The end of an island: The exceptional history of Dutch island Schokland

The early 20th century. The Netherlands worked out a special plan: Reclaiming parts of land from the sea and creating one of world’s largest man-made islands – just by building dykes and pumping out the water. In 1941/42 the Noordoostpolder was reclaimed and cultivated. Today, more than 70 years later, no building, street or canal is older than that. Almost.

Exceptions are Urk, a town in the Flevoland province in the central Netherlands, that used to be an island before the project. And also Schokland. A former island in the Dutch Zuiderzee that got smaller and smaller over the years.

Schokland and Urk before the land was reclaimed.

After several floods and epidemics the Dutch government decided to end permanent settlement on Schokland in 1859. Today the whole area is an almost inexhaustible place for archeological research and historical discoveries.

Most parts of the man-made area is below sea level. Sometimes more than ten meters. Both islands are just a few meters above the sea. Today the sea is cut off the northern sea – a lake rather than the sea, called Ijsselmeer.

Back to Schokland. Today an UNSECO historical site, it hosts cultural events, as well as a museum documenting the special history of the island, and a restaurant.

The view from the former island: More than 70 years ago the sea made Schokland smaller and smaller.

And history of the former island is well documented: Even 12,000 years ago people lived on Schokland. The museum presents a child’s footprint from 2,600 BC.

Like today, up until the middle of the 15th century the area was used for agriculture. Later the rising sea swallowed most parts around the then island Schokland.

Art and culture are very prominent today on Schokland. From June 23 to September 22, 2019 several concerts and events are presented during the Schokland summer. On the islands various art pieces are integrated into the setting; also poetry and an exhibition of local photos by Saskia Boelsums in the island’s chapelle.