The history of Vlooienburg: ‘This was the core of the Jewish community’

In the 17th century, where the Stopera now stands, there was a complete residential area with thousands of inhabitants: Vlooienburg. Although little is known about the neighborhood and its first inhabitants, this is now changing due to archaeological research. In the documentary Flea Castle, the history of a Jewish quarter, which can be seen at AT5 on Sunday, you will learn more about this research.

The district was created when in the period between roughly 1600 and 1750 some 14,000 people from all over Europe emigrated to Amsterdam and settled in Vlooienburg. At first they are mainly refugees from Spain and Portugal, but later Ashkenazim or High German Jews from Central and Eastern Europe also come to the neighborhood.

Freedom of Religion

The mostly Jewish emigrants flee Spain and Portugal for the Inquisition of the Catholic Church. Here, in free Amsterdam, the refugees can rebuild a Jewish future, up to the Second World War.

But how did they live? And how Jewish were they after years of oppression? There is a lot of historical knowledge about the stories of the Flea Citizens, but never before has this been linked to archaeological research.

Identity of Amsterdammers

City archaeologist Jerzy Gawronski is one of the researchers. Using excavated materials from the neighborhood, a reconstruction of life in the 17th and 18th centuries is being made. ‘That says something about the identity of the former Amsterdammers,’ says Gawronski.

Archaeological research

Research is also being carried out in York, England, into the archaeological finds from the cesspools that were found during the construction of the Oostbaan metro in 1981 and 1982. At the same time, archaeological research was also conducted there. “They are bags full of shards and bones,” says Gawronski.

Re-educated in being Jewish

Various researchers, including PhD candidate Marijn Stolk, are examining multiple perspectives, such as the material culture of everyday life. For example, where did the pots and pans come from? And what was their diet like? Which animals were found?

In the Ets Haim library of the Jewish Historical Museum, historian Tirtsah Levie Bernfeld explains that Jewish refugees who arrived in Amsterdam in the 17th century could not practice their faith for years. They had to be educated again in Jewishness.


Researchers at the University of Amsterdam link archaeological and historical data to be able to use that data to create a 3D animation of Vlooienburg in the 17th century. In this way, the history of the district becomes increasingly clear.

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