Leidsebosje, Amsterdam


This small green strip along Stad­houders­kade near the Leidse­plein is what is left of a centuries old green stretch outside the city walls on the outside of the Singel­gracht. A map from 1737 already shows it near the Leidse­poort (Leiden Gate) and Amsterdammers always called it the Leidse­bosje (Small Leiden Bush), but it wasn’t until 2017 that the city council assigned this name officially to the strip and had the street name sign placed — now people can find it on their online maps. Despite the name it’s not really a small forest of course, more like a narrow public garden with just enough space for the plane trees to grow.

Northern part of Leidsebosje, Amsterdam, looking towards Overtoom

The northern part of the Leidse­bosje, looking towards Stad­houders­kade in the direction of the Overtoom. The path veering to the right follows almost the same course as the one on the map from 1737 by Gerrit de Broen (June 2020).

In the 17th, 18th and 19th century the Leidse­bosje was a popular spot for a stroll, just outside the city gate. Over the centuries this small area underwent quite a few drastic changes. Along the Leidse­plein side the Singel­gracht was straightened (making the small park still smaller), a round­about was created here in 1925 which split it in half, with the wider Leidse­brug providing a better connection for traffic between Leidse­plein and Stad­houders­kade. The bridge was designed by Piet Kramer (1881-1961), the sculptures on the bridge created by Johan Polet (1894-1971). The round­about was removed again in 1971, replaced by the current T-crossing.

Leidsebosje, Amsterdam, detail of a map from 1737 by Gerrit de Broen

Under the lens the Leidsebosje, outside the city walls, detail of a map from 1737 by Gerrit de Broen.

Leidsepoort, Amsterdam, seen from Leidsebosje. Drawing from 1769 by Reinier Vinkeles

Leidsepoort, seen from Leidse­bosje. Drawing from 1769 by Reinier Vinkeles (1741-1816) (Stads­archief Amsterdam).

The round­about (and later T-crossing) split the Leidse­bosje in a northern and a southern half, where in 1737 the parts were still one, with only a skewed path leading to the Over­toomse Vaart (still water then). One of the footpaths in the current northern half follows almost the same route as the skewed path from the 18th century. Across the street at the Stad­houders­kade the Koepel­kerk (from 1884) and Persil­huis (from 1950) were demolished in 1972 and replaced by the Marriott Hotel in 1974.

Roundabout at Leidsebosje, Amsterdam, in 1926, seen from the American Hotel

Roundabout at Leidse­bosje in 1926, seen from the American Hotel towards Leidse­brug and Stad­houders­kade. From left to right: entrance of the Vondelpark, Protestant orphanage (later GEB), Koepel­kerk, Hupfeld’s Music Store (Stads­archief Amsterdam).

Construction of tram rails at Leidsebosje, Amsterdam, in 1971

Construction of tram rails at Leidse­bosje in 1971, looking in southern direction towards Vondel­park (Nationaal Archief).

Monumental Plane Trees

On the southern part of the Leidse­bosje (towards the Max Euwe­plein, where the tram passes) are two of the biggest trees in Amsterdam. These hybrid plane trees (Platanus ×hispanica) were planted around 1865. They have a circumference of around 6.5m (7yd) and are some 20m (21yd) high. Hybrid plane trees are a cross between western plane trees (Platanus occidentalis) and eastern plane trees (Platanus orientalis), which are originally from the Balkan and Asia Minor.

Southern part of Leidsebosje, Amsterdam, with monumental plane trees

Southern part of the Leidse­bosje with the monumental plane trees, looking in the direction of the Over­toom (March 2022).

When the new and wider Leidse­brug across the Singel­gracht (towards the Leidse­plein) was constructed in 1925 together with a roundabout and new tram lines, the city wanted to cut the trees down. But massive protests from the Amsterdam population made the city decide to move the then 60 year old trees by a good 14m (16yd), using winches and manpower, which was something unheard of in those days. The combined cost of the area’s restruc­turing operation was thus a whopping 1,255,000 Dutch guilders ($ 10,800,000 in today’s money).

Southern part of Leidsebosje, Amsterdam, with plane trees from 1865

Southern part of the Leidse­bosje with the plane trees from 1865 (March 2022).

Sculptures on the Leidse­bosje

  • Bust of playwright Herman Heijer­mans (1864-1924) by Joseph Mendes da Costa in expressionist style, placed here in 1935. It stood in the Vondelpark first in 1929, but was vandalized there. In 1940 it was destroyed again (Heijermans was of Jewish descent). In 1964 a copy of the original was placed here.
  • Bust of writer Arthur van Schendel (1874-1946) by Jobs Wertheim, since 1952.
  • Horizontale Compositie (Horizontal Composition) by Henk Zweerus (1920-2005), since 1958.
  • Het Boomzagertje (The Little Tree Cutter) by De Onbekende Beeldhouwer (The Unknown Sculptor) since 1989. Removed in October 2019, replaced in May 2020.
Northern part of the Leidsebosje, Amsterdam, looking towards the American Hotel

Northern part of the Leidse­bosje, looking towards the American Hotel, with statue of Herman Heijermans (June 2020).

Of note is also a classic electric power distri­bution box of the former Amsterdam GEB (Municipal Energy Company), designed in Amsterdam School style in 1926 by P.L. Marnette (1888-1948).

Het Boomzagertje (The Little Tree Cutter)

One of the best known and most mentioned statues in the city is the Little Tree Cutter (offi­cially named Het Zagertje, the Sawer). The little guy is seen sawing off the branch he stands on. He suddenly appeared during the night on one of the big branches of a plane tree in January 1989, a few meters high, created by De Onbekende Beeld­houwer (The Unknown Sculptor) — this artist also created the violin player rising from the ground in the Stopera on Water­loo­plein. The city was given ownership of the statues on the condition that the name of the artist would never be revealed — in total there are now six of his works in Amsterdam. The only contact with the artist is through the curator of the Amsterdam Museum. According to the city, the artist is a medic who sculpts in his spare time.

Statue The Little Sawer in March 2018, Amsterdam

The Little Sawer in March 2018, still on his original branch (photo Alf van Beem).

In October 2019 the small iron statue had suddenly disappeared and people suspected it had been stolen. But it turned out that the branch the statue was on had been compro­mised by mould and cracking. For a while it had been attached to a stronger branch above it with a rope to support it, but eventually it had to be cut off, statue and all. Earlier, in 1996, the little guy had already lost his beret, which is why for a while he had a sign hanging off of him saying “Who’s got my cap?”, after which the cap was returned. Even his saw has been broken off once and was replaced. After the artist had cleaned and restored the statue, it was returned to the Leidsebosje in May 2020, but not on the same tree and on a lower branch, making it less of a discovery. Anyway, he is still hard at work to create his own downfall.

The Little Sawer by De Onbekende Kunstenaar, on his new branch, Amsterdam

The Little Sawer by De Onbekende Kunstenaar, on his new branch (June 2020).

Short History of Leidsebosje & Surroundings

  • 1662: Leydsche Poort (Leiden Gate) built. Just outside the city gate people love to stroll here in the 17th, 18th and 19th century.
  • 1750: City map shows the strip as De Leydsche Bosschage (The Leiden Bush).
  • 1774: First (wooden) Stads­schouw­burg built on Leidse­plein.
  • 1788: Leidsebosje is frequently the scene of executions by firing squad.
  • 1862: Leidsepoort demolished, replaced with a police post called Leidsche Barrière, demolished in 1881.
  • 1865: Vondelpark created.
  • 1881: On the Leidse­plein the first versions of the American Hotel and the Hirsch building. A fixed bridge is placed from Stad­houders­kade to Leidseplein. Now people can more easily reach the Vondelpark.
  • 1882: Deaconry of the Orphanage for girls of the Nederlands Hervormde Gemeente, next to the entrance of the Vondelpark at Stad­houders­kade 22.
  • 1884: The Nederlands Hervormde Koepel­kerk is built at Stad­houders­kade 21.
  • 1894: Brick Stads­schouw­burg on Leidse­plein built, after the first wooden one burned down in 1890.
  • 1911: Hupfeld’s Piano, Phonola, and Music Store at Stad­houders­kade 19.
  • 1920: Restructuring of the Orphanage Deaconry at Stad­houders­kade 22, transforming it into the Tesselschade hospital. Closed in 1936.
  • 1922: Head Office of the municipal tram company (Gemeente­tram) at Stad­houders­kade 1.
  • 1922-1968: Building of Gemeente­lijke Woning­dienst (Municipal Housing Service) at Stad­houders­kade 2.
  • 1925: Construction of round­about near Leidsebosje. New wider bridge with sculptures.
  • 1928: Building of the AMVJ (Amster­damsche Vereniging voor Jonge­mannen) at corner Stad­houders­kade and Vondel­straat. It had a bar, reading tables and billiards and a swimming pool below the building, where many Amsterdam school children learned to swim. The building also houses the Centraal Hotel (now NH Amsterdam City Centre Hotel). Next to it is office building Atlanta at Stad­houders­kade 5, also from 1928, built for American REO Automobil Company.
  • 1933: Café Restaurant Lido built, demolished in 1988. New Lido from 1991 as part of Holland Casino.
  • 1939: Head­quarters of GEB (Municipal Energy Company) in the former Orphanage Deaconry at Stad­houders­kade 22.
  • 1950: Persilhuis at Stad­houders­kade 19 built, head­quarters of Persil detergent company (demolished in 1972).
  • 1952: Bust of Arthur van Schendel by Jobs Wertheim placed at Leidsebosje.
  • 1958: Sculpture Horizontal Composition by Henk Zweerus placed at Leidsebosje.
  • 1964: Sculpture of Herman Heijermans replaced after restoration. It had been defaced during the war, because Heijermans was Jewish.
  • 1968: Aurora building on the corner of Stad­houders­kade and Overtoom.
  • 1971: T-crossing instead of roundabout and placement of new tram rails.
  • 1972: Koepelkerk and Persil House demolished.
  • 1974: Marriot Hotel built at Stadhouderskade 12.
  • 1985: Protestant orphanage demolished at Stad­houders­kade 22.
  • 1985: Adamant sculpture at Leidsebosje (to celebrate 400 years diamond business in Amsterdam), removed in 2013.
  • 1986: Bust of Van Schendel sculpture found after it had gone missing for 5 years. It was discovered by a scrap iron trader in Utrecht. In the meantime a copy of the sculpture had been placed.
  • 1988: Original Lido demolished.
  • 1989: Statue of Boomzagertje (Little Tree Cutter) placed by De Onbekende Beeldhouwer (The Unknown Sculptor).
  • 1990: Bomb explodes at building Aurora (placed by ETA, Basque Separatists).
  • 1991: Holland Casino built at Max Euweplein.
  • 1991: Byzantium office and apartments building, constructed between 1988 and 1991, where once the Orphanage Deaconry stood. Many Amsterdammers consider it a hideous blemish in that spot.
Southern part of the Leidsebosje, Amsterdam, seen towards Singelgracht

Southern part of the Leidse­bosje with bust of Van Schendel and kiosk, seen towards the Singel­gracht (February 2022).

Northern part of the Leidsebosje, Amsterdam, seen towards Stadhouderskade

Northern part of the Leidse­bosje, seen towards Stad­houders­kade (May 2022).

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