The Most Significant Literary Landmarks In Amsterdam

Multatuli Statue on Torensluis | © Michielverbeek / WikiCommons
Multatuli Statue on Torensluis | © Michielverbeek / WikiCommons
Photo of Tom Coggins
20 October 2016

Amsterdam’s history is marked by its literary output and the city has produced several groundbreaking authors, whose work is appreciated throughout the world. This nurturing disposition towards the written word is reflected by the city’s fascinating literary landmarks.

Mozes en Aäronkerk

This enormous Catholic church has an astonishing history that can be traced back to the early years of the Reformation. Its original congregation purchased several townhouses around Amsterdam’s Jewish Quarter and then converted these plots into a secret church. This clandestine behavior was necessary because of the Dutch government’s ongoing ban on Catholicism – an edict that effectively forced the faith’s practitioners underground. One of these properties was originally owned by Baruch Spinoza’s family and the Jewish philosopher was born inside what would become Mozes en Aäronkerk. This historical coincidence is particularly startling considering that Spinoza was eventually banished from Amsterdam’s Jewish community for professing heretical religious beliefs.

© Marcelmulder68 / WikiCommons

Multatuli Statue

After witnessing firsthand the horrors of colonization, Eduard Douwes Dekker decided to write a scathing satirical novel that denounced the Netherlands’ presence in Java, titled Max Havelaar. In order to protect his identity Dekker penned the book under the name Multatuli, a compounded latin phrase that means ‘I have suffered much’. Max Havelaar was a resounding success and helped to galvanize decolonization. Multatuli’s accomplishments cannot be understated and he has been named as the most important Dutch author of all time by several literary societies. Today, a large statue bearing his likeness overlooks Amsterdam’s Singel canal.

© Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed / Flickr

Jewish Historical Museum

This fascinating institute is part of a larger museological initiative called the Jewish Cultural Quarter that oversees several important landmarks around Amsterdam, including the Portuguese Synagogue and the Holocaust monument. The museum’s research revolves around Judaism’s European diaspora and their relation to the continent’s gentile population. Its archives contain a vast collection of secular and sacred Jewish literature that is regularly displayed inside the permanent exhibition space, and the museum possesses the original copy of Charlotte Saloman’s autobiographical series Leben? oder Theater?

The Jewish Historical Museum | © S Sepp / WikiCommons / A page from Charlotte Saloman's

The International Institute of Social History

While its worth heading over to the International Institute of Social History simply because of its outstanding reputation and extensive library, the organization also possesses a particularly valuable set of documents that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. In 1938 its directors managed to purchase several of Karl Marx and Frederich Engel’s original manuscripts from the German Social Democratic Party and have kept these unbelievably important papers safe ever since. This massive collection contains Marx’s handwritten version of Das Kapital and the only surviving page of the Communist Manifesto’s first copy. Although it is possible to view these manuscripts, Marx’s handwriting is notoriously sloppy.

Anne Frank House

Anne Frank’s life has been part of Europe’s collective consciousness since the publication of her heartrending diary in 1947. Before being deported to Auschwitz, Anne Frank and her family spent two years hiding in Amsterdam and lived inside of a concealed apartment that overlooks Prinsengracht canal. During this time Frank regularly jotted her thoughts and feelings into a diary, a habit that led to the creation of one the most distressing documents to have appeared in the aftermath of World War II. Today, her memory is preserved at Anne Frank House and this museum regularly features large exhibitions that explore other aspects of Judaism’s past.

© Dietmar Rabich / WikiCommons


This literary platform started out in the 1980s as a small secondhand bookstore that mainly stocked well-worn copies of classic European literature and cheaply printed zines and pamphlets. The store quickly became Amsterdam’s principal literary hangout and shifted its focus towards performance, conversation and experimentation. Today, Perdu is dedicated to the development of the written arts and regularly lends out its facilities to local academically driven organizations. Its current site is situated just beyond Waterlooplien and contains several amenities including a poetry bookstore, a mid-scale theater, and a small publishing house.

© Nelleke Poorthuis / Flickr / Perdu from Kloveniersburgwal canal | © Robert Cutts / Flickr

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