Cultural Entities 
(The Netherlands)


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1. Overview




The Oldambt region makes up the eastern part of the province of Groningen. The area is bounded by the state border to the east. To the south the area extends to the sandy ridges of Bellingwolde and Meeden. In the west the area gives way to the peat moors of Hoogezand-Sappemeer and the sandy ridges of Slochteren and Siddeburen. The north-western part of the region, by Termunten and Woldendorp, forms the transition to the dwelling mound area of Fivelingo.


300 km≤

Location - map:

Province of Groningen, the Netherlands

Origin of name:

not known

Relationship/similarities with other cultural entities:

The Oldambt was formed by the reclaiming land from the sea, similar to the Middelzee and the Lauwers region.

Characteristic elements and ensembles:

Extensive polderland, dikes and remains of dikes, elongated villages, satellite villages, fortresses at Oudeschans, Booneschans and Nieuweschans, typical Oldambt farms with fine farm gardens.

2. Geology and geography

2.1 General
During the SaaliČn glaciation, a lateral moraine developed in the area of Winschoten. Since the ice age, when the sub-stratum of the area was formed, the major changes have been during the current geological period, the Holocene. Peat formed in low-lying areas with no drainage, such as in bowl-shaped depressions in the boulder clay area. Oldambt was almost entirely covered in peat. A few traces can still be seen on the surface, the remainder has been eroded by the sea or covered with marine deposits. A system of moorland rivers, such as the Tjamme and Termunter Aa, regulated the drainage of the peat moor. The river Ems formed the northern border of the peat moor area. The formation of peat continued largely undisturbed for a long time, protected by the banks of the Ems. The peat was dug from these high banks, and the even higher sandy soil areas of Westerwolde. This caused subsidence, and in the 14th and 15th centuries led to incursions by the sea. This caused the formation of two large bays, or gulfs: the western and eastern Dollard bays (the old Oldambt and the Reiderland), separated by the Winschoten peninsula. The Dollard reached its greatest size in the 15th and early 16th centuries.

2.2 Present landscape
The current landscape consists generally of large open spaces. Much of the area is arable land, with slightly more pasture in the older polders. In these large green spaces the villages rise up like enclosed green islands. The dikes can be seen from a distance and provide useful landmarks.

Dykes in Oldambt Terps (dwelling mounds) in Oldambt

3. Landscape and settlement history 

3.1 Prehistoric and Medieval Times

There are three phases in the settlement history of the Oldambt: prehistory, which ended in a period of very sparse settlement between around 1000 BC and 1000 AD, as a result of peat formation; medieval settlement up to the Dollard incursions and the phase of reclamation of the Dollard polders. Not much is known about prehistoric settlement of the Oldambt area. In the Merovingian/Carolinian period the population of the current Oldambt increased again and there were settlements both on the terps (dwelling mounds) along the Ems and on the sand and clay ridges that rose above the peat moor.

3.2 Early Modern Times
When the sea breached the bank of the Ems a bay was formed which was divided into eastern and western sections by the boulder clay and sand ridge of Winschoten. However, it is unlikely that a single storm tide was responsible for the creation of the (Great) Dollard, more probably the sea bay would have gradually expanded. Land was still being lost at quite a rate in the 15th century, particularly in the Reiderland. Work to reclaim it began at the end of the 16th century.

The Dollard was at its largest at the beginning of the 16th century. A number of settlements, both on the terps along the Ems and on the peat moor, were abandoned and perished in the waves. Some of the villages moved to higher-lying sandy ridges, forming series such as Scheemda-Midwolda-Oostwold-Finsterwolde and Meeden-Westerlee-Heiligerlee-Winschoten-Beerta.
The remains of the inundated villages still lie under the Dollard clay, at Houwingeham near Nieuweschans and Olkerke near Scheemda.

Old map of Heiligerlee Monasteries in Oldambt

From the end of the 16th century the high silted-up salt-marshes were successfully enclosed with dikes, after earlier attempts (including one in 1454) had failed. Monasteries that had possessions in the area played an active role in the creation of the earliest polders. Among the most influential were the Norbertine monastery at Heiligerlee, established in 1230, and the Cistercian monastery in the lost village of Mentenwolde (on the site of the present-day Nieuwolda), established in 1247. This monastery was transferred in 1299 to Termunten (Grijze Monikkenklooster) because of flooding. Both these monasteries survived until the Reformation. There were also monasteries in Oosterreide, between Oostwold and Finsterwolde (the Goldhoorn monastery), and at Ganzedijk (the Palmar or Porta Major monastery), which were all lost to floods.

Goldhoorn monastery Land of Nieuweschans (text below)

The Scheemderzwaag polder was enclosed in 1597. After that, reclamation work continued in the western Dollard bay with Midwolda and Scheemda (1626), the first Midwolderpolder (1675), the second Midwolderpolder (1701), Oostwolderpolder (1769), Finsterwolderpolder (1819), the Reiderwolder polders (1862 and 1874), the Johannes Kerkhovenpolder (1878) and finally the Carel Coenraadpolder in 1925. Less is known about the reclamation work on the eastern side of the Dollard. The earliest polders ? such as the area to the south and east of Winschoten and Beerta - date from before 1550. In 1626 the land of Nieuweschans was reclaimed and in 1657 a dyke to Nieuweschans was built. By building the dyke, the fortification of Oudeschans lost its function. The Kroonpolder was created in 1696, the Stadspolder in 1740.

Satellite villages such as Nieuw Scheemda, Nieuwolda and Nieuw Beerta grew up around the original villages. The continuing reclamation work caused problems for the drainage of the old Dollard polders. The Termunterzijldiep (1601), which discharged at Termunterzijl, where there had been a discharging sluice back in the 13th century in the old river Munte, and the Westerwoldsche Aa formed important drainage channels. The discharging sluice in the Westerwoldsche Aa moved further and further north: in 1545 it was at Oudeschans, in 1628 at Nieuweschans, around 1700 at Oud Statenzijl and finally at Nieuwe Statenzijl when the new sluice was built in 1877.
The first blow in the Eighty Years' War was struck in 1568 at Heiligerlee, a small village near Winschoten. Count Adolf of Nassau lost his life there. In 1873 a monument was raised to him and his brother, William of Orange. Another brother, William Ludwig, had fortifications built in the border area.

Oudeschans Nieuweschans

In 1593 Count William Ludwig of Nassau established the stronghold of Oudeschans at a strategic point between the elongated marshes of the Boertanger moor and the Dollard, just to the south of the Booneschans fortress, which was built in 1589. Due to the continual reclamation work in the Dollard area, a new stronghold had to be built some 30 years later (in 1628): the Langakker or Nieuweschans. At the end of the 18th century, the fortress of Oudeschans fell into disrepair, and was abandoned in 1814. Nieuweschans lost its defensive role in 1882. The fortifications were in part removed; since then the village is better known as a spa. The fortifications in Oudeschans have now been partly restored.

3.3 Modern Times
The Johannes Kerkhovenpolder was created by a private company in 1878, and covers an area of around 400 hectares. It is a curiosity among the complex of Dollard polders because it was not high, silted up salt marsh that was reclaimed, but slightly lower-lying, wet mud flats. It presents a pleasing landscape, with a number of central farm buildings, rational land division, marker trees and polder dikes. The inner dike has been cut through for the access road.

Johannes Kerkhovenpolder Johannes Kerkhovenpolder inner dyke

Arable farming has always been more important than livestock farming in the Oldambt. There was more pasture in the older polders than in the newer ones. The cultivation of grain was important. The fertility of the naturally poor soils was improved by applying manure, digging up clay from the subsoil, applying mud and sediment from the Dollard and digging out the old dikes.

Farming houses Photo: Grain fields in Oldambt

By around 1900 the Oldambt had developed into one of the most advanced arable farming areas in Europe. This created a gulf between the rich farmers and poor farm labourers, who saw more and more jobs being lost to mechanisation. As a consequence East Groningen became a hotbed of communism.

Photo: House of rich farmer

The specialisation in arable farming also affected traditional farm design: arable and dairy having different requirements. The Oldambt-style farm is thus different from the other traditional farms in Groningen. In the 19th century a number of farms were built with a house across the front, culminating in the development of detached, villa-style dwelling houses. The status of the farm and its inhabitants were manifest in the large number of windows, an impressive doorstep and a landscaped garden. Sometimes an entirely new entrance hall was built in the latest style. Beautiful gardens, worthy of country estates, were created to show off the wealth of the owners. The gardens in the period 1850 ? 1930 are in English style with pools, hills and winding paths. The name for this style of garden is 'Groningse slingertuun'.

4. Modern development and planning

4.1 Land use
The scaling-up of agriculture and European agriculture policy placed their stamp in the area in the 20th century. Land consolidation brought huge changes to the landscape. Part of the Oldambt, (the old ?grain republic?) became a ?Blue Town?, a new urban living environment, created around a newly-created lake.
The most profound effect on the landscape was due to the re-parcelling of land in the 1960?s and 1970?s. However, it was in keeping with the spirit of the age: after the Second World War Dutch agriculture focussed on increasing food production, and for a long time European policy, under the influence of Sicco Mansholt, was also concerned with optimising and increasing production.
Before that the most common form of land division consisted of long, narrow plots radiating out from the residential axis. In the Dollard polders a south to north transition from narrow strips to modern rational land division are evident. However, many of these characteristic features have largely disappeared as a result of land consolidation. In many places the plot layout is now completely different. Arable land has been transformed to intensive stock-farming, the farmers coming from other places in the Netherlands.

Map of plot layout in Westeind

4.2 Settlement development
The Oldambt villages have generally managed to retain their historic character. Winschoten expanded considerably in the 20th century, particularly after the Second World War, its urban area now takes in the village of Heiligerlee and other districts.

4.3 Industry and energy
The Oldambt is entirely given over to agriculture, and apart from a few individual wind turbines there is no industry. In the area there are a few gas power stations.

4.4 Infrastructure
The Winschoterdiep was an important waterway for transporting goods around the area. In the 1980s the A7 motorway was extended from Groningen to Germany, cutting through the Oldambt.

5. Legal and spatial planning aspects

The Legal and Spatial Planning Aspects are first described in a general way, so they are relevant for all the entities in the province of Groningen. Because of the scale of the entities (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).

In Oldambt the province participates in a gebiedsuitwerking, dealing with protection of the landscape and heritage and incorporating new developments like the Blauwe Stad. 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
Many historic settlements are under pressure from new development which makes their historic layout vulnerable. In general the landscape is not seen as attractive by visitors, except for some historic settlements like Termunterzijl, Oudeschans and Nieuweschans. The large, monumental farmyards and houses with front gardens in English landscape style are typical of this sub region, but, are difficult and expensive to maintain.

Photo: Village and harbour of Termunterzijl

6.2 Tourism
The area is relatively unknown due to its isolated position and cultural heritage is underexploited.

6.3 Nature conservation
The coastline with the sea dike and the areas around Polder Breebaart and Punt van Reide are better known for nature and wildlife. The cultural heritage of this area can be viewed as less important and therefore is vulnerable to negative impacts resulting from nature conservation such as the creation of biotopes.

6.4 Industry and energy
The lack of new economic activity makes it difficult to find new users for the monumental farmhouses leaving them vulnerable to neglect.

7. Potentials

7.1 Spatial planning
Careful integration of cultural heritage within the various conservation, management and development plans for the area provides the potential for both the protection and promotion of cultural heritage.

7.2 Settlement
The historic settlement pattern both in the form of surviving historic villages and the important 19th century farmhouses (and their gardens) provide an important resource for tourism and contribute to the local populations sense of place.

7.3 Agriculture
Because of a lack of economic development the landscape has been well conserved and gives a fine example of 19th century agricultural prosperity.

7.4 Tourism
The fortresses are potential focal points for interpretation and the promotion of tourism. This could also be tied in with the surviving historic settlement pattern and the exploitation of the historic waterways for leisure activities.

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