Cultural Entities 
(The Netherlands)


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1. Overview




Former Island, neighbouring entities Texel, Kop van Noord-Holland


169 km≤

Location - map:

Province of Noord-Holland

Origin of name:

Derive from the Frisian word 'Wird' which means height.

Relationship/similarities with other cultural entities:

Connected with Texel, both islands have a core of glacial till.

Characteristic elements and ensembles:

Glacial till relief, duck decoys, eel grass, seaweed/eelgrass dikes, Romanesque churches, sod-banks and Pleistocene beaches, 'cloche' farmhouses.

2. Geology and geography

2.1 General
Like Texel, the island of Wieringen differs from the other Wadden Sea islands in that the island consists of a Pleistocene core. Wieringen was not actually a Wadden Sea island, but a Zuiderzee island. Like the former islands of Urk, Schokland and Marken, Wieringen has no offshore bars, dunes or beaches. Before the island was connected to the mainland, the old island consisted of a Pleistocene core on a somewhat smaller scale than that at Texel. This layer of glacial till was deposited during the penultimate ice age when large parts of the Netherlands were covered by glaciers. While the surrounding areas underwent considerable physical changes after the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago, this till deposit remained firmly in place and thus determined much of the coastline of the northern Netherlands. In the Roman period almost the entire northern half of the province of Noord-Holland was covered by peat. This peatland stretched far into the present province of Friesland, broken only by the river Vlie, which at that time was a narrow channel connecting Lake Flevo with the North Sea. The higher ground of Wieringen rose above the peat landscape and was consequently inhabited from the earliest times onwards.

2.2 Present landscape
The structure of the former island is still recognizable. The land is higher than that of the surrounding polders. In addition the composition of the soil is derived from the glacial till.

Dykes in Wieringen

3. Landscape and settlement history 

3.1 Prehistoric and Medieval Times

The higher ground of Wieringen island was inhabited from the earliest times onwards.
Finds from the Viking Age (c. 800-1100 AD) include two silver hoards, indicating that Wieringen was an emporium or trading place in Early Medieval times.

In the medieval period the landscape around Wieringen was characterised by the disappearance of large areas of peat. The human population played a significant role in this process. Farmers moved from the higher ground such as Wieringen into the fenland to reclaim it for agricultural use and also cut peat turfs to burn as fuel. By draining the area and burning off the peat the farmers reduced the ground level by several metres within a relatively short time-span. This made it much easier for the sea to penetrate into the area. In the 12th century storms broke up and carried away large areas of the peat deposits between Friesland and Noord-Holland. The present-day Ijssel and Wieringen lakes and the Marsdiep channel were created at this time. During this period the inhabitants were continually forced to adapt to new conditions. They had to abandon some places because they could not be defended against the sea; in other places they were able to take measures to protect their homesteads against the water. Wieringen provided a secure refuge within this dynamic natural environment.

3.2 Early Modern Times
The inhabitants of the small island of Wieringen were farmers and fishers. As on Texel, they built tuunwallen, sod banks, as their field boundaries.

Photo: Sod-banks (tuunwallen)

For its size, the island contained a large number of settlements, harbour and fishing towns like Den Oever.

Harbour and fishing villages in Wieringen Photo: Harbour of Den Oever

Den Oever, where the modern Barrier Dam begins and the Stevin lock and sluices are situated, is the main harbour, having taken over this role from De Haukes.

Photo: Afsluitdijk Stevinsluis

In addition, the island has several farming settlements: Hippolytushoef, Oosterland, Westerland and Stroe.

Apart from agriculture, the island was known for two specific activities. First, the harvesting of eelgrass (Zostera marina), which was used as thatch, as litter or bedding for livestock and as a material for building dikes.

Historical farmhouses in Wieringen Photo: De Haukes dyke

The dike along the southern coast of the island still consists partly of eelgrass. When it became popular as a filling for mattresses, the eelgrass harvest became one of the principal industries on the island. A few of the old eelgrass warehouses still stand today. This industry came to an end in the 1930s when disease all but wiped out the eelgrass beds. The second activity concerns ducks. In the seventeenth century there were 15 duck decoys on the island, which were used to trap wild ducks for the table. Two still remain. Domestic ducks were also kept for their down and to supply eggs.

Duck decoy (eendenkooi) in Wieringen

Duck farming was concentrated around De Haukes and was closely tied to the fishing industry because the ducks were fed with undersized fish that could not be sold.

A special feature of both Texel and Wieringen is the type of farmhouse found on these islands. It is a variant of the Noord-Holland stolpboerderij or ?cloche? house, known for its pyramid-shaped roof that covers both the living quarters and the livestock shed in one building. In the farmhouses on the island, the barn is housed within the square base of the pyramid.

Photo: Typical farmhouse in Wieringen, Oosterklief

However, not all the living space and livestock stalls can be accommodated in this space and these sometimes are housed in extensions built onto the sides. Experts say that this is an older form. One of the unique characteristics of a Wieringen farmhouse is the high wooden rear wall of the barn. Another special feature is the chimney by the threshing floor at the corner of the working area and the living quarters, where fires could be made for cooking livestock feed and heating washing water.

Photo: Barn in Wieringen

3.3 Modern Times
By building a succession of dikes the inhabitants were able to reclaim land from the sea, piece by piece. When Lake Wieringen was drained, Wieringen lost its island character, and when the Ijssel dike was built it even became a stopover place between Noord-Holland and Friesland. Den Oever is now the most important town on the island, for two reasons. First, when Lake Amstel was enclosed by dikes in 1924 the old harbour of De Haukes became less accessible and the fishing fleet chose to move to Den Oever and use it as their home port.

Old harbour of De Haukes

Secondly, during the construction of the Barrier Dam many of the labourers, who came mainly from East Groningen and the peat harvesting region of the northern Netherlands (the VeenkoloniČn), settled in Den Oever. The migration resulted in a growth of non-churchgoing inhabitants and the small church of Den Oever gradually fell into disuse. In the second half of the twentieth century it was dismantled and rebuilt in the Zuider Zee Museum in Enkhuizen.

The rolling glacial till ridges of Wieringen are still recognisable. However, most traces of the old field pattern have been largely effaced by the land consolidation projects of the 1930s, and almost all the tuunwallen (sod-banks) were removed in the complete remodelling of the landscape during these projects. In a remarkable turnaround, a number of new tuunwallen have recently been built as part of a new rural land development project.

Glacial ridges in WIeringen Field pattern in Oosterklief

4. Modern development and planning

4.1 Land use
Wieringen has managed to retain its agricultural character. In recent years plans have been made to enhance the islands historic character through the creation of a large lake on its southern border, between the old island and the former Wieringermeer (now polder).

4.2 Settlement development
Wieringen contains a lot of villages within a small area, a characteristic of the landscape. These largely retain their historic character. Only Den Oever has been extended in recent decades. In the new plan Wieringerrandmeer there are a lot of new houses planned on the edge of Wieringen outside the island.

Villages in Wieringen

4.3 Industry and energy
Den Oever is famous for its role in the fishing industry. Part of the fishing fleet from the former Zuiderzee is stationed in Den Oever.

4.4 Infrastructure
The island Wieringen provides the connection with the province of FryslÉn by the Barrier Dam (Afsluitdijk), which is important for regional development. In the northern region this is a very important connection.

5. Legal and spatial planning aspects

The Legal and Spatial Planning Aspects are described in a general way, as these are relevant to all the cultural entities in the province of Noord Holland. Due to the scale of the entities (which cover more then one municipality), the focus is on regional policy and management. However, the goals of the regional policy and planning strategy are taken into account by the local sector planning policy. The regional goals and strategies are formulated after discussion with a wide range of stakeholders and organisations.

In October 2004 the Province of Noord Holland adopted the development perspective of the sub region Noord Holland within the framework of the regional spatial planning. Wieringen is designated as a Landscape Pearl because of its very special landscape and cultural history as a former island with a core of glacial till like Texel. The landscape and cultural history heritage has the lead in local developments concerning housing and industry. Quality tourism is to be promoted. Agriculture should be continued in a sustainable way. The main road between Den Helder and Den Oever crossing Wieringen needs improvement.

6. Vulnerabilities

6.1 Spatial planning
Unless it is carefully planned, the creation of a lake on the southern side of Wieringen could damage the old eelgrass sea wall. Improving the main road across the island is potentially a big threat as the island is small and the road already has a significant negative impact on the landscape.

6.2 Settlement
Development within the historic settlements on the area of the original island needs to carefully consider the nature of the built heritage and where possible compliment it.

6.3 Agriculture
The land consolidation project of the 1930?s have caused extensive damage to the historic landscape. Although this has now ceased there needs to be careful planning in trying to restore some of the historic landscape and its individual features.

6.4 Tourism
A significant increase in tourism could have a detrimental effect on the historic settlement pattern and landscape. The pressure for second homes and tourist accommodation, in particular new lake side tourist centres, will need to be carefully managed.

7. Potentials

7.1 Spatial planning
The creation of the new lake provides oppertunities for the recreation of the sea walls and possibly other landscape features on the island edge. Careful design and planning could provide the opportunity to improve the visual impact of the main road across the island.

7.2 Settlement
Sensitive re-use of historic building and careful design of limited new local housing and industry has the potential to contribute positively to the existing landscape of the former island. The historic settlement pattern also provides the opportunity for the creation of cycle routes following historic trails.

7.3 Agriculture
Sustainable agriculture is important for keeping the existing landscape values and to provide opportunity to restore historic landscape features (e.g. tuunwallen, duck decoys).

7.4 Tourism
The main potential of Wieringen is the tourism value of the landscape and cultural history. This should be developed taking into account the return to life as an island, with a new shore and new relations with the surrounding area. The unique history of eel grass use, the characteristic farmhouses, duck decoys and duck farming and the use of the island during the Viking period are important themes for tourist information and interpretation.

7.5 Industry and energy
Den Oever has potential for the promotion of the historic fish industry of the former island.

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 Noord-Holland, 2004, Ontwikkelen met kwaliteit, ruimtelijke samenhang op uitvoeringgericht, (streekplan) Ontwikkelingsbeeld Noord-Holland Noord. Haarlem