Overseas trade made Amsterdam one of the wealthiest and fastest growing cities in Europe during the 17th century. The need for accommodation was great so the city council decided to reclaim the swampy tracts of land on the other side of the Amstel River. This ‘fourth city extension’ was completed in 1680, but the area soon appeared to be too large and many plots remained unsold. Construction in the new city district stagnated and in 1682 the decision was taken to turn it into an idyllic spot. It was to become a place where good citizens could purchase and keep gardens, take walks, enjoy the sunshine and chat about flowers and plants. And this is exactly what happened. The district became a green recreational area with elegant allotments, to which the Plantage owes its name. Citizens were allowed to purchase the gardens and build small garden houses, but permanent dwellings, the practise of trades and commerce were forbidden.
The Plantage was a huge success immediately and all the plots were sold swiftly. The stench of the canals in the densely populated city centre made middle-class residents of Amsterdam yearn for some green areas. The small gardens continued increasing in size during the 18th century and illegal public houses also appeared. Customers flocked to the area and the Plantage became known as a ‘debauched garden of pleasure’ – many prostitutes had also found their way to the green area in the meantime. In an attempt to restrict the Plantage’s wild reputation to some extent, permits were revoked, sellers of liquor were fined and a policeman was assigned to the area. Despite this, the Plantage remained a place for pleasure and entertainment: in the 19th century it became a veritable entertainment district with numerous theatres, dance halls and bars. It became home to many writers, actors and scientists and wealthy Jewish citizens built stately homes there at the end of the 19th century. The character of the district changed during the Second World War, however. The Jewish community, which accounted for around 60% of its population, was locked up in the Hollandsche Schouwburg and deported from there. After this terrible period, the Plantage would no longer be a place associated with carefree pleasure only. Today it is a green neighbourhood where the Jewish past is perceptible and reflected through various cultural institutions.