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Afsluitdijk in red
Coordinates53°0′N 5°10′E / 53.000°N 5.167°E / 53.000; 5.167Coordinates: 53°0′N 5°10′E / 53.000°N 5.167°E / 53.000; 5.167
Purposeflood protection and land reclamation
Construction began1927
Opening date1932
Dam and spillways
Length32 km (20 mi)
Elevation at crest7.25 m (23.8 ft) above sea level
Width (crest)90 m (300 ft)
Afsluitdijk with the Wadden Sea (a part of the North Sea) on the left and the IJsselmeer on the right

The Afsluitdijk (Dutch: [ˈɑfslœydɛik] (About this soundlisten); West Frisian: Ofslútdyk; English: "Enclosure Dam") is a major dam and causeway in the Netherlands. It was constructed between 1927 and 1932 and runs from Den Oever in North Holland province to the village of Zurich in Friesland province, over a length of 32 kilometres (20 mi) and a width of 90 metres (300 ft), at an initial height of 7.25 metres (23.8 ft) above sea level.

The Afsluitdijk is a fundamental part of the larger Zuiderzee Works, damming off the Zuiderzee, a salt water inlet of the North Sea, and turning it into the fresh water lake of the IJsselmeer. The dam serves as a sea barrier to protect the inland against flooding.

The motorway on the Afsluitdijk was the initial demonstration site for a 130 km/h (81 mph) speed limit in the Netherlands.[1]


Image from satellite
Closing the last gap

Reasons for construction[edit]

The Afsluitdijk (literally translated: Shut-off-dike) was completed in 1932, thereby shutting off the Zuiderzee (lit: Southern Sea) from the North Sea.[2] Until then, the Zuiderzee had been a large bay south of the North Sea which gave maritime access to five provinces of The Netherlands, and particularly during the Dutch Golden Age provided a protected entrance and exit for the harbour of Amsterdam and several other important Dutch sea harbours. Furthermore, the Zuiderzee provided relatively shallow and calm fishing grounds for the many towns bordering the bay. However, the opening of the Noordzeekanaal (North Sea Canal) in 1876 gave a much shorter direct entrance to the Amsterdam harbour, and overfishing had depleted the shallow bay. In the second half of the 19th century, the Dutch population was exploding, and there was an increasing need for land for agriculture and animal husbandry. The Dutch already had centuries of experience of building dikes around lakes, emptying them and converting them to fertile polderland.

The next large project was to convert the Zuiderzee into polder. In 1886, a few notables established the Zuiderzee Society to investigate whether reclamation was feasible. One of the most prominent members of the society was Cornelis Lely, a prominent member and later chairman of the society.[3] In 1891 he designed the first plan for the closure and reclamation of the Zuiderzee.

In 1913, Lely was Minister of Water Management, and land reclamation was included in the government program. His plan was initially opposed, particularly for its huge costs and also by the fishing industry. But after the flood of 1916 and the famine of 1918, opinions were ready for this mega project and the parliament agreed, but it took another 9 years, until 1927, before the works actually began.

Newsreel of the closing of the last gap

Building the dike[edit]

Wieringen was connected to the mainland with the short Amsteldiepdijk in 1925; the Afsluitdijk would be 20 miles (32 km) in length. The inland side is heavy stone; the seaward side is boulder clay with brushwood mattresses above, weighed down by boulders and old concrete.[4] Previous experience had showed that boulder clay was superior to just sand or clay for a structure like the Afsluitdijk, with the added benefit that till was in plentiful supply in the area; it could be retrieved in large quantities by simply dredging it from the bottom of the Zuiderzee. Work started at four points: on both sides of the mainland and on two specially made construction-islands (Kornwerderzand and Breezanddijk) along the line of the future dike.

From these points, the dike slowly grew by ships depositing till into the open sea until it breached the surface. The nascent dike was then strengthened from land by basalt rocks and mats of willow switch at its base. The dike could then be finished off by raising it further with sand and finally clay for the surface of the dike, on which grass was planted.

As the dike grew, physicist Hendrik Antoon Lorentz calculated the force of the tide as the smaller gap made it stronger. Ten thousand workers, 27 large dredges, 13 floating cranes, 132 barges, and 88 tugs worked on the project at the end, timed to close the dike at low tide; it was finished on 28 May 1932.[4] Construction progressed better than expected; at three points along the line of the dike there were deeper underwater trenches where the tidal current was much stronger than elsewhere. These had been considered to be major obstacles to completing the dike, but all of them proved to be relatively straightforward. Two years earlier than initially thought, the Zuiderzee ceased to be, as the last tidal trench, the Vlieter, was closed by a final bucket of till. The IJsselmeer was born, even though it was still salty at the time.

The dike itself however was not finished yet as it still needed to be brought up to its required height and a road linking Friesland and North Holland (the current A7/E22 motorway) also remained to be built. On 25 September 1933, the Afsluitdijk was officially opened, with a monument designed by architect Dudok marking the spot where the dike had been closed. The amount of material used is estimated at 23 million cubic metres (810,000,000 cu ft) of sand and 13.5 million cubic metres (480,000,000 cu ft) of till and over the years an average of around four to five thousand workers were involved with the construction every day, relieving some of the unemployment following the Great Depression.

Beside the dike itself, there was also the necessary construction of two complexes of shipping locks and discharge sluices at both ends of the dike. The complex at Den Oever includes the Stevin lock (named after mathematician and engineer Simon Stevin) and three series of five sluices for discharging the IJsselmeer into the Wadden Sea; the other complex at Kornwerderzand is composed of the Lorentz locks (named after the physicist) and two series of five sluices, making a total of 25 discharge sluices. It is necessary to routinely discharge water from the lake since it is continually fed by rivers and streams (most notably the IJssel river that gives its name to the lake) and polders draining their water into the IJsselmeer.

On September 23, 1954, on the centenary of Cornelis Lely, a statue was unveiled by Queen Juliana. It was then on the North Holland side of the Afsluitdijk and was made by Mari Andriessen. After a thorough refurbishment, the statue moved to the surroundings of the monument on the Afsluitdijk.

Observation tower as seen from pedestrian bridge

In 2012, the State Secretary for Infrastructure and the Environment, Joop Atsma, issued a statement detailing the factors influencing the decision to replace the locks at Kornwerderzand. A naviduct would have a high construction cost compared with standard locks and bridges, but would benefit the economy by reducing delays. After the cost–benefit analysis of all potential solutions was considered, a decision was made to strengthen the existing locks. However, it is quite possible that a naviduct will be built to replace the locks when they reach the end of their useful life in 2050.[5]

Provision for a railway line linking North Holland and Friesland (between Anna Paulowna and Harlingen) had been included on the Afsluitdijk, in the form of a linear reservation, along with extra drawbridge abutments at the locks. However, construction of the line was never undertaken by Dutch Railways (NS), for reasons of cost and relative lack of benefits. The reservation and abutments for the rail line were utilized instead for a second carriageway for the dike's two-lane highway in the 1970s, transforming the latter into today's four-lane A7 motorway.

On 12 and 13 May 1940 it was the site of the Battle of the Afsluitdijk.

Icoon Afsluitdijk[edit]

Rijkswaterstaat will strengthen the Afsluitdijk in the coming years to safeguard its future and to continue to protect the Netherlands against the force of water. Its renovation began in 2018. The government has taken this opportunity to give room to more initiatives. As part of the renovation programme, Roosegaarde's Icoon Afsluitdijk enhances the iconic status of the Afsluitdijk with a second layer of light and interaction. The three designs of light and interaction developed by Daan Roosegaarde and his team are entitled Gates of Light, Windvogel and Glowing Nature. Development Partners for this project are: Kitepower, Wageningen University and Research, TTB, Eurocarbon, Versalume.

Gates of Light[edit]

Gates of Light is a futuristic entrance at both sides of the dike. Inspired by retroreflective wings of butterflies, Daan Roosegaarde brings a new light on the 60 monumental floodgates which were designed by Dirk Roosenburg in 1932, the grandfather of the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. They have been restored with a retroreflective layer which is illuminated by the passing cars' headlamps.


Windvogel is a tribute to the Dutch astronaut Wubbo Ockels. Ockels had the dream to realise smart kites which generate power by having them stay aloft for long periods of time. He was one of the pioneers in the field of kite power generation and professor of the research group at Delft University of Technology from which the startup Kitepower arose. Each of the Windvogel kites generates from 20 to 100 kW which can supply energy for up to 200 households.

Glowing Nature[edit]

Glowing Nature shows the beauty of nature on the Afsluitdijk by means of an encounter between man, biology and technology. The exhibition, located in one of the historical bunkers, provides an interactive experience with live algae, one of the oldest microorganisms in the world. Only when you perfectly maintain and take care of these algae do they give natural light for an extended period of time.


  • The actual body of the Afsluitdijk is 30 kilometres (19 mi) long, measured from coast to coast. The highway over the Afsluitdijk is 32 kilometres (20 mi) long as measured between the Den Oever and Zurich exits. The adjacent ground works at each end of the dyke were constructed at the same time as the dyke itself. Consequently, the length of the Afsluitdijk is often stated to be 32 kilometres, although the water barrier section is only 30 kilometres long.
  • The Dutch word 'dijk' (dike) is actually a division between land and water. The name Afsluitdijk would be correct if the entire IJsselmeer had been drained. However, due to the change of plans it was left flooded so the Afsluitdijk is a barrier between two bodies of waters. In Dutch that is a 'dam'. This structure could more properly be called 'Afsluitdam'.
  • The European Long Distance Footpath E9, which is at this point coincides with the Dutch North Sea Trail, runs over the dike. The E9 runs along the coast from Portugal to the Baltic States.
  • Even before the dike was finally closed, the first human being was born on reclaimed land that was formerly Zuiderzee at Kornwerderzand. Petronella Maartha Bakker, born on 14 August 1928, was the daughter of Jan W. Bakker and Petronella Maartha Gillhaus. The parents actually wanted to call her Kornwerdina because of this special occasion. However, an official of the registry office of the municipality of Wûnseradiel refused to accept this name.
  • On August 15, 2006, Formula 1 driver Robert Doornbos was given the opportunity by Rijkswaterstaat to fulfil a childhood dream. On a part of the Afsluitdijk, which was specially closed, he reached a speed of 326 km/h (203 mph) in his Formula 1 car.
  • On October 25, 1999, an 80 cent commemorative stamp titled ‘De Afsluitdijk 1932’ was issued in the theme of 'highlights of the 20th century'.


  1. ^ "Holland's first 130 km/h road is the Afsluitdijk". 1 March 2011. Retrieved 20 February 2012. The speed limit on the Afsluitdijk, the stretch of the A7 on the dyke between Wognum in Noord-Holland and Zürich in Friesland, has been increased to 130 km/h from Tuesday.
  2. ^ Hakkenes, Emiel (2017). Polderkoorts. Hoe de Zuiderzee verdween [Polder Fever. How the Zuyderzee disappeared]. Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Thomas Rap.
  3. ^ Banning, Cees (2018). Cornelis Lely. Ingenieur van het nieuwe Nederland [In Dutch: Cornelis Lely - Engineer of the new Netherlands]. Beilen, NL: Uitgeverij Pharos.
  4. ^ a b Ley, Willy (October 1961). "The Home-Made Land". For Your Information. Galaxy Science Fiction. pp. 92–106.
  5. ^ Atsma, Joop (3 July 2012). "Toezegging naviduct Afsluitdijk" (PDF) (in Dutch). Ministerie van Infrastructuur en Milieu. Retrieved 2 August 2013.

External links[edit]