Cultural Entities 
(The Netherlands)


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1. Overview




Oostergo is bordered by the Wadden Sea in the north, and by the eastern Middlezee dike in the west. The Lauwerszee and river Lauwers form the eastern border. The southern border runs over the Boorne dike to Oldeboorn and then along the Stroobos canal.


around 360 km˛

Location - map:

Province of Fryslân, the Netherlandsany

Origin of name:

The north part of Fryslân was bisected by the Middel Sea. The island on the east side is Oostergo (Oost means east).

Relationship/similarities with other cultural entities:

Related to Westergo, Middelzee and Lauwers

Characteristic elements and ensembles:

Open area with salt marsh embankments on which there were mound (terp) villages at 2-3 kilometre intervals. Very open landscape; dwelling mounds in curved rows, structures of water ways, (former) seawalls and locks; historic field patterns; natural water courses, medieval town centres and village like Leeuwarden and Dokkum, historic farm buildings, stone houses (zaalstinsen).

2. Geology and geography

2.1 General
The Oostergo landscape was formed in the Holocene period, (the current geological period). Around the higher sandy area of the Frisian Wouden and the peat moors of the Lage Midden a broad band of clay was deposited, measuring up to 10k wide in the north, and gradually narrowing towards the south. The river Boorne, which rises in the sand and peat areas of south-east Friesland, formerly turned northward to the west of Aldeboarn and discharged into the Wadden Sea.

Middelzee with river Boorne

The Oostergo landscape is bordered on two sides by large estuaries: the Boorne (Middelzee) and the Lauwers (Lauwerszee). Marine clay was deposited along the inlets. The ridge thus formed by the sea is now a salt marsh embankment.

2.2 Present landscape
Oostergo has an open landscape with high dikes offering protection from the sea. The accretion of land at the coast is a continuing natural process.

Photo: Accretion of land outside the dykes Dykes in Oostergo

3. Landscape and settlement history 

3.1 Prehistoric and Medieval Times

The earliest permanent settlement was around 600 BC, when people moved into the coastal area from the Drenthe plateau. The first inhabitants settled on the highest points: the salt marsh embankments and high banks of the streams. Initially they lived directly on the ground-surface of the embankments. Over time however, as sea level rose and flooding increased, the dwellings had to be raised. Mounds were created from whatever came to hand; household refuse, manure, clay and turf, and gradually the first dwelling mounds (terpen or wierden) were constructed from c. 500 BC. The place-name “wier(de)” also means an artificially raised dwelling place. A number of terp villages in Oostergo have the suffix -wier(de), such as Metslawier, Niawier and Poppingawier. Initially the terps accommodated individual dwellings, but over time they grew together into raised villages.

Dwelling mound in Oostergo Terp village Nijewier

The oldest form of village terp consisted of round, separate terps with plots radiating out from them, and sometimes a ditch around the foot of the mound. Examples of such round terps include Foudgum, Hogebeintum, Brantgum and Oostrum.

Round terp village Brandgum Photo: Village Hogebeintum

From around 700 – 800 AD a different kind of terp developed as a trading terp. At this date the Frisian coast was at the crossroads of several important European trade routes, so trade flourished. The trading terps were largely found on the banks of a stream, just behind the coast: examples include Aldeboarn on the Boorne and the old centres of Leeuwarden and Dokkum on either side of the Dokkumer Ee. This type of terp had an elongated shape with buildings along a central road.

Map of Aldeboarn (Oldebbrn)

3.2 Early Modern Times
The construction of a continuous sea dike around Oostergo stopped most of the regular flooding of the land, so it was no longer necessary to live solely on the high salt marsh ridges. From around the 12th century it was also possible to live on the lower-lying salt marsh plains. The arable fields were still on the higher embankments and the flanks of the terps. The poorer, wetter land around the terp was used for pasture and hayfields. In the lowest-lying areas, south of Anjum, there are duck decoys, sometimes as many as four close together.
The continuous dike along the Middelzee and the Wadden Sea was probably built around 1100 AD. It ran from Deersum via Irnsum, Roordahuizen, Leeuwarden, Stiens, Holwerd, Wierum and Oostmahorn to Engwierum. If salt marshes outside the dikes were silted up sufficiently, they were sometimes also reclaimed and farmed. Once a new dike was built further seawards, the old dike lost its purpose, and was often dug out. Monasteries established in the area from 1100 onwards played an active role in dike building and land reclamation in Oostergo, particularly Mariëngaarde near Hallum and the Gerkes monastery in the Lauwerszee area.

Duck decoys (Eendenkoois) in Oostergo Hempensermeer Polder

In addition to reclaiming land from the sea, land was also reclaimed in Oostergo by drying out pools. There are three such small drained pools south of Leeuwarden: the Hempensermeer and Greate Wergeastermeer polders and the Lytse Mar polder east of Wergea. These polders were pumped dry in the 17th and 18th centuries and are characterised by a very regular rectangular fieldscape that is typical of reclaimed land.
Initially surplus water from the adjoining land in Oostergo was discharged into the Middelzee. After the polders were made, a quay was built on the Oostergo side along the Zwette, the ditch marking the border between Oostergo and Westergo. This made drainage toward the Middelzee impossible, so the drainage point was moved to Dokkum. A number of waterways, such as the Huijumervaart and the Heerenwegstervaart, were dug to solve the drainage problem. Where a stream or waterway discharged into the sea a discharging sluice or zijl was built in the dike. The reclamation of the Bildt meant that an important Oostergo sluice in Oude Leije had to be moved twice. The polder water has been discharged at Nieuwe Bildtzijl since the 18th century.

In the medieval period peat was dug on a large scale in Oostergo to extract salt. The dug areas have a distorted soil profile and are still recognisable in the landscape as elongated lower lying areas, particularly in De Kolken south of Anjum, and between Wetzens, Jouswier and Oostrum, where large areas of peat were extracted. In addition to peat extraction, clay was also taken in some areas to make bricks. Initially these were used only to build monasteries and churches, but later they were also used for noble houses, and later still for farms.

While agriculture was still the most important source of income, the increase in trade meant the development of towns. Dokkum arose where the Dokkumer Ee flowed into an inlet of the Lauwerszee: the present day Dokkumer Grootdiep. Two terps were built on the northern side of the watercourse which now form the centre of the town. In the 12th century the Norbertine Bonifacius Abbey was built on the northern terp, which is now the Markt. After the Reformation at the end of the 16th century the Abbey was demolished. The veneration of Boniface, the missionary and bishop who was murdered near Dokkum in 754, received a boost in 1925 when the St Boniface Chapel and garden were built on the south side of the town.
Leeuwarden lies where the (Dokkumer) Ee once flowed into the Middelzee. There are three terps in the centre of the town which formed the original urban area: the Oldehove terp, and the terps at the level of the Kleine and Grote Hoogstraat, which lay on either side of the Ee. From 1200 to 1500 the town expanded significantly, becoming the provincial capital in 1504. It was also significant that Leeuwarden became the seat of the stadhouder of Friesland. From 1584 to 1747 the stadhouders lived in the court on the Hofplein.

Photo: Stadhouder Hof in Leeuwarden

3.3 Modern Times
In the 19th century Leeuwarden became an increasingly important road and rail hub. As a result it enjoyed modest industrial growth, with the emphasis on the agricultural sector. New districts were created outside the historic centre for the growing population.
Waterways were still the major transport routes in Friesland until well into the 19th century. Streams and rivers had been used to transport goods since the earliest occupation of the area. Many of these small waterways were later straightened, or made into canals. A number of major canals were created for heavier traffic. Most of these were originally natural watercourses which were made into boat canals in the mid-17th century.

Old and recent waterways in Oostergo

This involved widening and deepening the channel and creating towpaths. Large-scale commercial levelling works between 1840 and 1945 left practically none of the dwelling mounds intact. The fertile soil from the mounds was used to fertilise agricultural areas elsewhere. To transport the soil the original terp channel was dredged or a new one was dug, so that the terp was connected to the network of major waterways in the area. Oostergo also has a network of roads. The roads traditionally follow the course of the old dikes over the banks, beside gullies and streams, as these were the highest and driest parts in the area.

Land acquisition was tackled systematically from the start of the 19th century. Pits were dug in the salt marsh to catch the silt and mud-flat sediment. Once they were full the silt was spread over the marsh, and the process was repeated until the marsh was high enough above water-level. Large-scale reclamation work was undertaken in 1935, during the time of mass unemployment. A method was adopted which was then common practice in Schleswig Holstein, and seems to have come directly from Vierlingh. Brushwood fences were made to enclose “sediment fields” of 400 by 400 metres. Channels were dug every five metres in these fields, and the deposited silt was excavated twice a year and spread on the field. Each field also had two major ditches parallel to the dike. All the channels emptied into these major ditches, so that the sediment field was drained at ebb tide and plants could take a good hold. The plants used to encourage this development were mainly glasswort, salt-marsh grass and cord grass.
It is thought that there are no surviving mounds left in Oostergo that were built for defensive stone houses (stinsen), except perhaps the mound of the former Jongemastate in Rauwerd.

Mound of Jongemastate in Rauwerd

There are also no surviving tower houses left in Oostergo. In the 14th and 15th centuries hall houses (zaalstinsen) were also built, which were more comfortable to live in than the stone towers. From the 16th century onwards the stone houses gradually lost their defensive role and became largely status symbols; they were often converted into stately homes with estates. Although many country estates in Oostergo were given the title “state”, they were not all developed from the original stone stinsen. Fine estates of gardens and forests were laid out around many of the stately houses in the 17th and 18th centuries.

4. Modern development and planning

4.1 Land use
Oostergo is predominantly under grassland and maize used for livestock farming. The coastal areas heavy marine clay is more suitable for potato growing.

4.2 Settlement development
There are two large towns in Oostergo, Leeuwarden and Dokkum, both have expanded since the Second World War and exert a great deal of influence on their surroundings. As the provincial capital Leeuwarden has many of the regional institutions such as hospitals, colleges, cultural institutions and business activities. Locations for new build neighbourhoods are in the south and east of the town. In the northern part development has already taken place in the district 'Bullepolder'.

4.3 Industry and energy
Industry is largely agriculture-based. The harbour activities at Dokkum are more of a tourist attraction. Leeuwarden is largely a service centre and has no heavy industry.

4.4 Infrastructure
Leeuwarden is at the hub of water, road and rail routes. There is a planned ring road on the west and southern part of the city of Leeuwarden. A new road has also been built from Dokkum to Drachten, the Centrale Axis.

5. Legal and spatial planning aspects

The Legal and Spatial Planning Aspects are described here in a generalised way, as they are relevant to all the entities in the province of Fryslan. Because of the scale of the cultural entities (most cover more then one municipality) the focus is on regional policy and management. However the goals of regional policy and planning are taken into account by local sector policy. The regional goals and strategies are formulated after discussion with a wide range of sectors, stakeholders and organisations.

The regional spatial plan for the province of Fryslân, (the Streekplan), is an important document in terms of integrated management of landscape and heritage. This plan details the objectives for regional and local policy, and issues relating to landscape and heritage
The provincial planning vision for North-East Fryslân centres on exploiting and reinforcing of the special qualities of the area, to provide a social and economic boost to the region. The construction of the Central Axis will start to connect the region to the main road network, and reinforce the central position of the regional town of Dokkum.

6. Vulnerabilities

6.1 Spatial planning
The open space, skyline and structure of the historical cities, towns and villages are very vulnerable to ill informed planning for new housing and industry. This is especially the case in and around Leeuwarden and on a smaller scale in Dokkum.

Photo: Village of Weidum

6.2 Settlement
The growth in the population of the former terp villages often means extending rather than developing in the existing residential areas. Allowing new developments to blend in with their surroundings demands a great deal of care and investment. Industrial estates are often built on the fringes of the main urban areas. The construction of the Central Axis will provide opportunities as well as threats. There are no surviving mounds left in Oostergo that were built for defensive stone houses (stinsen), or surviving tower houses.

6.3 Agriculture
The historic field pattern, natural watercourses and the historic farm buildings are vulnerable due to agriculture developments. Many of the smaller settlements that had been on mounds have already been lost to agricultural improvements. In rural areas the province aims to combine sustainable prospects for agriculture with a more extensive range of activities and services. It is anticipated that agricultural production will be scaled up considerably, particularly in the clay area. Continued agricultural practices will disturb or destroy buried archaeological deposits.

7. Potentials

7.1 Spatial planning
The proposed residential and industrial development should consider the cultural heritage, both in terms of recording prior to development and management of known sites. Within the historic core of the towns and cities careful planning should protect the historic layout and surviving buildings.

7.2 Settlement
Some of the historic settlements survive and these could be promoted for tourism. The dispersed settlement pattern of small villages and farmsteads have the potential to be promoted via tourism for their cultural heritage. The histroic settlement patterns, now largely lost to modern agrculture could be promoted via museums etc. Well designed conversions and extensions can allow historic buildings to fulfull the demand for new housing and small scale industrial uses.

7.3 Agriculture
Sustainable agriculture in relation to meadowland, migrating birds and cultural historical elements contribute to the development of tourism. There is potential for disused agricultural buildings to be used for new housing, holiday accomodation or new small scale industrial enterprises and for development of locally specific brands of agricultural products.

7.4 Tourism
The area has clear potential for landscape and cultural history tourism. Using historic buildings and farmhouses for accomodation, old paths for walking and cycling and old water ways for pleasure shipping is already practised and should be promoted further. The restoration and management of cultural features will encourage a wider interest via tourism in the area. One of the most striking features of Oostergo is the dike system which has the potential to be promoted as a significant tourist attraction especially for walkers and cyclists.

7.5 Cultural hertiage
The restoration and development of area specific features such as the former shrimp catching and processing in Wierum, brick producing in Oostrum and the old garden from Jongemastate in Rard provide the opportunity to exploit the areas cultural heritage.

8. Sources

Marrewijk, D & A.J. Haartsen, 2002, Waddenland Het landschap en cultureel erfgoed in de Waddenzeeregio, Ministerie van Landbouw, Natuurbeheer en Visserij / Noordboek, Leeuwarden
Provincie Fryslan, 2006, Streekplan. Leeuwarden