Team Kompas has travelled past the City Archive building on Vijselstraat several times a week for almost two years, somehow without stepping into its foyer. Then, one a sunny October weekend, during a jaunt around the city centre by foot, we decided to change that.
We were on our way to the Huis Marseille photography museum from Foam when it occurred to us that the Stadsarchief was en route and that we should finally pay it a visit. So a very minor detour later and we were on Vijselstraat, searching for the way in.This is an imposing building. It’s beautiful on the outside but the deadpan art deco exterior doesn’t exactly invite you in. Don’t let that put you off, though. Once you push through that barrier and walk inside, you’ll be rewarded by an interior that’s no less impressive, but oh so different. It’s as if the fortress-grey brick of the outside is designed to absorb the daylight so it can release it back into the almost cathedral-like foyer. The triple-height reception, bookshop and study areas are topped by a glass roof, bathing you in a bright, crisp light.
At one end, a bank of stereoscopes grant you an opportunity to look at historic photographs of Amsterdam in close to 3D. At the other, a small exhibit gives you a brief insight into how the Netherlands came to be. The real pull, of course, is supposed to be the archive itself which is gradually becoming digitised and accessible on-site.
They allow you to dig back into the history of the city and its buildings, either for the fun of it, or if you have some serious research to get done. But on this particular sunny autumn day, we we were in tourist-mode so we didn’t delve into the 50 kilometres-worth of archive material, instead investing our time in exploring the magnificent building.Speaking of which, the real surprise (no, we hadn’t done our research) was in the basement. Close to the bookshop, a set of stairs lead downward and through vault doors to the treasury rooms. Some are fortified strongholds now used for exhibitions, but the jaw-dropper is an ornate, double-height room with its own grand stairwell.
The building up to now is slightly aloof in its character and on visiting the treasury floors you see why. It holds its cards close to its chest, because like the records it keeps, the Stadsarchief wants to reward those who make it beyond the cover and delve deeper into the story.