You’ll see them dotted all around the Utrecht countryside: ancient forts and concrete bunkers, casements and hideouts. Together they form a defence line that was designed to protect the Netherlands from hostile attack. In 2021, the spotlight will fall on this unique heritage.
The Defence Line of Amsterdam (Stelling van Amsterdam) and the New Dutch Water Line (Nieuwe Hollandse Waterlinie) are jointly known as the Dutch Water Lines. Together, they form two hundred kilometres of defence lines that run from Edam in Noord-Holland to the Biesbosch in Zuid-Holland. Much of the New Dutch Water Line is in the Province of Utrecht.
Work on the defences started in 1815. They were originally built to protect the west of the Netherlands from wartime attacks from the east. Water played an important role: large areas of countryside were flooded with around 50 cm of water to make them inaccessible to soldiers, horses and vehicles travelling on land, but too shallow for boats. The Line was completely or partially flooded on several occasions: in 1870 during the French-German war, at the start of World War I and at the start and end of World War II. The advent of fighter planes made the Line redundant as a defence strategy and it fell into decline in the 1950s.
But as times changed, people took renewed interest in the Defence Lines. Open green spaces with fields and meadows emerged around the Lines, because building was not permitted on areas that had been flooded. In future, it is hoped that this landscape will provide solutions to climate issues, such as drought and water storage. Many of the forts are on ‘islands’, where the public was banned for many years so that nature could take its course. The biodiversity is now flourishing. From March to October, you can go on a fort safari with a forest ranger to learn about the unique lichens, tiny insects, bats and breeding birds that live there. You can do this on foot, by bike or in a canoe/boat.
New lease of life
Most of the edifices are still intact and have been given a new lease of life. The Werk aan de Korte Uitweg, for example, is now a tea house with canoe moorings, Fort aan de Klop, Fort Jutphaas and Fort de Batterijen have cafés for a drink and a snack, beer is brewed in Fort Everdingen, and Fort bij Vechten has been renamed the Waterlinie Museum. This museum is the perfect starting point for getting to know more about the history and to see how the defence lines actually worked. You can even do a VR parachute jump over the Water Line.
Ode to the Dutch Water Lines
2021 revolves around an Ode to the Dutch landscape. The Dutch Water Lines are a big feature of this special year, with organised fort safaris, bike routes, walks, pop-up restaurants and art events. For more information, go to: odeaandehollandsewaterlinies.nl