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History of the Amsterdamse Bos

The Amsterdamse Bos came into being in a remarkable time and a remarkable way – all the trees were planted by hand during the crisis years in the 1930's. Spanning an impressive 1,000 hectares, at three times the size of New York’s Central Park the Amsterdamse Bos is among the largest city parks in Europe.

Construction of roads in the Amsterdam Forest, 1947.

The first step to create the Amsterdamse Bos dates back to 1900. The inspiration came from Dutch botanist Jac. P. Thijsse,. He wanted to make up for the lack of nature in the city by creating a green area to escape to near the Nieuwe Meer. No sooner than 28 years later, the local government decided to construct a proper city park.

Unemployment relief

In response to the challenges presented by the economic crisis, Amsterdam took firm action. The city struggled with high unemployment – 55,000 citizens were unemployed at the time – and the construction of a city park could very well be useful as a work relief programme. Between 1934 and 1940 alone, the forestation project provided work for more than 20,000 unemployed people. Using no other technical means than wheelbarrows and metal dump carts on rails, the labourers created a forest from scratch, using shovels as their main equipment.

The planting of the forest progressed nicely and the Bos was set to be completed in 1948. However, the outbreak of the Second World War interrupted the work and the last tree wasn’t planted until 1970.

Bicycle path alongside the rowing course in the 40's

English landscape style

When designing the Amsterdamse Bos, one thing was certain. The forest was to be used by all the people of Amsterdam. Until then, parks in the Netherlands were primarily intended for a Sunday stroll.

Urban developers Cornelis van Eesteren and Jakoba Mulder looked abroad for inspiration. In London, people were allowed to sit on the grass – revolutionary! In Germany, city parks were mainly used for sports and recreation.

The Amsterdamse Bos has become a perfect mix of natural landscape, recreation and relaxation. The Grote Speelvijver (The Big Playing Pond) and Grote Speelweide (The Big Playing Ground) are good examples of this. The lake and playground are not only intended as visual treats, but also to be used.

Essential features of the English landscape style are naturalistic forms such as winding streams, curved forest fringes and gently rolling meadows dotted with groves of trees. The vistas and uninterrupted views were consciously incorporated into the design to make the forest seem bigger than it actually is.