I posted last week about visiting the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in two hours. Tourists from other countries, if they visit museums at all, generally hit the big ones: the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh, for example. But there are dozens of smaller museums in Amsterdam that are worth seeing.
I travel the two and a half hours to Amsterdam from time to time to visit a friend who lives there. Given the fact that she has thoroughly explored the bigger museums already, and the additional fact that my limit for museums seems to be about two hours, we decided on my most recent visit to check out some smaller museums in Amsterdam that we’d never seen before. We visited three of these in one day, each of which will become a separate post. Here is museum #1:
Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder
This museum’s name translates to “Our Lord in the Attic.” From the street, it looks like any of the other 17th century houses along the inner canals of Amsterdam. That façade, however, conceals a lovely hidden church.
Back in the Reformation in this part of the Netherlands, holding Catholic rituals was illegal. The Catholic churches, like the Oude Kerk nearby, were seized, stripped of their statues and other embellishments, and used for the more somber Protestant services instead. The Catholics didn’t all convert, however. They established hidden churches.
As we explored the building, it seemed, at first, to be a rather dark, simple home. The owner who converted the top floors to a church in the 17th century—called the Golden Age—lived in the lower part of the building. We saw the restored salon, which was quite grand, to impress his guests, and the simpler furnishing upstairs, with bedstees, which are beds built into a closet in the wall.
The stairway was steep and dark, and the ceilings low. We were told, through the audio devices that are included in the entrance fee, that every week 150 people walked up this stairway to attend mass, and they had to walk right through this man’s home.
Despite the fact that we knew we were climbing up to the church, our first sight of it was a surprise. We expected a small, narrow, cramped space, badly lit and sparsely furnished. It was anything but that.
Emerging at the top of that dark stairway, we saw a huge space, three stories tall, filled with light, despite the overcast outside. What these Catholics did, back in the mid-seventeenth century, was to cut through the cross-beams and replace some of them with metal bars. They combined three floors of space in this and two neighboring houses to create a beautiful church. The light comes from windows on three sides, above the roof-line of the neighboring houses. It’s truly impressive. I can imagine it’s even lovelier when the sun is shining.
We expected, when we went in, to spend perhaps a half hour to see a little attic church. Instead, it was more like an hour to an hour and a half because the audio tour was so interesting. The whole space has been carefully restored to its 19th century look, which explains the pinkish-purplish paint and the gothic-themed wallpaper, reproduced from remnants that were found during renovation.
Ons Lieve Heer op Solder is an impressive museum and an enduring place of worship—it is still sometimes used for masses or weddings. It is well worth a visit if you want to see something that’s a bit off the beaten track, but of clear cultural and historical value. A short walk from the Amsterdam central train station, it’s also a great choice if you have only a few hours and want a quick taste of the Golden Age of Amsterdam.
This is one of my on-going series on small museums in Amsterdam. Here’s the whole list:
- Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder
- Het Grachtenhuis (canal house museum)
- Museum van Loon
- Rembrandt’s House
- The Handbag Museum
- The Brilmuseum (spectacles)
- Huis Marseille Museum for Photography
- The Dutch Resistance Museum
- Red Light Secrets: Museum of Prostitution
- Hash, Marijuana & Hemp Museum
- Body Worlds: Museum or Freak Show
- The Sex Museum
And if you need more general information about visiting Amsterdam, check out the Netherlands Tourism website.