Ever wanted to go to Amsterdam? Maybe sit at a cafe or tour the Red Light District? You monster. It took two horrific floods, which re-sculpted the coast of Europe, to make Amsterdam into a city worth visiting.
Life wasn't much fun in the Middle Ages. On the plus side, few people had to endure it for long. The Middle Ages were marked by upheaval — geological upheaval. The storms that shook the north of Europe were so powerful that they didn't just drown people, they reshaped the entire coastline. Peninsulas became islands. Islands were broken down into nothing. And the sea came inland.
Two storms, spaced seventy-five years apart, forever changed the fate of the Netherlands. The first storm led to the St. Lucia's Day flood in 1287. The North Sea had been steadily rising. On St. Lucia's Day a storm caused a particularly rough and high tide. A dike broke. By some estimates, eighty thousand people died. What had been an inland lake, formed by low altitude and human fortifications, became part of the North Sea. From then on, the area was called the Zuiderzee, the "southern sea." It was not an easily traveled patch of water, as it was still shallow and protected by patches of coastline. That would change.
Grote Mandrenke is a Low German word. It means "Great Drowning of Men." In January of 1362, a storm driven by intensely high winds hit Ireland. What coastal houses the waves didn't get were blown down. As the storm moved down the coast of Europe, it coincided with an extremely high tide. The medieval town of Dunwich in England, now lies under the sea because of the Grote Mandrenke. Sixty parishes in Slesvig, Denmark disappeared. And in Holland, twenty-five thousand more people died and the coastline eroded to the point where the Zuiderzee became, essentially, a seventy-five mile bay with a number of extremely nervous little fishing villages around its edges.
One of those little villages was Amsterdam. It had been granted rights as a city in 1300, and its position at the extreme southern edge of what became an incredibly important waterway gave it an advantage as a trading city. At first the Netherlands traded with England and with other countries in the north of Europe. Then it sent feelers out into the rest of the world. The Zuidersee was a disaster zone that became an economic and military treasure, with Amsterdam as its shining crown jewel.
The Zuiderzee was, once again, cut off from the North Sea in 1932. There's a museum to preserve both its memory and the memory of the culture that sprang up around it. Most of the world won't see the Zuiderzee Museum, but they will see the internationally-renowned city that it produced.
Top Image: Lies Thru a Lens