaardersdiep, which has an active semi-self-governing community, and the planned district of Almere Oosterwold. Almere is part of the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area (MRA).

Urk Municipality in Flevoland, Netherlands

Urk is a municipality and a town in the Flevoland province in the central Netherlands.

Zeewolde Municipality in Flevoland, Netherlands

Zeewolde is a municipality and a town in the Flevoland province in the central Netherlands. It has a population of approximately 22,000 (2017). It is situated in the polder of Flevoland with the small lake called the Wolderwijd to the east. To the south is a large deciduous forest called the Horsterwold. The area to the west is principally agricultural.

Wieringen Former municipality in North Holland, Netherlands

Wieringen is part of the new municipality of Hollands Kroon, established in 2012 in the province of North Holland in the Netherlands. It is a former municipality in this province, with its name appearing in records of the late 9th and early 10th century. From 1200 it was known as an island, also named Wieringen, which was separated by water from the mainland during one of the disastrous storm floods towards the end of the late Middle Ages that changed the coastline. By draining, dikes and landfill from 1924 to 1932, the island was rejoined to the mainland.

Wieringermeer Former municipality in North Holland, Netherlands

Wieringermeer is a former municipality and a polder in the Netherlands, in the province of North Holland. Since 2012 Wieringermeer has been a part of the new municipality of Hollands Kroon.

<i>Afsluitdijk</i> Dutch levee

The Afsluitdijk is a major dam and causeway in the Netherlands. It was constructed between 1927 and 1932 and runs from Den Oever in North Holland province to the village of Zurich in Friesland province, over a length of 32 kilometres (20 mi) and a width of 90 metres (300 ft), at an initial height of 7.25 metres (23.8 ft) above sea level.

Emmeloord Town in Flevoland, Netherlands

Emmeloord is the administrative center of the municipality of Noordoostpolder, Flevoland, Netherlands.

Inundation of the Wieringermeer inundation in the Netherlands in 1945

On 17 April 1945, the retreating German occupying forces inundated the polder of Wieringermeer, the Netherlands.


The Vlie or Vliestroom is the seaway between the Dutch islands of Vlieland, to its southwest, and Terschelling, to its northeast. The Vlie was the estuary of the river IJssel in medieval times. In 1666 the English Admiral Robert Holmes burnt a Dutch merchant fleet of 130 ships, that had taken refuge in the Vlie, mistakenly supposing the English could never find their way through the treacherous shoals along its coastline. Today it's still possible to reach the port of Harlingen by way of the Vlie.

Tollebeek Village in Flevoland, Netherlands

Tollebeek is a village in the Dutch province of Flevoland. It is a part of the municipality of Noordoostpolder, and is approximately 90 kilometres north east of Amsterdam.

Flood control in the Netherlands

Flood control is an important issue for the Netherlands, as due to its low elevation, approximately two thirds of its area is vulnerable to flooding, while the country is densely populated. Natural sand dunes and constructed dikes, dams, and floodgates provide defense against storm surges from the sea. River dikes prevent flooding from water flowing into the country by the major rivers Rhine and Meuse, while a complicated system of drainage ditches, canals, and pumping stations keep the low-lying parts dry for habitation and agriculture. Water control boards are the independent local government bodies responsible for maintaining this system.

Lake Flevo

Lake Flevo was a lake in what is now the Netherlands, which existed in Roman times and the early Middle Ages. Some geographers believe that this lake was not really a single lake, rather a set of several lakes connected to each other.

Markermeer Lake in the central Netherlands

The Markermeer is a 700 km2 (270 sq mi) lake in the central Netherlands in between North Holland, Flevoland and its larger sibling, the IJsselmeer. A shallow lake at some 3 to 5 m in depth, it is named after the small former island, now peninsula, of Marken that lies within it. The southwest side of the lake that begins where the IJ once emptied into the Zuiderzee is known as the IJmeer.

Pilot Polder Andijk

The pilot Polder Andijk, or Test Polder Andijk, Proefpolder Andijk in Dutch, is a polder established in 1926 - 1927 in the Zuiderzee near the village of Andijk. The aim of this prototype is to study the embankments and agriculture for future polders in the Zuiderzee Works. In 1929, the pilot polder was inaugurated by Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands.

Almere (lake) lake

Lake Almere was an inland lake in the place of today's IJsselmeer in the center of the Netherlands.


  1. "Zuider Zee". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2014. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  2. "Zuider Zee". Collins English Dictionary . HarperCollins . Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  3. "Zuider Zee" (US) and "Zuider Zee". Oxford Dictionaries . Oxford University Press . Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  4. "Zuider Zee". Merriam-Webster Dictionary . Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  5. Buisman, Jan (1995). Duizend jaar weer, wind en water in de Lage Landen (in Dutch). Franeker, the Netherlands: Van Wijnen. ISBN   978-9-05194-075-6.
  6. 1928 Summer Olympics official report. pp. 271-2, 274.

Coordinates: 52°50′N5°20′E / 52.833°N 5.333°E / 52.833; 5.333