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The Vondelpark is part of the lives of the people of Amsterdam, who never fail to turn up for their weekly visit to the city’s largest green area.
When you see this vast area, which is fully integrated in the city, you might think the park has always been here. Nothing could be further from the truth however. The Vondelpark was designed and created in 1864 and was supposed to occupy an area that thitherto had been nothing but a swamp and wet, moving soil.
At the time, the Artis zoological park had already existed for years and the Nieuwe Park, as the Vondelpark was initially called, belonged to a new green belt project around the old city, in the centre. The landscaper and architect L. D. Zocher was commissioned to undertake it. The initiative came from some wealthy Amsterdam citizens who succeeded in gathering funds to buy eight hectares in the zone.
Zocher got down to work on the transformation of the wild landscape, and he found inspiration, as you may see when you take a walk here, in English parks: it had avenues, small lakes with islands, vast areas of lawn and woodland. What was the aim of all this? To create a perfect natural environment for the public, and particularly for the wealthy folk who lived by the river in the noble districts where the park was located.
The park opened to the public in 1865, and in it the zone’s inhabitants enjoyed long walks or went horse-riding. Two years later, the statue of the Dutch poet Joost Van Den Vondel was erected in the grounds. It was to him that the park owed its new name as it was thereafter known as Vondelpark.
1877 saw an extension project in which this huge garden assumed its definitive size when it acquired a further 40 hectares.
The grounds were completed with other striking features such as the beautiful iron and glass pavilion which, over the years, has become the Filmmuseum, where films are shown every day.
As well as this film museum, in the area around the park there are a couple of buildings that are worth a mention. One of these is the Riding School, which was established here in 1882. With a metal roof, inspired by the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, it is well worth devoting some time to this architectural curiosity.
An interesting place to visit is the Roemer Visscherstraat, just five minutes away, where you can see the series of houses known as the “Houses of seven countries” or “United Europe”. Built in the late nineteenth century, they feature the European architectural styles of seven different cities, ranging from the ogival windows of German romanticism, to the miniature French castle of the Loire, the Spanish Morisco villa, the Italian mansion, the residence in imitation of a Russian cathedral, the traditional Dutch house and the English cottage.
Although the Vondelpark used to be an area for aristocrats and high-class bourgeoisie, on the turn of the century it also became a place for workers who came to enjoy the large open space. In the nineteen-sixties, it filled up with hippies selling handicrafts, musicians and beggars, who were gradually removed from the park because of complaints by wealthy local residents.
These grounds are currently Amsterdam’s most famous and busiest green area, and because of the great growth of the city, it is now located almost in the centre.
With over ten million visits a year, the Vondelpark is still active and offers increasingly varied activities for everyone to enjoy of which jazz concerts, drumming, skating races and open-air theatre are just a few. If what you are after, however, is a quiet visit to the park, to get away from worldly noise, music, children and the ever present city pigeons, do not be alarmed; you will be able to find a peaceful spot in the dozens of hectares of this huge park.
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