Saturday 26 September 2020

Blog watching: History, Art Deco and other hidden treasures to discover at the City Archives


The treasure room. Photo: Author Davidh820 via Wikimedia Commons

Amsterdive is a personal blog where Ana V. Martins writes about all things Amsterdam, art and culture, and her experiences as a local / foreigner. She aims to promote different artistic scene(s), sustainable ways of living, as well as bringing people together.

On wet weekend days, when museums and cafes get swamped by people, and all I crave is a calm, culturally-stimulating place: that’s when I typically end up at the Stadsarchief.

Getting to the City Archives by bike means cycling from the west side of town along the canal belt, which is in itself an experience, no matter how often you move past those mansions, pavement gardens, and street-level bridges.

The trip is equally captivating if one is coming from the Dam with all the imposing buildings and the canal at the Rokin, the bustling Muntplein connecting streams of people strolling from the Flower Market to the Rembrandtplein, and the Vijzelstraat, to which three of the main canals converge.

Guarding the most extensive municipal archives in the world, De Bazel is an enormous checkered block, designed by Karel de Bazel in 1920s. The brick expressionist structure started as the headquarters of NHM – the Dutch Trade Society – and it evokes the Golden Age’s grandeur.

The catalog of the permanent exhibition in the Treasure Room Photo: Ana Seas

The dark side of Dutch trading is currently depicted in the hallway inside, in Amsterdammers and Slavery, a series of stories (in Dutch) on the city’s slavery heritage. If you walk further, past the bookstore, you’ll find the entrance to another temporary exhibition (paid admission) – currently on Vondelingen, the foundlings who lived at the Aalmoezeniers, an orphanage at the Prinsengracht, around 1800.

My favorite part of the building is the Schatkamer or Treasure Room on floor -1, which you can access through a futuristic-looking flight of stairs. Downstairs, you’ll see a sort of antechamber that offers a peek of the archives on the one side, and on the other, the entrance to a vault room in Art Nouveau, with high ceilings, geometric motives, and enormous chandeliers.

The permanent exhibition inside is always a treat, and it is free of charge. It shows you 24 sets of stories, each focusing on a specific moment of Amsterdam’s history. From its beginnings as a small settlement along the Amstel river, to the Second World War, and more recent movements such as hippies and Provo.

There are works by renowned Dutch photographers Jacob Olie and Cor Jaring; artifacts are dating back to the 13th century, as well as ancient etchings, maps, and drawings. There is even a small cinema at the back of the room, showing documentaries and films about Amsterdam.

The movie-theatre in the Treasure Room Photo: Ana Seas

After each visit, I like to head over to Back to Black – Wetering, or to Bocca if I’m craving excellent coffee, or to Cafe Brecht for a beer + bite. Granted, I usually cycle back home with after-exploration feelings, as if I just discovered an ancient secret chamber that only my readers and I can access when looking for insight or a boost of inspiration.

[Here’s another story on the Stadsarchief, if you’re in the mood for reading]

History, Art Nouveau & other hidden treasures to discover at the City Archives was originally posted on Amsterdive.

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