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 Square 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 the twenties of the last century. The Brick Expressionist structure started as the headquarters of NHM – the Dutch Trade Society – and it evokes the Golden Age’s grandeur. 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 the Hippies and Provo’s. 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 movie-theatre at the back of the room, showing documentaries and films about Amsterdam.
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 feels as if I just discovered an ancient secret chamber that, now that I wrote about it, 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]
Amsterdam City Archives
1017 HL Amsterdam
Tel: +31 20 2511511