The Southern Sea, or Zuiderzee as we Dutch call it, was a large bay of the North Sea, extending some 100 kilometers inland. The name probably originated in the northern parts of the Netherlands as only in those parts it is actually a sea that lies in the south. From the 13th century onwards many villages developed alongside the shores of the Zuiderzee. The inhabitants lived from fishing and everything related to fishing, from building boats, making sails and nets and ropes, to selling the fish and products created from them. During the centuries some of the villages grew in size and developed trade connections with other parts of the world. The Zuiderzee provided food, work and an income for generation upon generations of people.
The Zuiderzee did not only provide sustenance, it was also a very dangerous sea to live nearby. Because it was only about 4 to 5 meters deep, storms that pushed water from the North Sea into the Zuiderzee could cause terrible floods along the shores. History records several flooding disasters, often killing tens of thousands of people. Since the late 19th century plans were made to close of the zuiderzee but they were never put in action. It was only after the flood of January 1916 that the Dutch government decided to tame the Zuiderzee. In the years that followed a large, 32 kilometer long dike was build, that closed the Zuiderzee from the North Sea (hence its name 'Afsluitdijk', or 'closing dike') and effectively turned the Zuiderzee into a large inland lake. The construction of the Afsluitdijk was a huge engineering and technological achievement. The American Society of Civil Engineers declared these works, together with the Delta Works in the South-West of the Netherlands, as among the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.
After the Afsluitdijk was finished the Zuiderzee was no longer a sea. It gradually became a fresh water lake with a new name: IJsselmeer (meer = lake, IJssel is the name of one of its tributary rivers). Life in and around the IJsselmeer changed accordingly. The life of fishing, that for centuries had dominated this part of the Netherlands, disappeared. And with it all the trades and crafts that had developed during all those centuries. The Zuiderzee museum tries to preserve for posterity some of that heritage.
The Zuiderzeemuseum is an open air museum and it can be found in Enkhuizen. Buildings from villages all around the Zuiderzee were rebuild in this museum. They provide a glimpse in the fishing life that was led by so many people for so many centuries. You can walk around these buildings as if you were a visitor to a village along the coast of the Zuiderzee in the late 19th century.
Most of these buildings also have the interior that matches life as it was more than 100 years ago
The village and it's buildings give a good impression of how life was alomg the shores of the Zuiderzee, though that impression is perhaps a lot cleaner than life really was then. The streets are clean, the gardens well kept, and the beautiful weather when we visited the museum yesterday, created a bit of an over romanticised view of what was mostly a hard life.
And of course there is also the obligatory wind mill.
The fish smokehouse is operational and you can buy some delicious smoked salmon, mackerel or eel
Wondering around this little fishing village you can visit the school, the church, the laundry, the apothecary, the post office, some farms and the small houses (often only one or two rooms) where the ordinary fishermen and their families lived. In the workshops in the village craftsmen like the roper or the cooper demonstrate their craft. As the museum is well kept and well layed out you can enjoy some beautiful views.
The Zuiderzeemuseum is well worth the visit, for it's history, the views and the beautiful gardens.