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  • Writer's pictureBen West

A Brief History of The National Maritime Museum in Amsterdam

What is Het Scheepvaartmuseum?

Het Scheepvaartmuseum, or The National Maritime Museum in English, is an extensive, exciting and modern museum that explores the Netherlands’ impressive maritime history.

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Het Scheepvaartmuseum History

With the Netherlands being a relatively small country situated partially below sea level and with few natural resources, it’s perhaps not surprising that it developed a strong and close commercial connection to seas and rivers. Dutch maritime history took off from the 15th century. In and around the Golden Age, stirring battles were fought by a navy that was for a time the most powerful in the world, while simultaneously the Netherlands’ merchant fleet dominated Western European trade. The Dutch were able to exploit the shipping boom of the 17th century with great success, enjoying as they did overwhelming superiority to other European powers in terms of ships, manpower and capital resources.

Located here in the heart of Amsterdam, Het Scheepvaartmuseum (or The National Maritime Museum) vividly brings all this to life, using a mix of diverse interactive exhibitions, theme-park elements, video games and presentations, gripping stories and a host of seafaring memorabilia. It features wonderful objects from what is one of the largest and most notable maritime collections in the world: maps, paintings, models of ships, weapons and navigational instruments. However, the museum doesn’t only focus on the distant past: exhibitions also explore Dutch maritime links to the society of today and the future. You’ll learn about such things as the Netherlands’ peacekeeping missions, how the Dutch help to protect the world’s urban areas against rising seas, how they managed to raise the Russian submarine Kursk when no one else was able to do so, and how Dutch marine engineering innovation created Dubai’s stunning Palm Island.

Although a very modern museum, since 1973 it has been housed within a harmonious 17th-century building, originally designed by Dutch architectural wunderkind Daniel Stalpaert as a storehouse for the Admiralty. It’s located near the city’s old harbour, where the warships of the Dutch Republic were traditionally equipped.

The museum was extensively renovated for four years culminating in its reopening in 2011. The renovation work included covering the large inner courtyard with a glass roof. In the evening, hundreds of tiny LED lights are used here to create the impression of a starry sky.

Next to the museum is a replica of the three-masted Amsterdam, a large vessel owned by the Dutch East India Company that was wrecked off the English coast in 1749 during a storm on its maiden voyage to Batavia, capital of the Dutch East Indies (modern-day Jakarta, Indonesia).

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