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4 January 2019

New Dutch Water Line: soon to be World Heritage?

In a move to match the Kinderdijk windmill complex, the New Dutch Water line has been nominated for the UNESCO World Heritage List. As a result, we may well be facing some new ‘competition’ by mid-2020…

The Kinderdijk-Elshout windmill complex has been officially listed as UNESCO World Heritage since 1997. This coveted status still fills us with a deep sense of pride and reverence today. Currently, the Netherlands is home to ten in total, but if the New Dutch Water Line has its way, that count will soon go up to eleven! By now, a total of more than sixty different organisations have voiced their support for the nomination. Dutch Minister Van Engelshoven of Education, Culture, and Science will submit the nomination this month. An official decision is not expected before 2020.

A natural ally

The New Dutch Water Line is actually a defensive formation covering a total length of 85 kilometres. The line runs all the way from the town of Muiden to the Biesbosch wetlands in the south, measuring three to five kilometres across along its entire length. The line of defence comprises 45 fortifications, six bastions, two castles, 85 machine gun emplacements, plus over 700 concrete shelters and casemates, dotted by a strategic network of more than 100 military sluices and waterworks. This huge system of military assets makes the New Dutch Water Line the largest national monument of the country.

Education at Fort Maarsseveen.

Education at Fort Maarsseveen.

Between 1815 and 1940, the New Dutch Water Line kept the western part of the Netherlands safely out of reach of any potential enemies. The water was our ally. When there was a threat of war, the military was capable of flooding large swathes of land. Putting these strips of land knee-deep under water came with two strategic advantages. Not only did the terrain become inaccessible for soldiers, vehicles, and horses; the water would also be so shallow that using boats would be useless too.

The line stretches all the way from Muiden to the Biesbosch wetlands

Roughly half of this defensive formation, situated between the River Lek and the Biesbosch area, is in the region governed by the Rivierenland District Water Board, just like Kinderdijk. Some of its sluices and dikes are still in use today. Our shared regional roots mean that soon, the New Ditch Water Line could become the second piece of ‘World Water Heritage’ within the domain of the Rivierenland Water Board. To be continued…

(Sources: Nieuwe Hollandse Waterlinie, Waterschap Rivierenland and UNESCO.)

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