City of Immigrants

Throughout its history, Amsterdam’s immigrants have made the city special.

Immigration Fact 1:
During Amsterdam’s so-called “Golden Age”, the city held far more immigrants than native Amsterdammers.
Immigration Fact 2:
Today, more than 10% of Dutch people were born outside of the country.
Rembrandt's painting 'Two African Men’
Rembrandt van Rijn, Mauritshuis, Den Haag

City of Immigrants

Throughout its history, Amsterdam’s immigrants have made the city special.

Immigration Fact 1:
During Amsterdam’s so-called “Golden Age”, the city held far more immigrants than native Amsterdammers.
Immigration Fact 2:
Today, more than 10% of Dutch people were born outside of the country.
Rembrandt's painting 'Two African Men’
Rembrandt van Rijn, Mauritshuis, Den Haag

City of Immigrants' Connection to this Location

Bredero Statue and buildings along Geldersekade

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The Spanish Brabanter Statue

You’re standing in front of a statue of a popular 17th-century play, Bredero’s THE SPANISH BRABANTER. The comedy about immigrating to Amsterdam was written during a time of huge immigration. The playwright was born in the year of the fall of Antwerp (1585), which prompted merchants, craftsmen, artists, and intellectuals to leave modern-day Belgium for the Dutch Republic. The play was written in 1618, when Germans, Scandinavians, and Jewish people from the Iberian Peninsula had doubled the city’s population in just two decades. It’s appropriate that this statue is here because you look around, you will see all the ways immigrants from around the world have made this city what it is.

The Story

First, look behind the stature of 17th-century immigrant life to see storefronts from Amsterdam’s Chinatown. It’s one of the older ones in Europe, established primarily by sailors in the early 20th century. As the community grew, they introduced the Netherlands to new ideas, food, and holistic medicine. Today, you can find a stern Dutch matron on Amsterdam’s main street market who sells medicinal teas that her 19th-century counterpart wouldn’t have understood.

Look beyond the streets of Chinatown, and you can see a tower at the end of the canal. This was once part of the wall of the city overlooking the harbor. City folklore associates it with the women whose partners and male relatives left on VOC ships. This tower, however, would’ve been a first view of Amsterdam for the women coming from colonies in East Asia or the Caribbean. As we’ve seen in previous stories, native women and the descendants of formerly enslaved women in Dutch colonies sometimes married Dutch men and came to the Netherlands with them. Their names show up across the archives, sometimes alongside their origin, such as VOC wife Lea van Bali. What must it have been like for the free women who chose to leave their homes and travel the wide world with their husbands before ending up here in Amsterdam?

Turn around and look to the road at the far end of the plaza veering left. This was the original Jewish neighborhood, founded by people who’d been forced to live as Christians. Here, they were able to practice their faith openly for the first time. They also brought some of the people who formed the nucleus of a free Black neighborhood. Some members of this community were servants from the Portuguese colony of Angola who worked for these Jewish families from the Iberian Peninsula. At the same time, the booming trade from the late 1500s and early 1600s had attracted sailors from Afrika, who found their way to this thriving community.

This community left its mark on Amsterdam’s culture and art. They show up in the archives as a tightly knit group that cared for and defended each other. As the slave trade increased, they began an information network. Technically, an enslaved person brought to Amsterdam was freed, but the enslaved person needed to know about it. In the mid-17th century, a girl sued for her freedom and the disgruntled respondent blamed this free community for telling her to do so. One of Bredero’s other popular plays featured a clever Black servant who drove the plot. Members of this community were also painted and sketched by their neighbor Rembrandt and his apprentices. The paintings are now, like this statue, a reminder of the many ways that immigrants and people of color have infinitely enriched the life of Amsterdam.

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