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Marken & the Marker wadden

Marken and the Marker wadden are not only known for the many tourist sailing trips that are made with traditional flat-bottomed boats. It is, in fact, part of a major plan which received its approval at the beginning of 1900 and which gave the Netherlands a considerable amount of additional space.

During the construction of the afsluitdijk and the creation of the IJssel- and Markermeer, the creator of all this, Mr Lely, had many more plans for this area. Not all of his great ‘Zuiderzee works’, such as the Markerwaard, were ever there.

This not only had major consequences for the fishing villages aroundthe IJsselmeer, but also for the flora and fauna on and in the water. But what does this area look like these days, and what are the Markerwadden?

The island of Marken

Marken [Markens: Mereke] is an island in the Markermeer, since the middle of the last century actually a peninsula, connected to the mainland by a dike.

The former fishing island is famous for its striking traditional folklore, the lighthouse and the characteristic wooden houses on stilts. Even older are the so-called wharfs.

The history of Marken

Once Marken was part of Waterland. During the Saint Julian’s Flood of 1164, large pieces of peat were driven away from the coast of Waterland. Marken became detached from the mainland.

In the 13th century the island was diked by monks; ‘the peat hump’ was saved from the sea. However, the dikes turned out not to be high enough and often not strong enough. The islanders therefore built their houses close together on mounds.

The wharfs of Marken

All those mounds together formed a wharf, or a kind of district or neighbourhood. In the 14th century there were regular dike breaches, giving free rein to the brackish water. The inhabitants of Marken tried to protect themselves better against it by throwing up more mounds. Originally Marken consisted of the neighbourhoods Monnikenwerf and Kloosterwerf. The latter was swallowed up by the water.

Authentic cottages on Marken

At the height of the mounds, there were 27 wharfs on the island. Over the centuries, twelve of them have been swallowed by water. In 2020, of the 15 remaining yards, 12 are inhabited and one is a cemetery.

Het Paard van marken [The Horse of Marken]

This lighthouse, Het paard van Marken or Marken’s horse, is one of the most photographed lighthouses in the Netherlands.

This is not surprising, because the lighthouse is located in beautiful surroundings on the eastern tip of Marken. Het Paard van Marken is situated on a sandy beach on the edge of the Markermeer. From here you can look endlessly out over the calm water with here and there an authentic sailing ship passing by. This place has much more to offer than just an amazing view. Het paard van Marken also has a rich history.

The history of the Marken lighthouse

The history of the paard van Marken goes back to the year 1700. In that year, the College of Pilotage commissioned the construction of three lighthouses along the Zuiderzee: the Paard van Marken, De Ven lighthouse and the Durgerdam lighthouse. These lighthouses were intended to lead skippers safely fromthe Wadden Seato Amsterdam.

All three lighthouses were built in the same square style that you can still see today at lighthouse De Ven. In those days, coal fires or oil lamps in lanterns were still used in lighthouses to show skippers the way. The Marken lighthouse then looked very different from today’s Paard of Marken. The tower was square and there were no guards’ houses to be seen.

Why the Marken lighthouse is called ‘the horse of Marken’

In 1839 the lighthouse was replaced by a design by J. Valk. The square tower was then exchanged for a round iron tower within a record time of five months. Later, a house and a brick warehouse were built near the lighthouse. It was only then that the lighthouse’s characteristic shape emerged, resembling a horse from afar. This is how the name ‘the Horse of Marken’ was born.

The famous Paard van Marken

The accompanying house was threatened several times and sometimes even destroyed by creeping ice. On large expanses of water such as the Markermeer, the wind blows under enormous fields of ice which are then set in motion. The ice cubes that are formed in this process accumulate around the Paard van Marken.

In 1971, the lighthouse was even pushed a few centimetres from its place by rising ice. If it freezes long and hard in the winter, you should always be careful at the lighthouse.

Living in a lighthouse

When the Zuiderzee was closed off, the Paard van Marken was given a new function. Since then, the tower has no longer been intended for major maritime shipping, but for inland and recreational navigation. In 1985 the lighthouse was equipped with electric light, making the lighthouse keeper no longer necessary.

The accompanying house is now used as a residence by lovers of the lighthouse. A beautiful environment to live in, but for the rest living in a place like this is quite difficult. The lighthouse and the house are not connected to the normal gas, water and light network.

The electricity of the lighthouse and of the house is generated by a generator, water and diesel are supplied by ship and hot water is obtained by heating water with a gas geyser. You have to give something to live in such a place.

The Marker wadden: one of the largest nature projects in Western Europe

The Marker Wadden are natural islands in the Markermeer. They are about four kilometres from the Houtribdijk (also known as ‘Markerwaarddijk’), which connects Enkhuizen and Lelystad. The islands will be constructed using sand, clay and silt from the Markermeer. The islands will be constructed using sand, clay and silt from the Markermeer. When the Markermeer was closed off from the IJsselmeer by the Houtribdijk, silt accumulated.

This sludge, in combination with the turbulence of the water, made the water in the Markermeer cloudy and choked the soil life. As a result, the ecological quality of this nature reserve deteriorated. Fish, aquatic plants and shellfish were struggling to survive, threatening migratory birds with a lack of food.

Initially, we are talking about five islands. The largest island has a harbour and a number of nature-friendly buildings, which together form the only settlement on the Marker Wadden. The aim is to create a nature and recreation area with a final surface area of 10,000 hectares (one seventh of the Markermeer), of which 4500 hectares will be above water landscape and 5500 hectares under water.

This makes it one of the largest nature projects in Western Europe. The project, in which Natuurmonumenten and the Department of Public Works are working together, should ensure ecological recovery by drastically improving soil and water quality.

Geologically speaking, the Marker Wadden is not a wadden region; the word ‘wadden’ is related to the Latin word vadum, meaning ‘fordable place’. The name has been transferred here because of the land formation, the archipelago character and the ecological value of this island area.

The first created island, 250 hectares in size, was officially opened on 24 September 2016 by State Secretary Martijn van Dam. Since 2018 the project is open to the public. By the end of 2020, all five islands should be developed. The area is part of National Park Nieuw Land.

The wooden viewing houses of Marken

Tourists have been coming to Marken for over a hundred years. This is mainly thanks to Sijtje Boes. She was the first to open her house in the harbour of Marken to visitors. Soon, at the beginning of the 20th century, more of these so-called viewing houses were set up near the harbour. They show the authentic Marker interior of yesteryear.

The Marker Museum

The Marker islanders mainly lived from the water. At the time of the VOC, they traded in the Baltic Sea and the distant East Indies. From Edam they went whaling. Later they manned the herring tubes that fished in the North Sea. In 1890, the Marker fleet was the largest on the Zuiderzee with three hundred bottlers.

After the construction of the Afsluitdijk, fishing was over. Herring and anchovies do not like fresh water. Inthe Marker Museum, located in four former fishermen’s cottages, you will learn all about it.

How to visit Marken

Since Marken is a peninsula you can reach the island by road and dike by car.

Also from Volendam there is a ferry several times a day, the Markenexpress to the island.

It is great fun to sail along the horse of Marken with an authentic flat-bottomed horse. You can, for example, book a day or multi-day trip from Enkhuizen harbour. For more information, please visit our homepage.

This post is also available in: Dutch German