The Zuyder Zee – France And The Netherlands

This great basin of the North Sea, which bathes five provinces and has an extent of more than seven hundred square kilometers, six hundred years ago was not in existence. North Holland touched Friesland, and where the gulf now extends there was a vast region sprinkled with fresh-water lakes, the largest of which, the Flevo, mentioned by Tacitus, was separated from the sea by a fertile and populous isthmus. Whether the sea by its own force broke through the natural dikes of the region, or whether the sinking of the land left it free to invasion, is not certainly known. The great transformation was completed during the course of the thirteenth century.

About the formation of this gulf there has collected a varied and confused history of cities destroyed and people drowned, to which has been added in later times another history; of new cities rising on new shores, becoming powerful and famous, and being in their turn reduced to poor and mean villages, with streets overgrown with grass, and sand-choked ports. Records of great calamities, wonderful traditions, fantastic horrors, strange usages and customs, are found upon the waters and about the shores of this peculiar sea, born but yesterday, and al-ready encircled with ruins and condemned to disappear; and a month’s voyage would not suffice to gather up the chief of them; but the thought alone of beholding from a distance those decrepit cities, those mysterious islands, those fatal sand-banks, excited my imagination. . .

Marken is as famous among the islands of the Zuyder Zee as Broek is among the villages of Holland; but with all its fame, and altho distant but one hour by boat from the coast, few are the strangers, and still fewer the natives who visit it. So said the captain as he pointed out the lighthouse of the little island, and added that in his opinion the reason was, that when a stranger arrived at Marken, even if he were a Dutchman, he was followed by a crowd of boys, watched, and commented upon as if he were a man fallen from the moon. This unusual curiosity is explained by a description of the island. It is a bit of land about three thou-sand meters in length and one thousand in width, which was detached from the continent in the thirteenth century, and remains to this day, in the manners, and customs of its inhabitants, exactly as it was six centuries ago.

The surface of the island is but little higher than the sea, and it is surrounded by a small dike which does not suffice to protect it from inundation. The houses are built upon eight small artificial elevations, and form as many boroughs, one of which—the one which has the church—is the capital, and another the cemetery. When the sea rises above the dike, the spaces between the little hills are changed into canals, and the inhabitants go about in boats. The houses are built of wood, some painted, some only pitched; one only is of stone, that of the pastor, who also has a small garden shaded by four large trees, the only ones on the island. Next to this house are the church, the school, and the municipal offices. The population is about one thousand in number, and lives by fishing. With the exceptions of the doctor, the pastor, and the school-master, all are native to the island; no islander marries on the continent; no one from the mainland comes to live on the island.

They all profess the reformed religion, and all know how to read and write. In the schools more than two hundred boys and girls are taught history, geography, and arithmetic. The fashion of dress, which has not been changed for centuries, is the same for all, and extremely curious. The men look like soldiers. They wear a dark gray cloth jacket ornamented with two rows of buttons which are in general medals, or ancient coins, handed down from father to son. This jacket is tucked into the waistband of a pair of breeches of the same color, very wide about the hips and tight around the leg, fastening below the knee; a felt hat or a fur cap, according to the season; a red cravat, black stockings, white wooden shoes, or a sort of slipper, complete the costume.

That of the women is still more peculiar. They wear on their heads an enormous white cap in the form of a miter, all ornamented with lace and needlework, and tied under the chin like a helmet. From under the cap, which completely covers the ears, fall two long braided tresses, which hang over the bosom, and a sort of visor of hair comes down upon the forehead, cut square just above the eyebrows. The dress is composed of a waist without sleeves, and a petticoat of two colors. The waist is deep red, embroidered in colors and costing years of labor to make, for which reason it descends from mother to daughter, from generation to generation. The upper part of the petticoat is gray or blue striped with black, and the lower part dark brown. The arms are covered almost to the elbow with sleeves of a white chemise, striped with red. The children are drest in almost the same way, the there is some slight difference between girls and women, and on holidays the costume is more richly ornamented.