The National Maritime Museum
1018 KK Amsterdam
+31 (0)20 52 32 222
There was a time when The Netherlands was a world power and was home to the world’s first and most powerful multi-national company – The Dutch East India Company. Along with England and Spain, The Netherlands colonized all corners of the globe. Between the three of them they virtually monopolized the slave trade. And why? What gave them such power while other, larger counties had little influence outside their own borders? The answer is simple. The sea.
All three countries had large and powerful navies which had easy access to the Atlantic and from there, to anywhere they wanted to go. For nearly three hundred years they vide for superiority, resulting in spectacular naval battles, many of which took place in the English Channel.
The Dutch East India Company, (the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC), was created in 1602 and soon became the most important trading company in the world. All because of their shipbuilding prowess and the quality of their navy.
Between 1602 and 1796 the VOC employed almost a million Europeans working in the Asia trade on 4,785 ships importing more than 2.5 million tons of goods. By contrast, between 1500 and 1795 the rest of Europe combined employed only 882,412 workers. The fleet of the English (later British) East India Company, the VOC’s nearest competitor, was a distant second with 2,690 ships and a mere one-fifth the tonnage of goods carried by their Dutch rivals.
So, it is fitting that The Netherlands should boast a fine museum dedicated to the ships and the men who sailed in them, bringing wealth and power to this small country.
The National Maritime Museum is one of those museums that is worth visiting for the building alone. The ‘s Lands Zeemagazijn (Arsenal) dates from 1656 and was originally a storehouse for the Admiralty. At the time, Amsterdam was the largest port and trade centre in the world – and it should be remembered that at the time the city was effectively on the open sea. The building has been the home of the Museum since 1973.
Entering the Museum for the first time certainly has the wow factor – a huge, square inner courtyard covered with a vast glass roof. The buildings on the four sides house the various galleries, shop, café etc. In one corner there is also a fine library which is open to the public.
The main gallery contains some remarkable maritime paintings and other artefacts while the upper floors contain galleries of model ships, navigation instruments, documents and beautiful ships’ ornaments.
Impressive though all this is, the Museum’s pièce de resistance and what everybody really wants to see, is the huge sailing ship moored outside. The ship is a replica of the Dutch East Indiaman Amsterdam and the sheer scale and solidity of it takes the breath away.
One is free to wander around at will to inspect all the decks, the captain’s cabin, the gun deck, the massive hold and the myriad nooks and crannies.
Impressive though it is, it had an unhappy ending and never saw service. The original Amsterdam left the island of Texel on its maiden voyage to Indonesia in January 1794 but did not get very far. After two weeks at sea the ship was caught in a storm in the English Channel and its rudder broke off. The captain beached the ship near Hastings on the English coast in an attempt to save the 333 people on board and its valuable cargo. This he managed to do but the ship itself finally sank in the muddy waters.
The Amsterdam is huge – fifty-six meters high, forty-eight meters long, over eleven meters wide and has sixteen cannons.
Moored alongside the sailing ship are The Royal Chaloupe, the Royal Barge and an old canal steamer. Built for King William I, the Royal Barge was launched in 1818 and used as recently as 1962.
The National Maritime Museum is a fine museum packed with amazing things. Make sure you leave yourself enough time to see them.