1287: St. Lucia’s Flood Transformed the Netherlands

On this date in 1287, one of the largest floods and greatest natural disasters on record permanently altered the landscape of the Netherlands and changed the course of history.

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Maps showing the growth of the Zuiderzee in the Netherlands before and after the St. Lucia’s Flood, December 14, 1287.

Public domain.

On December 14, 1287 (the day after the commemoration of St. Lucia’s Day) a mammoth low pressure system that coincided with high tide caused the North Sea to rise up over the protective sea walls and dikes, overflowing a large portion of the Netherlands. The catastrophic inundation, which wiped out entire villages and is estimated to have killed between 50,000 and 80,000 people, quickly eroded the low-lying terrain and transformed what had been a region of fertile peatland in the midst of a complex network of estuaries and freshwater lakes into a permanent inlet of the sea – the Zuiderzee, as the Dutch thereafter called it. But, in fulfillment of the saying that “it is an ill wind that blows nobody good,” one long-standing consequence was that the previously landlocked village of Amsterdam now found itself enviously situated upon the leeward side of a fine harbor, and arose almost overnight from insignificance to become one of the leading ports and trading centers of Europe – indeed, of the world.

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