Stories of the Zuiderzee

Scheepjongens van Bontekoe

Growing up in the Netherlands, one cannot help but be drawn to the water that surrounds you everywhere you go; as you may know, much of the country is below sea level, which is only possibly through a system of dikes and managing the water level with great care.

20150611-Volendam_57A1413_4_5_tonemapped-8x10
Eel Fisherman in Volendam

As my mother’s family hails from the town of Hoorn in the province of North Holland, I spent quite a bit of time in that town visiting my great-grandmother during Summer during my early years.  These times were magical, as I heard the tales of her youth and also traversed the town and its annual fair with my great-uncle, which was always a lot of fun.  As a result of these wonderful times, I have always been drawn to Hoorn and the towns, such as Volendam, of the Zuiderzee, as the Ijsselmeer used to be known, and its storied history.

Founded in 716, Hoorn rapidly grew to become a major harbor town. During Holland’s ‘Golden Age’ (or ‘Golden Century’), Hoorn was an important home base for the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and a very prosperous centre of trade. The Hoorn fleet plied the seven seas and returned laden with precious commodities. Exotic spices such as pepper, nutmeg, cloves, and mace were sold at vast profits. With their skill in trade and seafaring, sons of Hoorn established the town’s name far and wide. Jan Pieterszoon Coen (1587–1629) is famous for his violent raids in Dutch Indies (now Indonesia), where he “founded” the city of Batavia in 1619 (now Jakarta). He has a big statue on the Rode Steen square in the center of Hoorn.

In 1618, Willem Bontekoe (1587–1657) undertook his first and only voyage for the VOC. His story of his travel and hardship found its way into the history books when he published his adventures in 1646 under the title Journael ofte gedenckwaerdige beschrijvinge van de Oost-Indische reyse van Willem Ysbrantsz. Bontekoe van Hoorn, begrijpende veel wonderlijcke en gevaerlijcke saecken hem daer in wedervaren (‘Journal, or memorable description, of the East-Indian voyage of Willem Ysbrantz. Bontekoe of Hoorn, comprising many wondrous and dangerous things experienced by him’). In 1616, the explorer Willem Corneliszoon Schouten braved furious storms as he rounded the southernmost tip of South America. He named it Kaap Hoorn (Cape Horn) in honour of his home town.

The Zuiderzee (now Ijsselmeer)

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. 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  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: see Sint-Elisabethsvloed (1421).

Hope you enjoyed a little bit of history on this fine Monday!

Author: jansenphoto

A Fresh Perspective Photography is more than just a vehicle for capturing the world around me; it provides me with a palette and a set of brushes, with which I paint not only what I see, but also look to express the emotions that are evoked by the scene in front of me in that moment. Growing up in the Netherlands exposed me to a wide cross-section of visual arts that laid the foundation of my photographic view of all that surrounds me. Early influences were the Dutch Masters of the 17th century, to whom I was introduced by my grandfather during museum explorations; favorites among them are the scenes of quotidian life depicted by Jan Steen and Frans Hals and the vivid landscapes of Jacob van Ruisdael. My classical high school education was supplemented by the Boijmans Van Beuningen museum, where I spent many a lunch hour exploring its great collection. Here I was introduced to surrealism with a particular love for the approach taken by Salvador Dali; Dali also rekindled my appreciation for the work of Hieronymus Bosch, who often showed the folly of us mortals. Universal Connections My approach to any photographic subject is to look for understanding first; in this I look to establish either a connection between the viewer and the subject or capture the connection of the subject with its surroundings. The captured image then aims to portray this connection from a perspective that is part of my personal interpretation. This interpretation is often a form of externalized introspection, which may alternately display the connection of isolated beings and items with their environment or highlight the whimsy of the profound world, in which we find ourselves. The universe is full of connections, many of which are waiting to be discovered; part of my journey as a photographer is to document these connections. Any assignment, be it an event, a product shoot or a portrait session is always approached through communication with the client; this is where the first connection is established. Ideas are exchanged and a collaborative plan of action forms, ultimately resulting in a set of images that aim to exceed the expectations of each client. And, lest we forget, it is important to have fun while practicing the serious business of photography!

4 thoughts on “Stories of the Zuiderzee”

  1. Oh, ZuiderZee!… it has a tumultuous history and reveals some perfect spots, especially in Enkhuizen 🙂
    I’ve been in Hoorn only to take the steam train… but I would like to make another trip in the area, any recommendations? Thank you!

    1. You can’t go wrong with any of the towns along the Zuiderzee. If you haven’t visited Volendam you might want to consider it, as it is well worth the trip.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s