Places in the Book, Places in the City by Jessie Burton

Places in the Book, Places in the City by Jessie Burton

The Old Church (Oude Kerk), Oude Kerksplein

This is where The Miniaturist begins, and it is one of my favourite places in the city. Amsterdam’s oldest building, once a site of lootings and defacings, is now a peaceful, simple space. The roof is made of wood, the largest medieval vault in Europe – and it is still painted with Catholic icons and city saints. Look at the grave-slabs underfoot – there are about 10,000 skeletons beneath your shoes! Find the Kerkmeester’s room, where Nella has her showdown with Pastor Pellicorne. And you must absolutely go into the choir stall and flip up the seats to find medieval, wooden carvings on the underside, known as misericords. Each misercord is imaginatively carved from a different proverb. The misericord the miniaturist touches at the beginning of the novel is real. It’s one of the ruder ones . . .

The Rasphuis gate, Heiligeweg 19

All that is left of the Rasphuis, which so fascinates Agnes, is the entrance arch. The building that was once a prison for men, where inmates had to rasp brazil wood for paint and textile dye to be circulated as trading stock in the Republic’s economy. It’s now a shopping centre, worth a look for this juxtaposition of old and new, and for the terrifying sculptures on top of it. The motto from Seneca reads ‘It is virtuous to subdue the one everyone fears’, or as I put it in the novel, ‘Wild Beasts Must Be Tamed By Men’.

The Stadhuis (now known as The Royal Palace of Amsterdam), Dam Square

This is the City Hall, inaugurated in 1655. It’s where Frans Meermans works, and where Johannes is incarcerated, tortured and tried. It’s an incredibly imposing building, both outside and in. There are prison cells in the basement, and also rooms where the burgomasters stored the city’s gold. Go to the Tribunal, where the Sheriff (Schout) Slabbaert and the magistrates debate Johannes’ fate, and see if you can spot the terrifying Medusa.

The Jordaan, the western canals and the Golden Bend

One of the nicest things to do in the city is simply to amble along these old canal streets and take in the atmosphere. The Herengracht, the Keizersgracht and the Prinsengracht are the canals that were dug in the 17th century, and are still lined with houses from that period. Peer through huge glass windows, admire the gables and look out for carved plaques still embedded in the brickwork. (Street numbers were invented c.1795, so before that, people identified their homes with images. I have the Meermans living at the sign of the fox and the Brandts at the sign of the dolphin. Shopkeepers would have stones depicting their trade – tobacconists, undertakers, bakers etc.) Nella and her new family live on the Golden Bend (‘Gouden Bocht’), which is in the southern stretch of the canal belt, on the Herengracht between Leidsestraat and Vijzelstraat, though I deliberately haven’t specified exactly where.

Museum van Loon, Keizersgracht 672

If you want to see inside a grand canal house similar to the Brandts’, this is your opportunity. Built in 1672, the painter Ferdinand Bol lived here before it was occupied by the van Loon family. It’s not decorated to the 17th century style, but the rooms are the same dimensions, and the basement kitchen and the garden are wonderful.

The Amsterdam Historical Museum – or Cornelia’s orphanage. Kalverstraat 92

When Nella first sees the miniaturist and Cornelia disappears, she finds the maid kicking the door of her old orphanage. If you enter Sint Luciensteeg via the Kalverstraat, you can see the large tympanum that Nella notices too late – young children dressed in red and black, the colours of Amsterdam, grouped around a dove. After the Reformation in 1581, this monastery was turned into a public orphanage, and remained one until 1960. The actual museum is now built on what was the girls’ orphanage, where Hanna and Cornelia endured their early lives.

The Dutch East India Company headquarters (Oost-Indisch Huis) on the Oude Hoogstraat and Kloveniersburgwal

Started in 1603 and extended up until 1681, this building is now in use by the University of Amsterdam. This is where Johannes works, and where Nella goes to find him. Crews for ships were organised here, their maps and archives were also stored in its rooms. The grand meeting room was the site of much decision-making. It was also an armoury, where artillery and weapons were constructed for the Dutch East India company.

Het Scheepvaartmuseum (The National Maritime Museum), Kattenburgerplein 1, and the Eastern Islands

This building, dating from 1656, used to be the Arsenal and storehouse for Amsterdam. Here, Johannes’s goods would have entered the city from the sea. In 1650, the town council had three new islands built for shipyards, warehouses and homes. The storehouse held cannons, sails, flags and sailing equipment stored for the war fleet, and the vaulted cellars kept up to 40,000 litres of rainwater to provide drinking water for the ships. Over the water, you can go to the Eastern Islands, where Johannes’ personal warehouse was, where ships were docked, and where Nella takes Hanna and Arnoud to look at the sugar. A lot of these warehouses still exist, now converted into fashionable apartments. Sniff hard and you can smell the spices on the air…

And you might also like, among many other things to see in the city:

The Rijksmuseum

Where The Miniaturist started! Petronella Oortman’s cabinet house is on permanent display. Marvel at its intricacy and the infinite riches in its tiny rooms. There is so much else to see at the Rijksmuseum, too. Other favourites of mine include their collection of ceramics. Dive in!

Our Lord in the Attic (merchant’s house with a secret church at the top) Oudezijds Voorburgwal 40

This is Amsterdam all over. On the surface, it looks like any ordinary house, but inside . . . Merchant Jan Hartman built a hidden church in the eaves of his house. You ascend the staircase, admiring his rooms – and then suddenly you’re in a church. Imagine hushed hymns being sung, the incense being swung. It’s also a good place to visit for some social history, to see the interior of a relatively more modest house compared to the van Loon residence.

Pufferts/poffertjes, Albert Cuypmarkt, Albert Cuypstraat 1072

Go to Albert Cuypmarket, a long street market where there is a stall that still makes poffertjes as Cornelia did for Nella. I’m sure they are available all over the city, but these ones are particularly good. Puffy pancakes, drizzled in butter and sugar…and they’re so tiny the calories don’t count.

The sign of the sugarloaves, outside the Proeflokaal In de Olofspoort pub

In the 17th century, this historic tavern was a sugar refinery. I like to think Hanna and Arnoud would have had one of these signs engraved over the door of their confectionery shop on the Kalverstraat.