ARTIS was founded under the name Natura Artis Magistra by Messrs Westerman, Werlemann and Wijsmuller in 1838, with the objective of "Promoting the knowledge of Natural History".
Until then, most European zoos were privately owned but, following the example of London Zoo (1828) ARTIS sought to be publicly accessible to the well-to-do middle classes. ARTIS was originally built where today the Children's Farm is, then known as the ‘Buiten Middenhof’.
The initial collection was not particularly spectacular - a few parrots, monkeys and a wildcat from Suriname - but a year later ARTIS was able to adopt C. van Aken's entire ‘travelling menagerie’. A parade of animals, headed by the big elephant Jack, accompanied by numerous other animals including lions, a panther, a tiger, a puma, hyenas, polar bears, brown bears, a zebra, a gnu, a kangaroo and even a boa constrictor more than five metres long. ARTIS had suddenly become a real zoo.
From the early 20th century ARTIS started to decline. In 1939 the Natura Artis Magistra Society was even at risk of bankruptcy. With the exception of the live animals, all properties were therefore transferred to the City of Amsterdam and the Province of Noord-Holland. ARTIS was allowed to lease the buildings and grounds for one guilder per year!
After the difficult war years ('40-'45), things improved again for ARTIS in the 50s and 60s. Following a brief decline around 1970, ARTIS flourished during the last two decades of the 20th century. In 1988 ARTIS celebrated its 150th anniversary by opening a new Planetarium.
The future: ARTIS is renovating
In the past 20 years, ARTIS embarked on a radical process of modernisation, intended to make ARTIS more socially relevant for the future. A transition from zoo to educational institution. In a world where the relationship between nature and humans is very vulnerable, ARTIS seeks to stimulate a love and care for nature and to develop into the leading institution in that field. That is why ARTIS is renovating. More space is being created for animals and plants, for education and heritage.
The Ape House, Aviary and Pheasantry have already been restored to their former glory. The microbe museum Micropia opened its doors in 2014 and Artisplein and the recently restored Ledenlokalen (‘Members' Halls’) have been opened to the public. The new enclosures for the jaguars, Asian elephants, red-faced spider monkeys and buff-cheeked gibbons have also been completed. In 2021, the doors of the Aquarium closed and the restoration of this monumental building began.
ARTIS opened a new museum on May 12, 2022. After 75 years of being closed to the public, the Groote Museum reopened with a completely new concept. In the Groote Museum, besides the differences and similarities, visitors experience above all the connection between everything that lives: humans, animals, plants and microbes. The reopening is an important step within the future plan of ARTIS to let visitors look at our world with different eyes.