Urk is first mentioned in historical records dating to the 10th century, when it was still an island in the Almere, a lake that would become part of the Zuider Zee in the 13th century after a series of incursions by the North Sea. In 1939, a dike from the mainland to Urk ended the town's island status, just as the Afsluitdijk project was changing the salt water Zuider Zee surrounding Urk to the less saline IJsselmeer. Later in the 20th century, seabed areas surrounding Urk were reclaimed from the sea and became the Noordoostpolder.
The mainstay of the town's economy has always been fishing, and the products of the sea coming in through Urk's harbor continue to be exported widely, although today Urk's fishing boats must travel greater distances to gather them than was required in most historical periods. Religious life has also traditionally been very important to Urk's inhabitants, with active, conservative congregations of the Dutch Reformed denominations playing key roles in the life of the community.
Around the IJsselmeer is an arc of boulder clay high areas of land, which formed during the glaciations of the Pleistocene epoch: Texel, Wieringen, Urk, de Voorst, and Gaasterland. To south of that arc, as a result of meltwater, a lake formed, which became known as Almere. North of the boulder clay highland of Urk, the Vecht river flowed into the Almere, while the river IJssel with tributaries flowed in to the south of Urk. As the climate became warmer during the Middle Ages, the sea level rose. During the 1200s (and especially after a large storm in 1282) the Zuiderzee formed, and the water round Urk suddenly became tidal sea. Because there was no sea defence, in the course of time large pieces of the island were eroded away. The southwest side of Urk, which rose perpendicularly out of the sea, was called het Hoge Klif = "the High Cliff". Around 1700 the municipality of Amsterdam gave sea defences to Urk.
After WWII, Urk's town spread into the polder. Many Urkers who had to leave the town because of overcrowding before the polder reclamation was completed were able to return to Urk.
The Noordoostpolder in its early years had an alternative name "Urker Land," from which Urk's newspaper, Het Urkerland, gets its name.
The important economic pillar of the village is the fishery. After the IJsselmeer was formed, the Urkers fished on the North Sea. Due to rising prices of fish, at present Urk is a very prosperous village. In the past, many lives were lost in storms on the Zuiderzee and North Sea. There is a memorial to lost fisherman on Urk, popularly known as the "Urker vrouw": a statue of a woman looking out to sea, vainly awaiting the return of her husband and sons.
Urk has two aldermen, one from the Christian Union and one from CDA.
Recent linguistic classifications have assigned the Urk dialect to the "Urkers dialect family", of which it is the only member. .
The Urkish dialect has more vowel sounds than standard Dutch, and each vowel has short and long forms, potentially with different meanings. The pronunciation of vowels deviates from standard Dutch and is closer to English.
Because living conditions on Urk in historical times were very poor, young girls (typically about age 11 or 12) would frequently leave the island to become domestic servants, mostly in or around Amsterdam. They often served with Jewish families. After a few years, they would return to Urk to form families of their own. As a result of this practice, the Urkish dialect absorbed some loanwords from the Amsterdam dialect and also from Yiddish. For instance, the Yiddish "Shnur" for sister-in-law became the Urkish "Snoar" (identical meaning); the Hebrew "Kallah" ("כלה") for bride became the Urkish "Kalletjen" (girlfriend.)
When Napoleon occupied the Netherlands, many French words were incorporated into both standard Dutch and Urkish. Just as for standard Dutch, French words often changed form when incorporated into Urkish. The Urkish dialect has always been primarily a spoken language, and there are not many old texts written in the dialect. Only in recent years have people begun to write prose and poetry in the Urkish dialect. There are Urkers who have translated Bible books into Urkish, such as the book of Psalms.
Urkers often tell their children that there are two kinds of people-- vreemden (strangers) and Urkers (people from Urk). Strangers are usually born from a cabbage, or a stork brings them to their new parents, but Urkers come from a large stone which lies about 30 meters from the shores of their former island. Nowadays, the stone is usually called "Ommelebommelestien" (Ommel-Bommel Stone), but in former times it was called "Ommelmoerstien": moer means "mother" in the Urkish dialect.
In the tale, a stork comes all the way from Egypt to put babies in the stone. When the baby is about to be born, the baby's father is said to have to go to Schokland to pick up the key that gives access to the stone. So when an Urkish man is asked if he has been to Schokland, he is actually being asked if he has children.
In the older days, when both Urk and Schokland were still islands in the Zuiderzee, the father had to take the obstetrician in his boat and row from Urk to Schokland to get the key, and then from Schokland to the Ommelebommelestien to get the baby. Nowadays he would be able to go to Schokland by car, but according to the legend he still has to row. The door to the stone is somewhere below sea level, so it is difficult to find.
The mother was said to be kept in bed with a nail through her right foot. There she would celebrate that she had just become a mother.
The prolific Dutch writer Albert Cornelis Baantjer was born here, Baantjer is mainly known for his large series of detective novels revolving around police inspector De Cock and his side-kick, sergeant Vledder.
The now mostly forgotten writer Jef Last lived on Urk for several years from 1932 onwards. He wrote several articles about Urk for a Dutch Magazine called 'De Groene Amsterdammer'. While living here, he fell in love with a fisherman. This love inspired him to write Zuiderzee This novel deals with the love between two fishermen living on Urk and was one of the first, if not the first novel in Dutch literature to openly deal with homosexuality.
The Dutch writer, painter and resistance hero Willem Arondeus spend some time in Urk onward from 1920. While residing on Urk, during 1922, he wrote 'Afzijdige Strofen', a collection of twenty homo-erotic poems which were posthumously published in 2001.
Consultant Forecasts Massive Flooding of Towns Unless Sea Defence Scheme Is Carried out; COAST PROTECTION: Area between Tywyn and Aberdyfi Will Become a Salt Marsh Lagoon Inside 50 Years, Says Report
Nov 01, 2001; Byline: ROY HANCOCK A CONSULTANT has warned of a massive flooding disaster in two coastal towns unless a major sea defence scheme...