On 26 January 2022, a new National Maritime Museum exhibition opened, entitled North Sea Canal, marking the launch of the new sea lock at IJmuiden, the biggest of its kind in the world.
Featured in the show are various historic items relating to the construction and festive opening of the first sea lock on 1 November 1876, when King Willem III officially opened the North Sea Canal.
sea lock then and now
When the new sea lock comes into commission in 2022, large seagoing vessels will be able to reach Amsterdam’s harbour. The National Maritime Museum exhibition places the sea lock’s development into its historical context. For centuries, accessibility has been a serious concern for Amsterdam’s harbour.
The story of IJmuiden’s sea lock begins in the nineteenth century. By the 1850s, the ever-larger cargo ships were struggling to reach Amsterdam’s harbour. It had proved impossible to dredge the IJ and Zuider Zee (today’s IJsselmeer) shipping channels sufficiently for big seagoing vessels. North Holland Canal, which ran inland from Amsterdam to Den Helder, was also too narrow and shallow. For merchant shipping, poor accessibility was making Amsterdam a far less attractive maritime harbour. It was a problem that affected the economic prosperity of the country as a whole.
The solution lay in the construction of a shorter, direct route to the sea. To enable this, a canal was planned linking the IJ to the dunes at Velsen where a huge sea lock would be built, today’s IJmuiden. It was not a new idea. A similar route had been suggested in the seventeenth century, when large ships were unable to pass the shallows around Pampus in the IJ.
In 1863, a company was set up to realise the plan: Amsterdamsche Kanaal Maatschappij. For the Netherlands in the nineteenth century, the canal and the sea lock were major national projects. Several photographers and artists were commissioned to record the work.
Displays in the North Sea Canal exhibition feature objects from the original construction period, including unique photographs, drawings and the charter signed by King Willem III at the festive opening on 1 November 1876.
The show runs from 26 January 2022 (note that times and access may be affected by changes to the official corona rules).
Want to find out about the connection between Amsterdam and its harbour over the centuries? Visit our new Amsterdam Port & City exhibition at the National Maritime Museum.