Urk: From island to polder of Netherlands
Urk is unknown to many people in the world but this small village has played an important role in making the Netherlands known for its fishing industry. This village is also a reminder of the ingenuity of the Dutch in terms of how they claimed parts of the sea and transformed them into land in order to expand the mainland of the Netherlands. Without this ingenuity, around forty percent of the Netherlands would have been flooded by rivers and by the sea. If you are interested to know other major place in the Netherlands that have been claimed from the sea, check my blog about Zeeland.
Urk was once an island that was located in the middle of the South Sea which you could only reach by traveling through boat (see the old map below. The middle was the South sea and the small island mark with blue arrow is Urk). Since Urk was an island, it was naturally isolated and its culture remained unchanged until the 1930s. The construction of the Afsluitdijk (a major dam) in the 1930s made Urk to lose its connection with the direct sea. Urk was soon after in 1939 been anchored to the main land of the Netherlands on three sides as part of the Northern polder. Now, the municipality of Urk became a part of the province of Flevoland. This fishing municipality has always lived with and from the sea. Its economy consists nearly entirely on fishing fish from the Southern sea which was exported to other countries such as Germany. The lake that has been flowing in the Almere region was once part of an ice age flow water, with the river Ijssel flowing into the Urk.
Urk is a nice place to visit in the Netherlands. Like many other municipality, it possesses uniqueness that is embedded in its culture and history. This year was my (and my family’s) first time to visit the region of Flevoland and I am glad to begin with a place that combines both the old and new history. Since it is a small village, it is possible to tour Urk in one day. Below are the places to visit.
Where to go in Urk?
1. The lighthouse tower
The lighthouse tower of Urk has played an important role for guiding the shipping navigation to and from Amsterdam. Through the colored balls and cones, the ships are informed over the direction of the wind or the warnings about storms. The lighthouse is open for visitors to climb. From the lighthouse you can also see a small part of the beach and the river Ijssel.
2. Memorial for fisherman
Urk has the largest fish auctions in the Netherlands. In fact, fish products that are sold both within the Netherlands and outside of the country mainly come from Urk. In the memorial for fishermen, you can find the statue and the names of fishermen that had given up their lives to the sea for the sake of fishing. It also includes a tribute to three fishermen that died during the World War II in 1941. Once in Urk, don’t forget to taste its fresh fish for a truly ‘Urkian’ experience!
3. Museum het Oude Raadhuis
This museum tells the history of Urk from the moment that it was still a separate island up to the point that the Dutch reclaimed a big part of the sea and transformed Urk into part of a main land. The museum shows many miniature boats, traditional clothing, and other parts of culture of this village.
4. Kerkje aan de Zee
Interested to sea a church whose support beams are made by masts, the central poles that hold the sails of the ship. Well, you can definitely find it in Kerkje aan de Zee, which is located on the opposite side of the Memorial for fishermen Urk. The supports of this church mainly came from the Dutch East India company ships, which sailed in the East Indies (Indonesia) to gather important herbs and bring them to the Netherlands. You can find inside the church some ship models and if you are lucky, could listen to some recitals by the choir.
5. The streets of Urk
One thing that made me fascinated in this small town is the unique view and the feeling walking in the street of Urk. The architectures of the house are so beautiful and are quite vibrant in colors. Since this village is small, it is easy to tour around the place by walking.