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
12 years ago, 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 renovation work is being carried out in two phases.
The Ape House, Aviary and Pheasantry, all three listed buildings, have already been restored to their former glory. The microbe museum Micropia has opened its doors and Artisplein and the recently restored Ledenlokalen (‘Members' Halls’) have been opened to the public. The new jaguar enclosure and the expansion of the elephant enclosure on the present car park on Plantage Doklaan, have also been completed.
The renewal continues at ARTIS: projects include restoring the Aquarium and the Groote Museum to their former glory. ARTIS hopes that, in the future, this will again enable a broad section of the public to learn about the interrelation between things in nature.