2 - Flevo and Almere: swamp and lakes (0-1200 A.D.)

The Noordoostpolder is an IJsselmeer polder, constructed in the IJsselmeer that was formed in 1932 by sealing off the Zuiderzee. But this Zuiderzee, too, which we will cover in pane 3, has not always been there. Long ago, there was no sea here at all, but instead large pieces of inhabited land. So in truth, land was not claimed when carrying out the Zuiderzee works, but recovered. At the start of our calendar, south of the Zuiderzee area, there was the Flevo lake. North, where the Flevum river flowed through a large low moorland, were the marshlands. In the 4th century AD, that land became uninhabitable due to the poor drainage. But when the sea finally retreated around the year 1000, inhabitable soil again resurfaced. That area also disappeared in the 13th century, and the Almere (as the Flevo lake had come to be known) turned into the Zuiderzee.

We only have archaeological remains from the earliest habitation of the Zuiderzee area (see pane 1). The Romans, who came here at the start of our calendar, were the first to describe the area. What they saw was a river that formed a northern branch of the Rhine. They named that river Flevum. South of what would later be the Zuiderzee area, this river had widened into a lake that was named Flevo Lacus, 'Lake at the Flevum'. This warping of the word Flevo was used to name the polders of Eastern and Southern Flevoland that are situated roughly where the aforesaid lake used to be.

A large moorland

The water flowed from that large Flevo lake into a smaller lake, which was situated in what is now the south-eastern corner of the Noordoostpolder, west of the town of Vollenhove. The south-western half, including Schokland and Urk, were part of a large moor that was connected to the mainland. North of that

 Part from “De geschiedenis van Eiland Urk” by C. de Vries

Moorland was another lake, making the moorland into a peninsula. Later, this became a full-fledged island when the water of the Flevum finally broke through the other side of Urk. Perhaps that island was the island of Flevo that the Romans wrote about ('island at the Flevum'), but we are not certain. If the island of Flevo was indeed the low moorland in the centre of the future Zuiderzee, then the old settlement of Nakala was there also, as well as Espelo and Ruthne.

These turned into separate islands afterwards, when water levels were higher. Back then, the Flevum river had also widened in the northern Zuiderzee area to form several lakes.

Flie or Vlie

The native population of the areas around the Flevum river and the Flevo lake and the Flevo island spoke a Germanic language. In that language, Flevum was called Flie or Vlie. The first consonant varies for later writers, like it still varies in the different dialects today.

To this day, the water of the IJsselmeer leaves the Wadden Sea through the Vlie strait along the Vlieland island. So in essence, Flevoland and Vlieland are the same name, but the first has a Latin element to it, and the second a Germanic element. We also encounter the name of Vlie or its variants in Flehite, the old name for the lowland around Amersfoort, Fela Oua (shire at the Vlie; where the Veluwe was created) and Fulnaho (peak at the Vlie; Fulnaho is the old name for Vollenhove).

Earlier landscape

Naturalis Historia

 The Romans who wrote about the Flevum were not very fond of this water: "when at nightfall they would moor their ships in the lake, it could just so occur that a floating island, at times carrying trees and other flora, would hit the boats", Plinius writes in his Naturalis Historia.

One can imagine that this struck fear into Roman hearts. It is also evidence that the soft peat soil was by then already flushing away, which continued especially in times of rising water levels. This period of rising water levels is called transgression. The first transgression period was from 250 AD, when the Romans were still here, until the year 600. There was also a transgression between 850 and 1000. Towards the end of this period, and perhaps sooner, Urk and Schokland were separated.

 The image shows a cross-section of a river dune at the southern tip of Schokland. The dune sand has a yellow-brown colour. Above it lies sand leached by soil acidity. The sand has a dark-brown layer of soil. A grey, shell-rich layer of clay (ploughed for agriculture) covers both the peat and the river dune. This clay layer is a Zuiderzee sediment. (from "De ondergrond van Schokland" by Ronald van Balen, 2008)

A 'very large lake'

The transgression caused the Flevo lake to expand. With its spread out lakes to the north, it grew into a much larger lake, called the Almere, with the obvious etymology being: ala mere, 'very large lake'. However, the water retreated by the year 1000. The remaining clay remnants formed an elevated layer with vegetation. The Forest of Disfavour and the trees recovered from the Bomenweg [Tree lane] (which might have belonged to that forest) could have their origin in this period. And mankind, too, began to colonise this clay layer. In Medieval times, the Noordoostpolder region harboured various (tiny) settlements, with their names at times woven into current town names. Outside of that region, the village of Espel (north) west of Urk lasted until the 16th century. By then, however, Almere had already been claimed by the Zuiderzee.