Our buildings

The heritage collections are housed in buildings with a history.

The Nieuwe Nonnenklooster (New Convent) on Oude Turfmarkt

The history of the site where the Allard Pierson now stands dates back to 1402, when the Nieuwe Nonnenklooster was founded on the banks of the Amstel. The convent lay between where the Rokin is today and the canals, Grimburgwal and the extension of Achterburgwal. Excavations in the current building have revealed objects from the time when nuns still lived on the site, including earthenware, a spoon made of pewter, lead cloth seals and a pipeclay relief.

The banks of the Amstel had to be raised in order to build on the site. At the time, there was a wide bend in the river at this point. The Nieuwe Nonnenklooster appears to have been situated right on the Amstel, with its construction following the river’s course. This has left its traces in the building. The location and line of the angled wall at the rear were determined by the course of the Amstel in around 1400. The river’s course is chiselled in letters into the floor.

Sint Pietersgasthuis (St Peter's Hospital)

The bank was raised again in around 1500. The convent used this site to build houses that were then let out. Around 1550, the Amstel quayside was straightened up to the city wall and the Rondeel bastion, a semi-circular tower in the wall at the site of the Hotel de l’Europe today. The eastern quay along the water where the Rokin is today was given the name Oude Turfmarkt in around 1900 as it was where peat (turf) was sold up to 1643.

Following the “Alteration”, the power shift of 1578, when Amsterdam joined the Dutch Revolt, the Protestant city administrators took over the Nieuwe Nonnenklooster. The buildings were handed over to Sint Pietersgasthuis. As the hospital’s Pesthuis (Pest, or Plague, House), which lay outside the city walls, began to be called the Buitengasthuis (Outside Hospital) in the mid 18th century, Sint Pietersgasthuis was given the name Binnengasthuis (Inside Hospital) from then on. Wall decorations that once adorned the Regentenkamer (Regents’ Room) of the Binnengasthuis have been given a prominent place in the Allard Pierson’s Regentenkamer.

The Vingboons Houses

Sint Pietersgasthuis let out dwellings on the edge of its site, much the way the convent did. After 1643, elegant houses designed by the architect Philips Vingboons (1607-1678) were built for letting out on Oude Turfmarkt. Although the facades are no longer authentic, the floor plan of three Vingboons houses is retained in a section of the building. The three halls coincide with the front houses, and the central hall has been created by combining the courtyards of the houses. The original beamed ceilings can be seen in the reference library on the first floor.

The gate that now forms the entrance to the building was broken through after the Vingboons houses were built, to give access to the small houses on the Gasthuishof (hospital courtyard). The brick barrel vault structure can easily be seen from the hall. It may contain masonry dating in part to the 17th century. The vaulted ceiling has been covered over. The floors above the small gate were initially linked with the Vingboons houses on the left, but in 1926 it was joined with the Sint Bernardus Gesticht (St Bernard’s Hospice) next door.

Sint Bernardus Gesticht (St Bernard's Hospice)

In 1842–1843, the Gesticht van Liefde Sint Bernardus (St Bernard’s Hospice), a Catholic nursing home, established itself to the right of the Vingboons houses. The Sint Bernardus Gesticht was constantly short of space. A new development designed by the architect P.F. Laarman was built in 1882–1884. The sole remaining original Vingboons facade was furnished, along with the hospital courtyard gate, with a Renaissance Revival facade designed by the architect G.B. Salm. A statue of St Bernard adorned the entrance to the new building, but this was soon removed.

De Nederlandsche Bank (Central Bank of the Netherlands)

At the start of the 19th century, De Nederlandsche Bank was given a number of Vingboons houses on permanent loan, and in 1864, the bank bought a large number of properties on Oude Turfmarkt. The architect W.A. Froger designed the building that was completed in 1869. The facade’s appearance and the interior were changed substantially, and six of the nine Vingboons houses were incorporated into the bank’s new building. The building was given a facade in the neoclassical style. The bank moved into the building in 1869. There are many details that recall this past. For example there are still rails for carts loaded with money running from the quayside into the entrance hall.

Two bays were added in 1900, despite the fact that a new location was being sought.

After the bank moved to Frederiksplein, the University took over the building in 1968. The artist Dick Elffers did the drawings for converting the bank into the museum, which opened its doors on 6 October, 1976.

PRO architectural studio combined the Vingboons buildings (1643–1645), which are listed monuments, the former Sint Bernardus Gesticht (1882–1884) and the Gasthuishofpoortje, which lies between them, into a unified whole. The most recent refurbishment retained only the front and rear façades of the Sint Bernardus Gesticht.

Allard Pierson on the Amstel

Artis Library

The Artis Library started out as the library of the Royal Zoological Society ‘Natura Artis Magistra’ in 1838. The library moved to a building designed specifically for it at Plantage Middenlaan 45, near the Artis zoo in 1868. It was designed by the well-known Dutch architect Gerlof Bartholomaeus Salm in the ‘eclectic style’, which aims to select the best from other designs and motifs. In 1869 and the subsequent decade, the building was substantially extended in two phases with a view to housing the Society’s different collections. It was given the name Fauna Building (after being called Plantage Library up to September 2005), with the section on the right now also taken over by the Artis Library.

The Royal Zoological Society ‘Natura Artis Magistra’ was saved from bankruptcy in 1939 through the transfer of its assets, with the exception of the live possessions, to the Municipality of Amsterdam. At that point, the Society’s library and the ‘non-living’ zoological collections were absorbed into the collections of the University of Amsterdam.

The Fauna Building, along with the 19th century interior of the library, was listed as a National Monument in 1972.

The malacology (shellfish) and ichthyology (fish) collections of the Zoological Museum of the University of Amsterdam, which occupied almost two thirds of the Fauna Building, were moved to new premises on Mauritskade in 1988. The building was renovated in 1989–1990 and fitted out to house two other libraries alongside the Artis Library: that of the Amsterdam Zoological Museum and that of the Natural Science Foundation for the Caribbean. These libraries were accommodated elsewhere at the end of 2005. This meant that the original wish of the architect Salm, that the entire Fauna Building be used for library purposes, was implemented over the years 1990–2005.

The light-coloured imitation marble slabs with names inlaid in gold on both sides of the façade are an unusual detail. The names are of 36 famous scientists – including just one woman: Maria Sibylla Merian – whose works are kept in the Artis Library. Sgrafitti (scratched representations) of animals by Jan Groenestein were added in 1952 on the permission of the conservation authorities. They are well suited to the eclectic whole.

Interior of the Artis library

Print from the Iconographia Zoologica, a collection of 20.000 animal prints in the Artis Library