The Dutch Afsluitdijk is one of the main parts of the so-called Zuiderzeewerken (Zuiderzee Works), aimed at closing off the former Zuiderzee, transforming it into a lake called IJsselmeer. The dike separated the Zuiderzee from the North Sea (actually it is the Wadden Sea) to create good conditions for polders in the IJsselmeer. This inpoldering (Dutch for creating a polder) would take place in stages after the Afsluitdijk was built in the 1920's and 1930's.
The whole plan was initiated by Dutch engineer Cornelis Lely (1854-1929). The main reasons for closing the Zuiderzee were threefold:
- protection against flooding, especially during storms
- creation of a freshwater reservoir
- creation of additional farmland
Plans were issued in the 19th century already, but around the beginning of the 20th century, people started to get enthusiastic about Lely's plans. The project was started in 1927. After a pilot polder to test things over, the Afsluitdijk was built for real. The labour was slow but rewarding: on May 28, 1932, the two halfs of the dike were connected somewhere near the middle, in the presence of Queen Wilhelmina of Orange. At the closing site, nowadays you can see a monument with the text "Een volk dat leeft, bouwt aan zijn toekomst" ("A people that lives, works on its future").
The dike is more than 30 kms long and travels from Den Oever on the former island Wieringen in the Dutch province Noord-Holland, to Zurich on the coast of Friesland. The Afsluitdijk is approximately 90 meters wide, giving room initially to a road and a railway. But traffic developed in such a way that the railway was cancelled to enlarge the capacity of the road. The dike now has a four-lane highway, being a part of the European main road system, under the attractive title E10.
The main goal of the Afsluitdijk certainly was met: a bigger safety for the inhabitants of the regions around the former Zuiderzee. The water flooding disaster in Zeeland in 1953 provided some clear evidence that the Zuiderzeewerken were fully up to their task: not any danger there. Better than Luctor et emergo.
Engineer Lely died before the Afsluitdijk was finished. His name is still attached to the dike and the inpoldering: one of the main pumping-stations (a so-called gemaal, to transport the water out of the polders continuously) is called the Lely-gemaal in Medemblik, Noord-Holland. But he mainly lives on in the capital of young Dutch province Flevoland: Lelystad (meaning Lely City in Dutch).