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The Heritage as a Resource


A tale of "eleven cities"

The "Elfstedentocht" is to Friesland what the
"Tour de France" is to France: a sports event and
festival in one that attracts hundreds of thousands of
spectators and participants... when it takes place.


This is because the Tour of the Eleven Frisian Towns is a skating competition on frozen canals, which implies a harsh winter, a rather rare phenomenon these past several years: the fifteenth edition of the race was held on 4 January 1997 whereas the event exists since 1909.

An age-old way of living is turned into a sports competition and a fun event: in the past, frozen canals and waterways were an easy means of communication between the Frisian communities in winter. Today, the "Tocht" is a 200 km skating event, a pretext for numerous celebrations in the 11 "cities" crossed.
These are in fact the Frisian towns which have an urban charter. Except for two of them – Sneek and Leeuwarden, capital of the province – none have more than 20 000 inhabitants and several are rather small villages. The entire course of the Tocht covers the northwest of the province, corresponding more or less to the LEADER area.

In addition to the nature of the activity itself which brings together top-level athletes (300 competitors in 1997), casual skaters (16 000 registered), spectators and lovers of socio-cultural events of all kinds, the originality of the Tocht lies in its organisation: it is necessarily largely improvised, since it is usually impossible to know until the last minute if the event can be held, weather permitting.

In this case, a complex mechanism has to be set up very quickly (in less than 48 hours for the Tocht 97) to provide facilities and activities for the hundreds of thousands of visitors who, informed through the media, will descend upon Friesland in the hours that follow. That is why intense and spontaneous mobilisation of the local people is important. The participation of the inhabitants is such that the miracle occurs each time: not only has there never been any serious incident reported, but the event invariably turns into a massive friendly people's festival.

Its success and the associated publicity have made the Tour of the Eleven Towns a genuine "engine" for tourism in northwest Friesland: the waterways of the circuit which are the haunt of small pleasure craft have footpaths and cycling ways running parallel along the banks. Each summer a whole range of imitations are organised that pale in comparison with the real event: there is the "Elfstedentochten" for roller skaters but also for carrier pigeons or even for Fiat 500s!

"Friesland, region of Eleven Towns" has become an important tourist slogan, and the impact of the event is very positive for the entire LEADER area: after each Tour there is a substantial increase in the number of tourists, who more and more are inclined to visit villages and sites relatively distant from the event.


LEADER Noordwest Friesland

Surface Area: 518 km2
Population: 76 880 inhabitants
LEADER II financing: ECU 14 089 900
ECU 2 612 489
    Other public funds:
ECU 5 843 772
ECU 5 633 640

LEADER II Friesland
Provinsje Fryslân
Postbus 20120, NL-8900 HM Leeuwarden
Phone: +31 58 292 52 89 – Fax: +31 58 292 56 32


source: LEADER Magazine No.17 - Spring, 1998

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