Visit Holland - The Netherlands

Zuiderzee

The Zuiderzee 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 means "southern sea" in Dutch, indicating that the origin of the name can be found in Friesland to the north of the Zuiderzee (cf. 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, 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).

Geography and development
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 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 polder that would have been called the Markerwaard, but this final stage of the reclamation project was indefinitely postponed in the 1980s.

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