The first zoo in the Netherlands was founded in 1838 by the bookseller G.F. Westerman. Ten years earlier, the first public zoo in Europe was opened in London, and Westerman also thought that Amsterdammers should be able to watch exotic animals from overseas. Before that, zoos had been predominantly royal private property, but Artis Natura Magistra – nature is the teacher of art – was opened to the citizens. However, the city council was not enthusiastic and Westerman hired himself with commissioner J.W.H. Werlemann and watchmaker J.W. Wijsmuller the Middenhof garden in the Plantage. The first animals you could see were parrots, pheasants, deer, a few monkeys and a ‘Surinamese forest cat’.
In the years that followed, more and more animals were added and expansion was necessary. The wooded banks on both sides of the Nieuwe Prinsengracht joined Artis. The visitors were taken to the new part of the zoo with a ferry. Until 1866 no bridge could be built over the water, because the professional shipping still used the canal. An additional problem, moreover, was that shipmen spent a free visit to Artis at night. In 1866 the canal became the property of the zoo and transformed into three large ponds. The zoo slowly expanded further and reached its current size in 1877.
Today, in 1909 and 1910 built the Monkey- and Birdhouse restored in old condition. In the last half of the twentieth, the two historic buildings were rebuilt several times to meet the stricter requirements for animal care. Twenty different animal species now live in fully restored monumental buildings. The visitors walk through the houses while animals such as dwarf goat, pottos and spectacle leaf bats move freely through their own space.
Artis is open daily from 1 April to 31 October from 9 am to 6 pm and from 1 November to 31 March from 9 am to 5 pm. Open on Saturdays in June, July and August until sunset.