Historical map of the Waterline. By Frans van Schotem, professor of fortifications in Leiden, Sept. 1628
WEST BRABANTSE WATERLINE
From defensive line to leisure landscape
The West-Brabantse Waterline is the oldest water defense line of the Netherlands and is the birthplace of inundation techniques in the world. This defense line was filled with salt as well as fresh water from sea and stream. Unlike the later built New Dutch Waterline, the West-Brabant Waterline has been of service several times for the defense of Holland and Zeeland against the Spanish, French and Belgians. As a result, this area has been inundated six times for a total of fifty years.
How did inundating work?
The peat canal of Steenbergen was in open connection with the North Sea through the Steenbergsche Vliet and the Striene (now called the Volkerak). Agricultural land could be flooded through a sluice at the Sint Pieters redoubt. Near the Elders redoubt, salt water was let into the former peat extraction area ‘t Laag. The salt water could not be brought in further to the south due to the height of the land. A solution was found by digging a canal between the peat canal the Zoom and the defensive line between the fortresses de Roovere and Pinssen. The inlet of this channel was located east of the former fortress Moermont and was marked by a tower. With this fresh water from the Zoom the final part of the West-Brabantse Waterline could be inundated.
Because the inundated area was situated in the lowest part of the landscape between Steenbergen and Bergen op Zoom, it is still largely visible. In addition to these scars in the landscape, there has been worked extensively on the reconstruction of the man-made parts of the defense line. Fortress de Roovere and the Lingewal have been reconstructed and the contours of fortress Henricus are already visible. It is the intention that after these renovations, the structures ‘t Ravelijn and the Waterschans will be restored. Within the framework of the investment program ‘Landschap van Allure’, the visibility of the peat canal de Zoom will be enhanced in the city as well as in the countryside.
The current projects mainly focus on the restoration of the man-made elements of the water defense line. This is a good base for making the history more experienceable. It is, however, not enough to create a destination for bigger audiences. What is missing is a consistent and coherent element between the man-made structures and the landscape which would envision the story of the West-Brabantse Waterline as a whole.
Routing and accessibility play an important role in making the Waterline experienceable. A "West-Brabantse-Waterline Route' which leads pedestrians and cyclist along the Waterline can strongly contribute to the recognition of the defensive line as a whole. By designing this route with the same architectural vocabulary, the different locations are threaded together which will create a leisure landscape that reaches from the Binnenschelde to the Volkerakmeer. By using biobased materials, the unique economic development of the region will become more visible (and touchable) and past and future innovations will be linked together. The proposed route will actually consist out of two paths that cross each other at the interesting sites of the Waterline. This allows the visitors to divide the entire route in separate trips. Fortress de Roovere and the sluice Benedensas act as gateways where cars can be parked and where restaurants or cafes are present. By reconstructing the two redoubts and an outpost in between fortress de Roovere and the harbor of Steenbergen, additional resting points are created. To make the route more interesting land art objects are designed that are created of materials from the environment (in a sense this is also biobased) and which, like the earthen fortresses, push the boundaries between object and landscape.
Another use for this leisure landscape is a canoe route (and an ice skating track) which runs from Bergen op Zoom to the sluice at the Benedensas. For these additions however, there are still some spatial barriers to overcome. Near the fortress de Roovere an extra destination is added, an inundation park. This is a naturally designed play landscape that will illustrate the functioning of the Waterline. In this landscape abstract fortresses and ditches are situated where children (and adults) can play and defend themselves. The lower parts of this inundation landscape will be able to be flooded through small sluices and pumps which children themselves can operate.
Nothing could be more beautiful and insightful than being able to temporary flood parts of the historic inundation landscape. It would be even more beautiful if this landscape could be connected with the urban water challenges that climate adaptation entails. The rainwater that falls in Steenbergen, Bergen op Zoom and Halsteren is currently discharged together with the cities wastewater altogether and treated in the wastewater treatment plants. The climate change brings with it an increased intensity of rainfall, and could result into and increased capacity needed for the mixed sewage system. However, it is also possible to separate the clean rainwater from the cities wastewater system by leading this rainwater through the public space of the cities into the old peat canals (the Linge/Bergsche Water and the Zoom) and then into the former inundation areas. To achieve this the inundation canal inbetween the Zoom and the Lingewal needs to be restored. The inlet of this canal was once marked by a sluice and tower near fortress Moermont. This gives us a reason to add a new landmark for the city on this crossroad between two green veins. The amount of rainfall in the region will affect the water level in the inundation areas which will result in a changing landscape. Some parts of this land will be flooded more often than others which will result into a diverse and rich variety of plant species. This will make a visit to the West-Brabantse Waterline a different experience every time.
The landscape along the West-Brabantse Waterline is incredibly varied and a bike ride will not get bored quickly. Based on the spatial and landscape characteristics a number of areas can be distinguished. The restoration of the historic man-made structures in this region is a good reason to also strengthen the spatial characteristics. This restoration can also be linked to other spatial tasks. So can the expansion of the city Steenbergen be based on the underlying historical structure of the agricultural land ‘De Verdronken Aanwas’. Another example is the realization of the inundation canal in between the Zoom and the Melanen. This can be a good start to restructure the industrial area around the Pergolesilaan.
Along the route of the West-Brabantse Waterline there are already some amenities that, together, could grow into a leisure landscape of stature. The quality of these facilities will help to determine the attraction value of the Waterline as a whole. In this region, there are already five so-called Waterpoorten, designated recreational hotspots. These are, the Benedensas, Steenbergen marina, fortress de Roovere and fortress the Waterschans. These will be in fact, nodes in the recreational network with facilities such as cafes, restaurants and parking. For most visitors, these recreational hotspots will be the starting point for their exploration of (a part of) the Waterline. It is important that these Waterpoorten will be complementary to each other in both facilities as well as character. This will transform the entire West-Brabantse Waterline into an attractive leisure landscape.