The people of Zeeland are inextricably bound to the sea. You see this from all angles, in the landscape, and in the very character of a diligent, hard-working folk worthy of the motto on their coat of arms (1948): 'Luctor et Emergo', “I struggle and I overcome”. The sea was central too in earlier times, such as the Golden Age. Monumental buildings of yore, as in Middelburg, today evoke that prosperity, just as drowned villages lie in silent remembrance of sadder days. What the sea gives, the sea takes back.
With a coast some 650 km long, you’re never far from the open water in Zeeland – within fifteen minutes. Today that coast holds tremendous appeal for tourist and local alike, but that wasn’t always the case. It is only in the 19th century that tourism got underway, though before then the sea was an income generator too. In those days, the revenue streams flowed from fishing and trading ships which plied their routes to East and West.
Within every Zeelander, there lurks a profound fear of the sea. It has inundated our land so often: since the 9th century, the sea has scoured our soil and our souls 12 times. The most notorious was the most recent, the North Sea flooding disaster of 1953. That took the lives of 1,836 people in the Netherlands, of whom 873 in Zeeland. The mighty Delta Works which arose from that tragedy must forever guard our hinterland against such a calamity.
Our place as Land-on-Sea has always been important, both strategically and economically. Because of its location on the Western Schelde estuary, the town of Vlissingen was captured several times – by Spanish, French and English conquerors. And our naval hero Michiel de Ruyter hailed from Vlissingen.
Economically speaking, Zeeland has known wealth, thanks to the sea. History books recount its role during the Roman Empire, when Domburg was a key trading hub. In the Golden Age, Middelburg, Veere, Vlissingen and Zierikzee were important trading centres and until the end of the 17th century, Middelburg was the Republic’s leading port, second only to Amsterdam.
Today, Zeeland maintains its economic significance, thanks to its location between Rotterdam and Antwerpen. Together, the joint ports of Terneuzen and Vlissingen are the third-leading Dutch harbour.