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World Heritage Convention

Decision 44 COM 8B.25
Colonies of Benevolence (Belgium, Netherlands)

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Documents WHC/21/44.COM/8B and WHC/21/44.COM/INF.8B1,
  2. Inscribes the Colonies of Benevolence, Belgium and the Netherlands, on the World Heritage List as a cultural landscape on the basis of criteria (ii) and (iv);
  3. Adopts the following Statement of Outstanding Universal Value:

    Brief synthesis

    The Colonies of Benevolence were an Enlightenment experiment in social reform which demonstrated an innovative, highly influential model of pauper relief and of settler colonialism – the agricultural domestic colony. Beginning in 1818, the Society of Benevolence founded agricultural colonies in rural areas of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands (now the Netherlands and Belgium). The Colonies of Benevolence created a highly functional landscape out of isolated peat and heath wastelands through the domestic colonisation of paupers. In the process, colonists would become morally reformed ideal citizens, adding to the nation’s wealth and integrating marginal territories in emergent nation states.

    Over a seven-year period, almost 80 square kilometres of wastelands, domestic territory considered unfit for settlement, were reclaimed in Colonies. The colonies featured orthogonal roads, ribbons of houses and small farms, and communal buildings. From 1819 onwards, ‘unfree’ colonies were also founded, the last in 1825; these featured large institutions and larger farms again set in an orthogonal pattern of fields and avenues, and housed particular groups of disadvantaged people with support from the State. At their peak some 18,000 people lived in the colonies, including those within the property.

    The process of transforming its poorest landscapes and citizens through a utopian process of social engineering went on until well into the 20th century. After 1918, the colonies lost their relevance and evolved into ‘normal’ villages and areas with institutions for custodial care.

    The property comprises four former colonies in three component parts: the free colonies of Frederiksoord and Wilhelminaoord, the colony of Wortel which was a free colony that evolved into an unfree colony, and the unfree colony of Veenhuizen.

    Criterion (ii): The Colonies of Benevolence bear testimony to an exceptional and nationwide Enlightenment experiment in social reform, through a system of large agricultural home colonies. They proposed a model of social engineering based upon the notion of ‘productive labour’, with the aim of transforming poor people into ‘industrious’ citizens and uncultivated ‘wastelands’ into productive land. In addition to work, education and moral upliftment were considered essential contributions to the aim of transforming poor people into self-reliant citizens.

    The Colonies of Benevolence were developed as systematic self-sustaining agricultural settlements with state-of-the-art social facilities. As such, the Colonies of Benevolence pioneered the domestic colony model, attracting considerable international attention. For more than a century, they exerted an influence on various types of custodial care in Western Europe and beyond.

    Criterion (iv): The Colonies of Benevolence are an outstanding example of domestic agricultural colonies created in the 19th century with the social aim of poverty alleviation. Deliberately cultivated as ‘islands’ in remote domestic heath and peatland areas, the Colonies implemented the ideas of a panoptic institution for the poor in their functional and spatial organisation.

    They are an outstanding example of a landscape design that represents an agricultural home colony with a social aim. The landscape patterns reflect the original character of the different types of Colonies and their subsequent evolution, and illustrate the extent, the ambition and the evolution of this social experiment in its flourishing period (1818-1918).


    The property contains all the attributes which convey the Outstanding Universal Value. It includes key examples of both free and unfree colonies. All component parts consist of a combination of relict landscape layers which together illustrate the flourishing period of the Colony model. In the case of the free colonies, attributes include the long ribbons of houses and small farms set in a pattern of orthogonal roads and fields. The unfree colonies include larger building complexes, housing, and larger farms set in an orthogonally organised landscape of avenues and fields. Features of the landscapes include their orthogonal structure with roads, avenue plantings, other plantings, meadows, fields and forests, and with the characteristic houses, farms, institutions, churches, schools and industrial buildings.

    While there have been changes and evolution over time, the property reflects the best-preserved cultural landscapes of the free and unfree colonies.


    The authenticity of the property is based on its location, form and design, and materials. The distinctive cultural landscape with its structured form, plantings, surviving buildings and archaeological sites from the period when the colonies were created and flourished, truthfully and credibly tell the story of the Colonies of Benevolence and reflect the Outstanding Universal Value.

    The use of the Colonies for agriculture and the social objectives formulated by the Society of Benevolence over two centuries were mainly continued and supplemented with new functions, which redefined the original social significance of the Colonies, in the spirit of the Colonies and adapted to changing times. The connecting factor is not one single ‘authentic’ period, but the landscape structure which has developed in two determining phases: the first phase of the creation (1818-1859), the phase of the further evolution, the phase of state institutions and privatisation (1860-1918).

    Protection and management requirements

    The property is protected by various and very different tools that range in scale from national laws to municipal codes, covering both natural and cultural values. These provide sectorial guidelines or criteria for intervention and conservation of the property.

    Legal protection is adequate for individual buildings. In both countries, representative buildings have been granted monument status and are protected. This includes a number of buildings and building ensembles within the colonies which are protected as individual monuments.

    At the national level, all the Dutch colonies are fully or partially protected as villagescapes. In Belgium, Wortel is a protected cultural heritage landscape. Consideration should be given to ensuring the national villagescape protection should cover the full extent of Wilheminaoord.

    In the Netherlands, a new Environment & Planning Act will enter into force in 2021 to regulate the protection of heritage values, replacing the existing Spatial Planning Act. The new Act provides opportunities for the integral protection of Outstanding Universal Value, and for the assessment of new developments.

    The organisation of the management system for the property seems effective. This includes an intergovernmental committee to address issues between the States Parties, a transnational steering group, the designation of site holders in each country, a technical advisory committee, site managers and staff.

    There is a management plan consisting of a main document related to the whole property, as well as three specific plans for the component parts. The focus of the management plan is the preservation and reinforcement of the Outstanding Universal Value for the series as a whole and for the individual colonies. Risk preparedness is addressed through existing mechanisms rather than a specific strategy.

    Visitor management is achieved through a range of measures including visitor centres, interpretive materials and support facilities, and further measures are planned. Traffic management is recognised as an issue.

    Local communities and residents are closely involved in the management of the property through formal and other means.

    An ongoing challenge will be to manage the property as a unified whole, especially to ensure that conservation approaches evolve in the same direction.

  4. Recommends that the States Parties give consideration to the following:
    1. Establishing a buffer zone, in order to ensure the protection of the component parts from any potential threats, through a minor boundary modification process, to be submitted to the World Heritage Centre by 1 February 2023,
    2. Ensuring the national villagescape protection for the full extent of Wilheminaoord,
    3. Ensuring the form, scale and placement of new buildings closely adheres to those of the original buildings in each component part,
    4. Ensuring the conservation of the grid dimensions that characterize each colony,
    5. Ensuring management of the property as a unified whole, especially that conservation approaches evolve in the same direction,
    6. Enhancing the mapping of the property to document current ownership patterns and the extent of the existing prisons and state institutions.
Decision Code
44 COM 8B.25
Inscriptions on the World Heritage List
Decisions adopted at the 44th extended session of the World Heritage Committee
Context of Decision