Damn, That’s One Big Dam! The Delta Works of Holland

Thanks to Viking River Cruises for inviting us along and providing this adventure through the tulips and windmills of Holland and Belgium with stops in Amsterdam, Kinderdijk, Antwerp, Bruges, Veere, Hoorn, and Arnhem.

The hydraulic doors of the Delta Works in Holland

The Dutch have been on a mission to protect themselves against the ocean’s onslaught since the mushy low country was first settled.

David holds the water back with his finger in a dyke in Holland!

At first the hardy inhabitants sought out small batches of higher ground, but as the population grew and became permanent a series of dams, dikes, drainage ditches, and pumps began to take shape.

With over half of their homeland sitting below sea level, over a thousand years of nonstop planning, digging, and building has taken place.

A dike near the Delta Works in Holland

Windmill museum in Kinderdijk, Holland, The Netherlands - GypsyNester.com

That is why Holland is famous for windmills.

These lovely landmarks have served as air-powered pumps to keep the land above water for centuries.

As much as everyone loves to see Holland’s signature symbols turning in the breeze, technology drastically improved over time bringing about an even more impressive, if less endearing, system of enormous doors to hold the North Sea at bay.

As we drove toward the shore from Antwerp we were eager to learn a bit more about The Delta Works, or Deltawerken in Dutch.

This amazing flood controlling technological marvel has been declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Jan survived the floods in Kortgene, Holland in 1953
Our guide, Jan, survived the floods in Kortgene, Holland in 1953 and shows us the names of those from his village who perished

Created in response to a tragic flood throughout the Netherlands province of Zeeland in 1953, huge hydraulic doors at three openings to the North Sea can be closed when the weather turns nasty, preventing the flooding tides from inundating the Lowlands.

Before this solution, earthen dams and dikes protected the islands and peninsulas.

However, these proved inadequate when they gave way during an intense storm and over eighteen hundred people perished.

Something better had to be done.

Driving atop the Delta Works in Holland
Driving along the top of the Delta Works

The original idea was to simply dam the channels, cutting them off from the sea, but this would have destroyed the tidal ecology, ruining the shellfish industry that is vital to the area.

By using doors to control the flow without stopping the tides, the mussels and oysters continue to thrive.

Museum at the Delta Works in the Netherlands

Near the giant sea doors, there is a museum about the history of the flood and solutions to the problems of keeping the seawater at bay.

The tribute for the lost of the 1953 floods in Zeeland, Holland at the Delta Works Museum
Beautiful memorial to the lost

We descended inside a caisson underneath one of the earthen dikes, and got an inside look at the defenses built after the flood.

In a stroke of amazing luck our guide, Jan, was a survivor of the 1953 disaster.

This gave us a firsthand account, and a rare, personal brush with history, as he described the night when he was eleven years old and the flood waters hit.

Lucky for him, his family, and the entire town of Kortgene, his older brother and friends were up late celebrating a birthday when they noticed the water rising.

Artifacts saved from the floods
Artifacts saved from the floods

Thinking fast, they saved almost all of the town’s residents by breaking into the church and ringing the bells to awaken them.

With the alarm sounded, people had just enough time to climb to the upper floors or roofs of their houses and survive.

Across the low country many others were not so fortunate, as the water quickly rose over ten feet in the middle of that fateful night.

Schouwn-Duiveland had no contact with the outside world after the massive flood until a man named Peter Hossfeld cobbled together this transmitter that blasted out a distress signal.
Schouwn-Duiveland had no contact with the outside world after the massive flood until a man named Peter Hossfeld cobbled together this transmitter that blasted out a distress signal.

In light of the tragedy, the huge Delta Works project was designed to withstand floods so severe that they are predicted to occur only once every four thousand years. Hopefully those tolerances won’t ever be tested.

So far the doors have only needed to be deployed a few times, other than the usual testing that is done at least four times each year.

By the time the works were declared finished in 1997, they had become the largest storm barrier in the world and is the basis for several similar projects worldwide.

However, the truth is that the battle against the sea is never really completed, and new reinforcements are undertaken any time a potentially weak spot is identified.

Riding bikes on the dikes of Holland

As a bonus, the massive gates allowed for a road to be built along the tops making for a shortcut to the north.

This also meant that we got to drive along the crest of the world’s most impressive water works.

Even on a relatively calm day, that vantage point kept us in complete awe of the power of the Atlantic Ocean crashing into the shore.

David & Veronica, Gypsynester.com

Thanks to Viking River Cruises for inviting us along and providing this adventure through the tulips and windmills of Holland and Belgium with stops in Amsterdam, Kinderdijk, Antwerp, Bruges, Veere, Hoorn, and Arnhem.

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