Zeeland’s history has been defined by its battle against the tide. It has also shaped the character of its people who are hardworking, uncomplaining and untiring. Coves, potholes or ‘kolks’ and ancient dikes, are reminders of how much of the province once belonged to the sea. You’ll also find the remains of lost villages and evidence on houses of how high the floodwaters once reached, but the waterways have also brought prosperity to the region, mainly in the form of maritime trade. This was an industry that led to flourishing economic and cultural times, particularly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and many of Zeeland’s towns and cities have well-preserved historical buildings dating from that ‘Golden Age’.
Traces of history
Zeeland has been inhabited since the Stone Age and Aardenburg is the province’s oldest city. The province’s advantageous location, fertile soil and good fishing waters, has made it a popular place to settle, but also a popular place to invade. Over the centuries, it has been occupied and ravaged by foreign invaders, like the Romans - you’ll find a reconstruction of a Roman temple to the goddess Nehalennia in Colijnsplaat - the Vikings - with the remains of circular ramparts that once defended the region against the Vikings in Burgh-Haamstede - and the Spanish – with defence systems that were built during the Dutch War of Independence throughout Zeeuws-Vlaanderen in the 16th and 17th centuries (www.staatspaanselinies.nl). The province is also dotted with bunkers from the Second World War.
Strolling through historic cities like Zierikzee, Middelburg and Veere brings history to life. The buildings of the Dutch Golden Age take you back in time to the prosperous 17th century, when thanks to the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie – VOC) maritime trade was flourishing. All that wealth soon spilled over into the countryside where stately country houses were built on grand estates, particularly in the Manteling area on Walcheren.