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Sunken surprises in Dutch Flevoland

From Dan Hayes, CNN Traveller
  • Flevoland in the Netherlands was reclaimed from the sea in the 1950s and 1960s
  • It is the site of at least 400 shipwrecks
  • The area continues to retain close links with the sea

For more about Flevoland, read the full feature in the January-February edition of CNN Traveller magazine.

(CNN) -- Reclaimed surprises await travelers to the Dutch province of Flevoland, most of which sits below sea level.

Situated just northeast of Amsterdam, the region was drained in the 1950s and 1960s, and today still retains close links with the sea and a maritime history.

Flevoland is the site of at least 400 shipwrecks, most of which now lie beneath farmers' fields. Roman, medieval and 17th-century wrecks have all been discovered in the area since it was reclaimed.

A naval gun outside Fort Pampus -- a late 19th-century defense work built on a tiny island to guard the approaches to Amsterdam -- was one of many items salvaged from the sea.

"Every ship that's discovered sheds new light on its era," says Aryan Klein, project manager at the Bataviawerf nautical museum in Lelystad.

Every ship that's discovered sheds new light on its era.
--Aryan Klein
  • Netherlands
  • Europe
  • Amsterdam
  • Sailing
  • Travel and Tourism

"In the 17th century, for example, there were at least 100 different types of ship in the Netherlands," says Klein.

"At the time it was much easier to travel on water than on land. There was already a network of canals and lakes so it was possible to go pretty much anywhere by boat."

It may have been convenient, but the inland sea of Ijsselmeer was also treacherous. "It may be inland, but it can be very deceptive," adds Klein.

"It's quite shallow, so if storms come up they can quickly stir up the water and take you by surprise. Even today, ships still get into trouble and crews have to be rescued."

One 17th-century vessel discovered near Lelystad was a coaster carrying produce to market. On board were copper cooking pots and a box of unused axes, as well as some of the crew's personal items -- including a well-preserved pair of shoes.

"Only a few of the wrecks have been excavated, usually because they have had to be because of development," says Klein. "Most are left in situ and monitored to make sure they don't deteriorate."

Pride of place at Lelystad, however, goes to the Batavia, a recreation of a 17th-century sailing vessel of the Dutch East India Company that took 10 years to build.

Says Klein: "We also run a training program that trains young people in specific woodworking and shipbuilding skills. What we're doing here is unique."

Much of the Bataviawerf's focus is on its second 17th-century reconstruction, the 1,600-ton Seven Provinces, which is slowly taking shape in the shipyard. It's an impressive and ambitious project and will take another 10 years to complete.