Geography was my favourite subject at school. Land reclamation in the Netherlands was especially interesting growing up, as I did, opposite Holland in Norfolk, also rich in windmills and low lying land.  The building of the Afsluitdijk that closed off the Zuidezee to make the Ijesselmeer fascinated me.  Visiting Afsluitdijk at last was one of the must do things when we visited the Netherlands.



Why go to all the bother of building a highly expensive dam across a narrow sea inlet?  Flooding, is one answer and land the other.  Winds zipping across the North Sea would often result in severe flooding deep into the Netherlands.  Severe floods in 1916 proved to be one set of floods too much and the wheels were set in motion to build the dam.  The fishermen of the thriving Zuiderzee fleet were not happy but for the rest of the Dutch nation it made good sense.

Cornelius Lely came up with a plans not only for the construction of  the Afsluitdijk but also for the largest land reclamation project in history.  Around fifteen hundred square kilometres of land were created from the base of what had once been the Zuiderzee.  The modern province of Flevoland at the southern most end of the Zuiderzee was almost entirely created in the twentieth century.  Lely is commemorated the a statue a short walk from the visitor centre.

Cornelius Lely Afsluitdijk

Work began in 1927, the main building material was boulder clay dredged up from the floor of the Zuiderzee.  To begin with two islands, Kornwerderzand and Breezanddijk were contructed and slowly more clay dumped between them until the gap was filled.  Once the clay mound was in place, rafts of willow were placed over the top all weighed down with boulders and concrete.  Smooth stone slopes down to the calmer waters of the Zuiderzee but side facing the rougher Wadden Sea keeps the rough strewn boulders.

Afsluitdijk Lely

Water still flows into what is now called the Ijsselmeer at a rapid rate, the River Ij is one of the main distributaries of the Rhine and that still has to reach the sea.  That means that the Asfluidijk is not just a dam but a complex of sluices and locks.  Ships can still sail too and fro and Rhine can still flow out into the sea.  The dam is also a busy motorway carrying traffic between Noord Holland and Freisland.  As this is Holland there is, of course, also a cycle track.


Not everybody is as obsessed with maps and land reclamation as I am but Afsluitdijk is still a popular place to see.  As you are whizzing along the motorway views across the Ijsselmeer are easy to see but the Wadden Sea is hidden behind the high ramparts of the dike.  There is a visitor centre in the middle of the dike with an observation tower and a walkway across the carriageways.  The bridge is a fine place to see the Wadden Sea crashing onto the northern side of the dike, a good four metres above the more tranquil Ijsselmeer in the southern side.

Wadden Sea Afsluitdijk

When we visited the wind was whistling across the Ijsselmeer so hard that opening the car door was hard.  Just as well that there is a restaurant in which to shelter from the wind and take in the views.

Restaurant Afsluitdijk

When I was eighteen I embarked on a cycling tour of the Netherlands with my friend Hilary.  It was our intention to cycle across the dam.  It was only the wise counsel of some Dutch cyclists that we met in a youth hostel in Amsterdam that stopped us.  Did we realise that the dam alone was twenty miles long?  Did we also realise how windy it was?  Having now struggled to stand upright on the cycle track made me realise how wise we were to choose another route.

Once in Freisland we visited the Wadden or Frisian Islands and popped into Leeuwarden.

Oregon Girl Around the World


  1. August 20, 2017 / 7:16 am

    So pleased you finally got to see it (safely) and that it met your expectations. Hope you’re having fun. #MySundayPhoto

  2. August 20, 2017 / 8:43 am

    I cycled Holland with a friend at 17 staying in youth hostels, I must say we didn’t attempt the dam!

  3. bavariansojourn
    August 20, 2017 / 9:45 pm

    Amazing isn’t it? My Grandmother is Dutch so I have spent a lot of time there over the years! :) #sundayphoto

    • August 21, 2017 / 8:41 am

      Incredible, the longer we spend in the polderlands the more miraculous the whole country seems

  4. August 24, 2017 / 9:12 am

    What a fun post! I was born in the south of The Netherlands and I guess I didn’t see Afsluitdijk until I was 11. I drove over it a couple of years ago and that was pretty awesome too. A year ago, flying back from Dresden, it was clear on the way back and we could see the Afsluitdijk from the sky. So awesome!!

    • August 24, 2017 / 12:14 pm

      We’ve driven round the Ijesselmeer/Markenmeer to get to Amsterdam now and I’m still blown away br the whole thing

  5. August 24, 2017 / 11:10 am

    it must have been fun to finally cross it:) #farawayfiles

  6. August 24, 2017 / 12:10 pm

    My Dad used to take us on dam tours when we were kids.. we used to say ”not another dam wall Dad’.. hilarious #FarawayFiles

    • August 24, 2017 / 12:13 pm

      That will be what my children will say of me!

  7. August 24, 2017 / 4:13 pm

    So interesting! I love when you study about a place and finally get to see it! I think this is one of those that may be more impactful in person – hard to get a sense for the size of the water it holds back if you aren’t there? Is it true? Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles, Erin

    • August 24, 2017 / 4:36 pm

      The sheer size of dam and water was jaw dropping and as for the strength of the wind. You got a real sense of man’s battle against the elements

  8. August 24, 2017 / 9:17 pm

    I grew up in Norfolk too so am very familiar with flat lands, the north sea and windmills, much less familiar with the Netherlands though. I wasn’t even aware of this dam, fascinating, thanks for sharing. #FarawayFiles

    • August 24, 2017 / 9:25 pm

      Norfolk is a wonderful place to grow up in!

  9. August 24, 2017 / 9:41 pm

    Wow. I genuinely had no idea that there were dams THAT big in the Netherlands. I guess – at the risk of showing my ignorance – I thought the sea was kept at bay by a series of smaller dams. I mean, how do you even build such a thing?? I will definitely check this out – thanks for the inspiration! #FarawayFiles

    • August 24, 2017 / 9:43 pm

      Well worth crossing the dam for the lakes of Freisland

    • August 25, 2017 / 7:30 am

      We have been defeated by most pronunciations here and even when we think that we have cracked it we open our mouths only to realise that it is wrong!

  10. August 25, 2017 / 11:46 am

    Good thing you had a car this time around! 20 miles on a windy road would take forever to ride a bike or walk! #FarawayFiles

  11. Trish @ Mum's Gone To
    August 26, 2017 / 4:16 pm

    I live in the Fens now so I’m always intrigued by constructions such as this. I wish we had a few motorways like that where we live, instead of sitting behind tractors on single carriageways!

    • August 26, 2017 / 4:49 pm

      We used to cross the Fens to visit my grandparents, I remember those tractors!

    • March 17, 2018 / 11:44 pm

      Well worth the trip …. Friesland on the ‘other side’

  12. March 17, 2018 / 11:02 pm

    I love posts like this that explain the history behind things. When I first looked at a road map of the Netherlands I thought it was a mistake – why was there a road across the ocean? At the time I looked it up and found out it was a dyke, but I hadn’t thought much more about it since then. Thanks for providing the background!

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