The turbulent history of Zierikzee is reflected in the 568 registered national monuments that this city has and the medieval street pattern of the center. The narrow streets are still as winding as five hundred years ago. The large merchant houses along the Havenpark and the Oude Haven (harbors) indicate that there was once a Golden Age.
Striking buildings are the Sint Lievensmonstert tower (popularly called the Dikke Toren), the Nieuwe Kerk, the Gasthuiskerk with the Beuze and the Lutheran church, the three city gates, the former town hall (now museum), the Burgerweeshuis (orphanage) and the Gravensteen. You can’t really miss these buildings if you walk through the streets. In addition, you also see large, attractive merchant houses next to small, old houses.
Zierikzee was once very strategically located on the Gouwe, an important shipping route between Flanders and Holland. That location also caused a lot of struggle for the city. In 1248, Zierikzee was granted city rights and the surrounding area. The heyday began in the 14th century with growing international trade contacts. Ships from Zierikzee sailed to both the Mediterranean Sea and the Baltic Sea. The city had a monopoly position for the cloth industry, grain and madder (red dye), was renowned for its salt and for the technical knowledge of its shipbuilders. At the end of this century, Zierikzee had around 5,500 inhabitants; only Haarlem and Dordrecht were larger. The church, destroyed by fire in 1832, was the largest in Zeeland. The decline started at the end of the 15th century through a multitude of events. Trade flows shifted, a downed revolt against tax increases, major city fires, the silting of the Gouwe and sieges of Spaniards, Zierikzee was not happy.
Between 1597 and 1599 the city council had the Havenkanaal (canal) dig to maintain access to the sea. It worked, but was postponing execution. In the French period (1795-1813) Zierikzee lost its connection with modern life, the industrial revolution largely ignored this town. The fact that Zierikzee still has so many monuments, including (unique to the Netherlands) three city gates, is the result of this development. The city did not need new buildings, building materials or wide streets for the growing traffic. And so there was little or no demolition. It was not until the second half of the twentieth century that structural new construction took place, partly on the grounds of city farms and former monasteries, partly outside the canal (first Malta, later also the Poortambacht and Noorderpolder districts).
Whereas the historic buildings in the city center are still standing proudly after centuries of use, the new construction from the 1950s is already undergoing a major renovation. Extensive information about Zierikzee then and now can be found at Zierikzee Monument City. The Schouwen-Duiveland Tourist Office sells city walks. In the summer season you can also discover the facts of the city under the guidance of a guide.