IJ (bay)

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The IJ (pronounced ) (sometimes shown on old maps as "Y" or "Ye") is a river, formerly a bay, in the Dutch province of North Holland. It is known for being Amsterdam's waterfront. The name derives from the generic Germanic term for "water" and is similar to other Aa/Ee names for bodies of water. In Dutch, the name consists of the digraph ij, which is considered a single letter, and therefore both letters are capitalized. (See also IJmuiden, IJsselmeer.)


In historic times, the IJ was a long and narrow brackish bay that connected to the Zuiderzee (itself a bay of the North Sea) and stretched from Amsterdam in the east to Velsen in the west. At its west end, only the natural dune ridge across the Dutch North Sea coast prevented the IJ, which grew ever larger through the centuries, from directly connecting to the North Sea and so making the North Holland peninsula nearly an island. By the seventeenth century, however, access to the IJ became difficult due to sand bars across its mouth, and ships becoming bigger, and it was nearly impossible for seafaring vessels to reach the city. At the same time, the bay gnawed away at the surrounding farmland, almost connecting with the Haarlemmermeer (Lake Haarlem) and seriously threatening the cities of Haarlem and Amsterdam.

Plans were put forth to reclaim both the Haarlemmermeer and the IJ and turn them into polders. The Haarlemmermeer was first, falling dry in 1852, and the largest part of the...
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