Kuiperspoort Middelburg

History of Zeeland

Millennia passed before the people of Zeeland could stake a claim to their land in the sea. Our past goes back, visibly, to our landscape, and to historical towns like Middelburg and Zierikzee, once among the most important of the Netherlands. What the water gave, the water took back again. Land so achingly reclaimed was removed by raging floods.


The rivers did it

Zeeland saw the light of day when the rivers De Schelde and the Maas shaped the delta sand flats into islands. The first settlers arrived some 15,000 years ago. Agriculture slowly took hold and, at the start of the Christian era, Zeeland became a trading centre, driven by the arrival of the Romans. The Nehalennia stones, depicting a goddess of safe sea travel, date from then.

Middelburg abbey


In the wake of the Viking occupation around 850 AD, defensive fortresses were built extensively. Some remains still stand, as in Oostburg and Oost-Souburg. Then came the monks of Flemish abbeys, whose polders enlarged the islands considerably. 


Water wars

Since the Middle Ages the people of Zeeland have fought, sometimes in vain, to protect the land from the sea. Submerged areas such as those known as ‘Verdronken Land’ in Zuid-Beveland and Saeftinghe to this day bear silent witness to this.


Prime time

The 16th and 17th centuries saw Zeeland reach one of its peaks. The cities of Middelburg, Vlissingen, Veere and Zierikzee were all important ports in the Low Countries. At that time, Middelburg was the largest port of the then area of rule known as ‘Noordelijke Nederlanden’.

Schelde battle

Strategic position

Given its position on trading and migratory routes, Zeeland has always been of strategic importance. In de Second World War, many towns and villages endured much suffering from bombing and surface combat. As the War entered its closing phases, there was a fierce battle – the ‘Slag om de Schelde’ – over passage through the Westerschelde. It was a key to the liberation of the Netherlands, and one in which many military forces and Zeeland civilians lost their lives. 


North Sea flood disaster

In 1953 there was a great loss of life, snatched away by the sea. In the night of 31 January to 1 February, the water battered its way through the dikes of Zeeland. In that one calamitous night and the next day, 873 people of Zeeland were to perish. It was to prevent such tragedies in future that the Delta Works were erected. Their completion came in 1987 when the Oosterschelde barrier was opened.. 

City tour Veere

You, historian

Discover the history of Zeeland yourself. Explore some of the themed bike- and walking routes we have prepared for you. Alternatively, go around with a VVV guide at your side. Visit, for example, the Middelburg Abbey, and towns rich in historical monuments such as Zierikzee and Veere. Or let the guide help you climb the basilica in Hulst or clamber over its ramparts, and relive the history before you. 

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