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When you step through the old gates of the Hortus Botanicus, it is like leaving a world behind, the world of the city, and becoming immersed in an almost fairytale oasis of green, teeming with life; life that has nothing to do with trams, bicycles and routines of home-to-work and work-back-home.
Located near the Artis Zoo, another of the city’s breathing spaces, this is another example of seventeenth century bourgeois patronage, when economic prosperity marked the life and form of the city, and the bourgeoisie firmly committed themselves to building palaces, parks and other works of art.
In this case, it was doctors and chemists who took the initiative to build this garden as a site for the cultivation of medicinal plants. This job had thitherto been the work of the convents, but they had closed because of the religious conflicts.
The garden was established in 1638, albeit with a different arrangement. It was not until 1682, when it was moved to the Plantage district, that it became the Hortus Botanicus. Here it was to fulfil a twofold function as both a botanical and a recreational garden.
Furthermore, many of the exotic species that are currently to be found in Europe, arrived with the merchants of the India Company in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and were grown in the Hortus Botanicus. Just as these plants from faraway countries reached Europe via the garden, it also become the departure point for species that were later established in those countries. An example, is the cultivation of the oil palm, which was very important in Indonesia, or the coffee tree that Louis XIV, the Sun King, received from the Hortus and planted in his American colonies, thus becoming a forerunner of the coffee trade. A total of four thousand different species of curative, exotic and ornamental plants are currently grown in the garden.
Do not forget to visit the Orangerie, on the same site. This is a building from 1875 that was initially used as a reading room and then as a greenhouse for exotic species. It is now a beautiful café in the midst of the vegetation.
There are three greenhouses to delight botany lovers. The first, the Three-climate House, is home to tropical, subtropical and desert species. The second, the Palm House, in early twentieth-century brick architecture, is home to the palms. The third, the Butterfly House, is one of the biggest attractions of the Hortus. And what is inside? you can well imagine: the flapping wings of hundreds of tropical butterflies.
Once outside, the herb garden features medicinal and aromatic plants and the semicircular garden is covered with a lovely blanket of flowers.
It does not matter when you visit the city because the Hortus is always magnificent. Here, you can also take pictures of species the appearance, smell, or impossible combination of colours of which seem truly otherworldly. When you go home and show your photos, no one will believe you have only been to Holland.
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