Cultural Entities 
(The Netherlands)


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1. Overview




The area to the north east of the city of Groningen, from the Punt van Reide to the vicinity of the former mouth of the Hunze.


ca. 650 km≤

Location - map:

Province of Groningen

Origin of name:

Fivelingo refers to the river Fivel which shaped the area.

Relationship/similarities with other cultural entities:

Fivelingo is somewhat similar to the reclaimed land in the Middelzee.

Characteristic elements and ensembles:

Open area, predominantly grassland with small dwelling mounds (terps) and ribbon settlements. Extensive dikes and waterways both natural and man made.

2. Geology and geography

2.1 General
During the penultimate (Saale) ice age, the ice cap reached the Netherlands. Geologists have distinguished five different phases under the ice cap cover. During the first four phases the area which is now Fivelingo was under the ice and a stratum of boulder clay was deposited. In the final phase, after a period of thaw, the ice front advanced to Winschoten, Onstwedde and the Hasseberg. The boulder clay stratum was forced upwards, along with older deposits. At the end of the ice age, when the icecap had already melted, the boulder clay landscape was eroded to form broad valleys, which later became the Fivelboezem and Hunzeboezem (Fivel and Hunze bays).

In the Holocene period, around 600 BC, the sea extended its influence and formed large sea bays on either side of the rolling hills to the north of the town of Groningen: the Hunzeboezem to the west and the Fivelboezem to the east. Vast tidal flats developed with salt marshes, mud flats, and gullies. People began to settle the highest areas on the salt marsh embankments, and over time had to raise the height of the settlements to protect them against floods. The Fivelboezem gradually silted up and the salt marshes expanded on the seaward side. Heavy clay was deposited in the interspersed salt marsh basins, in contrast with the light sediment of sand and loam on the higher embankments. The settlement and oxidation of the peat strata continually increased the difference in height between the former salt marshes and the hills behind them.

2.2 Present landscape
The moraines still remain as high points in the landscape as a remnant of the Pleistocene era. The higher sand embankments are recognisable by the settlements built on them, like the villages of Harkstede-Slochteren-Siddeburen. The salt marsh area itself is in continuous use as pasture and arable land. Over the last 20 years,during the re-allotment of land, many trees have been planted in the Groningen landscape, where it had previously been open landspace.

Old map of settlement in Fivelingo

3. Landscape and settlement history 

3.1 Prehistoric and Medieval Times

Stone axes found near Slochteren and Siddeburen date from the Neolithic era. In the 1980?s an excavation on the dwelling mound of Heveskesklooster revealed a megalith burial chamber. The extensive formation of peat bogs after the Neolithic period would have made it very difficult in much of the area to find suitable sites for settlement. However, once the Fivelboezem silted up, people were able to settle on the higher areas.

Map Heveskesklooster Map with terps

A series of terp villages rose up on the salt marsh embankments on either side of the Fivelboezem, just as they had on the southern bank of the Ems. This embankment housed a long line of settlements, which were raised to counter the risk of flooding. These terps can still be found in the German part of the Reiderland and in the district between Termunten and Delfzijl, but they have disappeared from the Dollard area. Remains of some (uninhabited) terps can still be found at the Punt van Reide.

Presumably the salt marshes were originally used for summer grazing or small-scale arable farming. The first permanent inhabitants settled on the top of the salt marsh embankments. Later, as the storm tides grew more frequent and dangerous, people started to build dwelling mounds ? the terps (or wierden). Individual dwelling mounds quickly grew into communal village mounds. Eenum, Eenumerhoogte and Farmsum are among the oldest settlements in the region.

Terpen in Fivelingo

In the period around the beginning of the Christian era, there was a growing and thriving community on the terp settlements, who developed a barter system with the Romans. The terp dwellers were by now almost entirely dependent on cattle farming: only small areas were suitable for arable farming, as the crops could not withstand sea-water inundation. Small arable fields (valgen) were laid out on the flanks of the terps. From the 4th to the 7th century AD, the formation of new salt marsh embankments along the coast reduced drainage, and gradually cut off the Fivel. Some terps were abandoned during this period.
The terp farms were built with the living quarters in the centre and the farm lower down, providing easy access to the surrounding pastures. Often an 'ox road' (ossenweg) was created at the foot of the village terp to connect with neighbouring farms. Numerous terps have been found to have this kind of road. For a terp village it was important to have a navigable route to the nearest watercourse. Consequently almost all terp villages had a reedy lake (maar or riet). These waterways had a meandering course, as they often used an existing stream to create the lake. Sometimes it is possible to tell from the shape of the terp that it is an ancient trading settlement. The farming terps are usually round, while the trading villages were elongated. Stedum is an example of a trading terp of this kind. The river Fivel provided a communication route. Nearby Loppersum also developed from the early Middle Ages into an elongated trading settlement.

Terp Spijk Stedum as example for a trading terp

3.2 Early Modern Times
In the 12th and 13th centuries a number of monasteries were founded in the province. The monks worked with the local people to build dikes and bring new land into cultivation. Of the many monasteries in the region, Bloemhof was probably the most influential.
For centuries influential houses played an important role in rural areas, in the province of Groningen as elsewhere. The ruling families operated from strongholds, originally fortified manor houses, known as borgen.

Monastries in Fivelingo Borgen in Fivelingo

There is evidence in the remaining structures of centuries of renovation and alteration. Many, but not all, were demolished in the 19th century: the 17th century Rensumaborg is still standing in Uithuizermeeden, as is the (pre-1400) Menkemaborg in Uithuizen and the Fraeylemaborg near Slochteren.

Photo: Memkemaborg in Uithuizen

When the Fivelboezem began to silt up in the Early Middle Ages, particularly on the western side, a new series of villages were established, from Stedum in the south to Oldorp in the north. From the 12th century onwards dikes were gradually built around the rest of the bay. In 1444 a final dike was built from Godlinze to the coastal embankments at Uithuizermeeden and Roodeschool, after which the sea could no longer exert its influence on the Fivelboezem. Further land reclamation took place in stages from 1718 (Oostpolder and Polder Vierburen) to 1944 (Emmapolder). In addition to sea dikes the Fivelingo also has two dikes to protect the lower-lying areas from the tides, the Wolddijk and the Graauwe Dijk (Grey Dike) of the Duurswold.

The creation of the dikes also marked the beginning of large-scale water management: an artificial runoff was built from the Winneweer to the river Delf (now the Damsterdiep) near present-day Delfzijl. The dike settlement of Garrelsweer was established on the Delf dike. After obtaining market, mint and toll rights in 1057, Garrelsweer developed into a trading centre. Dams with discharging sluices (zijlen) were built at Westeremden and Appingedam. These sluices, for discharging superfluous water from the bays, were an important element in water management. The construction of a discharging sluice often triggered the establishment of a new settlement, such as Zijldijk. When a new sluice was built an organisation, the zijlvest, was set up to maintain it.

Dykes in Fivelingo

3.3 Modern Times
Dikes were being built around parts of the high-lying, silted-up salt marshes right into the 20th century, to transform them into agricultural land. In the 19th century agriculture was accompanied by rapid industrialisation. Brickworks were established on the Damsterdiep, in Garrelsweer, Wirdum, Appingedam and Delfzijl. Permanent brickworks and tile kilns were set up in places where the raw material (sticky clay) or fuel (peat) were readily available, and where there were suitable transport facilities. The Damsterdiep was practically ideal. The works produced the characteristic red Groningen bricks.

Photo: Ruin of a brick factory in Kantens

Between 1840 and 1940 the large-scale levelling of old terps and settlements had an enormous influence on the entire Groningen salt-marsh area. The fertile soil excavated from the terps was brought by boat to fertilise the poor sandy soils in the Groningen and Drenthe peatlands (veenkoloniŽn).

4. Modern development and planning

4.1 Land use
The dikes created a lot of new land which then had to be prepared for agricultural use. Many old and once natural watercourses were incorporated into the rigid pattern of land divisions, producing the characteristic blocks of land that define the area. The farmers ploughed around the heavily contoured land to accelerate the drainage. This resulted in the characteristic bolle akkers (convex fields) or kruinige percelen (crowned plots).

Photo: Bolle akkers (convex fields)

4.2 Settlement development
The area is characterised by the terp villages. Some of them are protected by the Historic Buildings and Monument Act like Marsum, Biessum, Spijk, Stedum and Loppersum. Most have seen new housing development since the Second World War, but still retain their characteristic features in the landscape. Places like Appingedam and Delfzijl have developed into urban centres and provide services to the region.

Photo: Street in Appingedam Photo: Dampsterdiep in Appingedam

4.3 Industry and energy
The majority of regional and supra-regional activity is currently found along the coast at Eemshaven and Delfzijl. Formerly economic activity centred on the river Delf, which became the Damsterdiep. The construction of the Ems canal and the train line laid the foundations for growth in the 20th century, in the form of the Brons Motor Factory (1906), the co-operative strawboard factory at Eendracht (1908) and urban expansion. The dwelling mound (wierde) villages of Solwerd, Opwierde, Farmsum, Heveskes and Weiwerd were eventually incorporated into the new developments. Large-scale port development made Delfzijl the third largest seaport in the Netherlands.

Photo: Industrial plant in Delfzijl

Inside the dikes the countryside between the terp villages of Farmsum and Borgsweer has become an extensive industrial zone including a soda factory and an aluminium plant. The next step in the development of the region as a port and industrial area began around 1970, with the construction of the port at Eemshaven. Large sections of the port zone are still to be developed.

Natural gas is another important aspect of the region?s economy. The village of Slochteren is known for the discovery of gas in 1959. Natural gas is extracted from great depths at 30 sites throughout the Duurswold.

4.4 Infrastructure
During industrialisation rail and waterways grew up around Fivelingo. After the Second World War, however, the peripheral position of the area ensured that more jobs were lost than gained. For many years the state has actively pursued employment schemes in the area. The lack of economic development means the area has never had a motorway. The two most important roads are the Eemshavenweg and the N33, from Assen to the Eemshaven in Delfzijl.

5. Legal and spatial planning aspects

The Legal and Spatial Planning Aspects are described in a general way, as they are relevant to all the entities in the province of Groningen. Because of the scale of the entities (most covering more than one municipality), the focus is on regional policy and management. Regional policy and planning goals are also taken into account in local and sectoral policy. The regional goals and strategies are formulated following discussions with a wide variety of stakeholders and organisations.
The regional spatial plan for the province of Groningen, the Provinciaal Omgevingsplan II, is an important document in terms of integrated management of landscape and heritage. It details the objectives for regional and local policy, and issues relating to landscape and heritage. Part of the Groningen regional plan, Karakteristiek Groningen, covers the main goals for integrated landscape and heritage policy. The historic landscapes must be taken as the starting point for new developments and the diversity of landscapes must remain recognisable.

These main goals are subsequently incorporated into other plans, dealing with specific parts of the province. Regioperspectieven (long term perspectives for a region) are drawn up for the sub-regions. These perspectives culminate in gebiedsuitwerkingen (development plans for specific sub-regions). For example, the Landschapsontwikkelingsplan Noord Groningen (Landscape Development Plan for N. Groningen) deals with protection of the landscape and heritage and the integration of new developments. These plans are drawn up in consultation with the main sectors and various local and regional organisations (public bodies and NGOs).

6. Vulnerabilities

6.1 Settlement
The historic settlement pattern is under threat from modern development and expansion. The larger communities are expanding and in some cases have already incorporated several dwelling mound villages. Within the smaller historic villages there are pressures for new buildings and expansion on the edge of the settlements.

6.2 Agriculture
The intensification of agriculture has resulted in significant changes to the historic landscape with orginal creek lines incorporated into the present regular field pattern. The intensification means that buried archaeological depsoits are vulnerable to ploughing. New investments in biogas plants have resulted in the visible landscape being significantly altered.

6.3 Tourism
Agricultural intensification means that access to some cultural assets is becoming difficult.

6.4 Industry and energy
The industrial development of Delfzijl and Eemsmond with extensive harbour developments such as oil refinery, electricity plants and other industrial buildings create a threat to the below ground archaeological depsoits as well as having a significant impact on the visible character of the landscape.

7. Potentials

7.1 Settlement
The surviving historic settlement pattern, especially those on dwelling mounds, some of which are protected by law, provide the potential for the promotion of both tourism and sense of place to the local population. Careful development within historic cores should be used to enhance the settlement.

7.2 Tourism
The historic landscape has the potential to be attractive for tourism, especially for cultural heritage tours, and leisure activities associated with the waterways. Footpaths along the inlets, dikes and between and through the histroic settlements provide potential for tourism as well as local recreation. In the village of Zeerijp there is an archeological information point, which provides information on the area. The presence of the small villages on dwelling mounds - wierdedorpen - with old Romanesque churches, interspersed among the inlets and lakes of the open landscape have great potential for tourism.

8. Sources

Marrewijk, D & A.J. Haartsen, 2002, Waddenland Het landschap en cultureel erfgoed in de Waddenzeeregio, Ministerie van Landbouw, Natuurbeheer en Visserij / Noordboek, Leeuwarden
Provincie Groningen, 2000, Provinciaal Omgevingsplan, Koersen op Karakter, Groningen