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Researching Alkmaar municipal official unearths more Frisian cities

Hanza League archives interesting source

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

BERLIKUM, The Netherlands – Controversy has arisen over news that the Frisian town of Berlikum had city rights 650 years ago. The northern Dutch province of Friesland may have to rethink the number of cities it had or has. Alkmaar municipal official Joost Cox who researched the background of all the 221 Dutch towns with city rights, raised even more eyebrows with his findings that the province in the 14th century had thirteen such places.

Community leaders in Berlikum quickly acknowledged that they had heard talk of the town’s distant past when the place supposedly had been a prosperous trading post. It then was situated on the banks of an estuary – called the Middle Sea or in Dutch: Middelzee - which cut deep into the Frisian inland. Over five centuries ago, in a significant hydraulic engineering feat the sea arm was closed off and the land cultivated. With it, Berlikum lost its seafaring and trading advantages.

Local historian Floris Visser (80) who wrote several books on aspects of Berlikum’s history, cautions that Cox’ findings require closer scrutiny. Visser agrees that there were limited city rights, giving it the right to levy tolls and settle disputes but not to build a city wall and dig a protective moat.

Cox however researched Hanza League archives in Lubeck, Germany, which identify the Middle sea town already in 1355. Archeological discoveries suggest that Berlikum already existed in Roman times and served as a significant centre in that era.

Unsolved is the question where Berlikum seal has gone. Visser suspects that Berlikum folks may have sold their rights to nearby Franeker since it no longer did them much good.

Meanwhile, Berlikum community leaders think that organizers of any Eleven Cities’ event should include a stop in Berlikum to honour its illustrious past.

It is a different story for Friesland’s thirteenth city. Appingedam was part of the farflung coastal territory that Romans geographers called Frisia. By 1498 when Friesland was annexed by Emperor Charles the Fifth, Appingedam long had been part of Groningen, once an independent part of the Low Countries.