Handboogdoelen, Singel, Amsterdam

Handboogdoelen on the Singel

On the Singel, between the Konings­plein and Spui, you can find the Handboog­doelen (Singel 421), the former Stads­magazijn (Singel 423) and the location of the former Voetboog­doelen (Singel 425), now the Amsterdam University library.

Singel 421-425 in 1663. Longbowmen’s Shooting Range, City Armory, Crossbowmen’s Shooting Range.

Amsterdam, Singel 421-425 in January 2021

The same spot in January 2021, Singel 421-425

The Handboogdoelen (Singel 421)

The Handboog­doelen (Longbowmen’s Shooting Range) dates back to the early 16th century. It was also known as the Garnalen­doelen (Shrimp Shooting Range), as the shrimp market was located here in the 18th century. Originally headquarters and shooting range of the local Schutterij (Civic Guard), it is now part of the Amsterdam University Library. It was one of three Amsterdam shooting ranges, the other two being the Voetboog­doelen (Singel 425) and the Kloveniers­doelen (on the Nieuwe Doelen­straat).

The Handboog­doelen civic guard was armed with longbows, while the Voetboog­doelen civic guard used crossbows and the Kloveniers­doelen civic guard used a type of musket. The building of the Handboog­doelen was completed around 1512. Like the adjacent Voetboog­doelen (established in 1458), the shooting range extended from the Singel canal to the back side of the houses on the Kalver­straat.

The Handboog­doelen building from 1512 at Singel 421, with the 1733 façade with coats of arms.

Handboogdoelen, Singel 421, Amsterdam, front

Amsterdam’s militia guilds were formed in the Middle Ages to defend the city. Around 1580 these Medieval guilds were incorporated into a new civic guard to defend the now Protestant city against the Spanish during the Dutch revolt. Officers were regularly recruited from Amsterdam’s wealthy and powerful families. The shooting range was located behind the building — a small gate provided access. This gate from around 1650 is now on the Handboog­straat.

The Gate (from around 1650) to the Handboog­doelen shooting range, on the Handboog­straat.

From the mid-17th century on, the civic guard no longer served a military purpose. Membership became an honorary position, and the buildings became a place where the wealthy guard members held frequent big meals and festivities. In 1650 new houses were built on the grounds of the former shooting ranges. The Handboog­doelen building was also frequently used as a guest house for prominent visitors. A new façade was added in 1733, depicting the Amsterdam coat of arms as well as the coats of arms of the captains, among them captain Frans Banninck Cocq (the central figure in Rembrandt’s Night Watch from 1642).

Frans Banninck Cocq (1605–1655), officer of the Handboog civic guard and  mayor of Amsterdam mid-17th century
(detail from Rembrandt’s Night Watch).

Members of the civic guards frequently commissioned group portraits of themselves, which were then displayed in their halls.

Banquet in the Voetboog­doelen with a section of the civic guard (painting by Johannes Spilberg, 1650).

In the 19th century the building became the Garnalen Doelen Hotel. In 1860, the city offered the building to the Athenaeum Illustre (founded in 1632), the predecessor of the University of Amsterdam — the building remains part of the University Library complex to this day. In the 20th century, the adjacent buildings were added. A 1968 restoration uncovered the original 16th-century building.

Stadsmagazijn (Singel 423)

The adjacent Stadsmagazijn voor Krijgs­behoeften (Militia Armory) on the Singel 423 is now part of the University library as well, added around 1940, but at least the façade has been preserved.

The City Armory (Stadsmagazijn) on the right. On the left the start of the Spui.

Former Voetboogdoelen (Singel 425)

The Voetboog­doelen (Crossbow Shooting Range) was located on the Singel 425, in the space now occupied by the University Library. From 1647 until 1792, the original Voetboog­doelen building was rented out to the newly formed second West-India Company (WIC) as their headquarters. From 1683 until 1795 it was used by the Society of Surinam, responsible for the government of the colony. During the French period it was used as barracks, until the building was demolished in 1816 to make room for the Saint Catharine church.

The Saint Catharine church on the Singel in 1910.

After the church had been demolished in 1939, the terrain remained empty until around 1965, when the new main building for the University Library was put there. It is often listed as one of the least loved buildings in Amsterdam, even though there are certainly other contenders for that title as well.

Main building of the University of Amsterdam Library (1965).

The two sandstone reliefs by city stonemason Hildo Krop on top of the gable represent the then 7 faculties of the University on the left, and Trade & Shipping on the right — showing Poseidon and Hermes, with the inscription below in Greek Capitals “PSUCHÈS IATREION” (healing place for the soul). They are among the last works by Hildo Krop.

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