Frame I        Land becomes sea

If you were to ask anyone what is so special about the Noordoostpolder (Northeast Polder), most often the answer would be: “It is land, reclaimed from the sea”. Less than one hundred years ago every field, village and forest in the Noordoostpolder was submerged under the waters of the Zuiderzee (Southern Sea). We share our relatively short residential history with other polders (a polder is a reclaimed stretch of land) that have been drained under the terms of the Zuiderzeewet (Southern Sea Law) (1918): the Wieringermeer and Oost- en -Zuid Flevoland (the Wieringer Lake and East and South Flevoland). Having said that - the introductory sentence is not quite right. Polders are not uncommon in Holland as there are approximately 4000 polders of various sizes in this country. Not all of them were parts of a former sea (even though the Noordoostpolder isn’t really reclaimed from a sea either), and most of these polders are a little older (some are even a thousand years old!). Besides the Southern Sea polders, the twentieth century also knew some other polders: the edges of the island of Kampen are, for example, of approximately the same age as the Noordoostpolder.

Reclaimed land

Another note must be observed when considering land which has been reclaimed from the sea: the land has been REclaimed, because the sea had not been there forever. Land was here before the sea came. People even lived here and their tracks were uncovered after the polders had been drained. Archaeological excavations were then possible and we were able to find remnants of a particularly rich and ancient culture. We found ourselves back in prehistoric times: there are no written sources; only pottery, bones, fishing nets, etc. These treasures were lying hidden and untouched for centuries on end, beneath a protective layer of water.

Geological resources of the earth

The same is true for geological resources (“geological treasures” in Dutch), which were next to the archeological finds on the sea floor. The end moraines (lateral moraines) from the second-to-last Ice Age, are situated in a wide arc around the Noordoostpolder: Gaasterland, de Havelterberg, the Land of Vollenhove and the Veluwe. Scandinavian boulders rolled a little bit further towards the current Noordoostpolder and came to a halt there, underwater. These boulders were not removed from agricultural fields, not used for buildings, or used as re-enforcements for roads.

If we write about this place as being land, we shouldn’t perceive it as land as we know it; numerous rivers and creeks rushed through these areas, which sometimes flooded too and turned the land into a sort of swamp. The sinking of peat-land had progressed so far into the Roman times that the river, which they called Flevum, had created the lake ‘Flevo’ in the southernmost part of the Southern Sea area. This makes the Romans the first to write about this region.

Southern Sea

The land was lost due to natural disaster and human intervention, resulting in the beginning of the Southern Sea, in the twelfth century. The new situation created new possibilities, new ways of living and more prosperity through trade and fishing. Traces of this were also found in the soil. However, a battle also took place on the Southern Sea; for example, robber barons and counterfeiters from the fortress of Kuinre would enrich themselves at the expense of others. Their working space was that of the current Noordoostpolder. Their residence was revealed during the drainage of the Noordoostpolder.

Schokland

Truly disastrous were the storms that raged on the Southern Sea and caused floods. Not only did they hit the surrounding land, but also the remaining islands in the Southern Sea. The survival of the island of Schokland had become particularly precarious during the early 19th century. The government deemed the situation so dangerous that they decided to evacuate the island in 1859. The island survived up until the Noordoostpolder was drained and then became part of the surrounding land.

But when we return to our introductory question: what is it that makes the Noordoostpolder so unique? The answer is that it is a polder in which a former island was absorbed; that characteristic distinguishes the Noordoostpolder from all the other polders.

Old Kraggenburg

However, the island of Schokland is not the only element in the Noordoostpolder, which is older than the Noordoostpolder itself. If we go east, we will find the harbour head of Old-Kraggenburg. It is a monument from the 19th century: the century in which the sea raged mercilessly; in which an island had to be evacuated, but also the century in which people began to think about strengthening the coast, strengthening their defenses and eventually the draining of that sea.

Film: Schokland. From island to polder.