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The Leidseplein, a square with a life of its own in which there is constant activity from the early morning onwards and especially when the night falls, and the Stadsschouwburg (or Municipal Theatre) do not pass at all unnoticed.
In fact, as you can see, the Stadsschouwburg is a magnificent Neo-renaissance style building which far from discretely presides the square and everyday brings together audiences who come to the city’s main theatrical events, particularly those by Dutch playwrights.
When you learn the history of this theatre you will perhaps understand the reason for its proud and colossal appearance, as it has a considerable record of misfortune behind it, particularly involving fire.
The Municipal Theatre, which has not always been on the same site, has suffered several fires that on occasions have destroyed the building and forced it to be rebuilt.
The current building in the Leidseplein dates from 1894 and was constructed by the architect Jan Springer, with the collaboration of his father and of Van Gendt. Only two years beforehand, the old theatre, the first in the Leidseplein, which was over 120 years old, burnt down and disappeared completely given that, despite the apparent strength of the stone facade, it concealed a wooden structure that was reduced to ashes in a flash.
The city’s drive for its own theatre practically dates back to the appearance of drama in Amsterdam, around the fifteenth century. It was around that time that the Rederijkerskamers emerged. These were theatre companies of sorts that acted in public spaces or warehouses and who, for the first time, expressed the Dutch capital’s pressing need for a suitable place in which to put on plays.
In the seventeenth century, the Duytsche Academie, an institution that encouraged education through drama, played a decisive role as it established itself in a wooden building which, at the time, could be considered a predecessor to the first theatre in Amsterdam. Then came the Schouwburg, designed by the architect Van Campen, a wooden theatre in Keyzersgracht, inspired by the Italian Olympic Theatre. This was now truly considered the city’s first theatre as it had arisen from the public’s wish for a permanent building that would head the cultural programme. Over the years, this theatre grew too small and the facilities were moved to the Leidseplein, where, as we have mentioned, they burnt down.
The current Stadsschouwburg, in the Leidseplein, is considered one of the most beautiful buildings in Holland, and has been a national monument since 1982. It is currently a highly distinctive architectural and aesthetic element in the square where it is sited, and thus a true icon.
Perhaps when you approach you will get the feeling you already know the building, although you will not be sure where from. Well, you do not need to be a great theatre lover to know why. The balconies of the Stadsschouwburg are occasionally the stage for a very different kind of celebration, unquestionably a lot more popular than the theatre. If you come at the end of the Dutch football league and Ajax has won the championship, you can forget about taking a peaceful walk around. The team celebrates its victory from the balcony of the Municipal Theatre.
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