A Brief History of ARTIS Amsterdam Royal Zoo
What is Artis Zoo?
Artis Zoo is Amsterdam’s impressive and extensive zoo that houses the world’s only microbe museum, a planetarium, and much more.
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Artis Zoo History
There are many reasons to visit Artis, the Netherlands’ oldest zoo, and not just to see the animals. Although it houses around 900 species, it also contains a rich selection of plants and around 250 varieties of trees, including Amsterdam’s oldest specimen – the Heimans Oak, dating from 1750. There’s a large aquarium, reptile house, insectarium, a geology museum, a large arboretum, a butterfly pavilion and a planetarium. The zoo’s replica habitats include an African savannah populated by giraffes, zebras and kudus, and a tropical rainforest, and there are lemur, Asian elephant, lion and jaguar, and gorilla enclosures.
Microbe museum Micropia explores the smallest yet most powerful organisms on the planet. It may not sound like a bundle of fun but really brings the science of microbiology to life, illustrating the invisible organisms that are living largely unnoticed all around us.
Located here in central Amsterdam in the leafy Plantage neighbourhood, the zoo was founded in 1838 by the men who became known as ‘the three Ws’: Messrs Westerman, Werlemann and Wijsmuller. They sought to ‘promote the knowledge of natural history in a pleasing and appealing way’. It was initially open to subscribers only, but from 1851 to the general public as well. At that time the surrounding area was rural, on the outskirts of the expanding city.
The name by which the zoo is commonly referred to, Artis, had an unusual evolution. Its original, full title was Natura Artis Magistra, which in Latin means: ‘Nature, Teacher of the Arts’. One of these words was displayed on each of the museum’s three gates, but usually only the central one would be opened, with the word ‘Artis’ above it, and so many visitors thought this was the zoo’s name.
If you’re more interested in architecture than the animal kingdom, there are elegant buildings and landscape features scattered around the grounds to be admired too – 27 listed buildings in total. The Masman Garden House, where you can now see scarlet ibis, and the Wolf House, which was initially an inn, both pre-date the zoo. There’s also an impressive art and sculpture collection, part of which is displayed in the aquarium building.
The zoo complex also houses an extensive library of 20,000 books, 3,000 manuscripts and 80,000 animal prints. It’s part of the University of Amsterdam’s special collections and focuses upon the history of zoology and botany, including the archives of several eminent zoologists and botanists.
The Artisplein area contains an impressive aviary and a collection of magnificent flamingos. Other inhabitants include partridge, common shoveler, green-winged teal, and Eurasian spoonbill, which are all birds commonly found on the Dutch polders. You can admire these examples while enjoying a drink at the zoo’s smart De Plantage café-restaurant.
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