The bust of Samuel Sarphati (1813-1866), the Jewish doctor and philanthropist, permanently surveys the rectangular green Sarphatipark in the middle of trendy De Pijp area, that is named in his honour. Dr Sarphati is remembered for being a talented and socially-active doctor who worked hard as a civic planner for the general improvement of the health and the living standard of residents of Amsterdam in the 19th century.
This green heart of De Pijp is within a 20-minute pleasant walk from the Rijksmuseum. While some big trees in the park have died recently from severe winters and diseases, the park, with its lake, is a clean, easy-going place where residents can walk their dogs, stroll and jog, and admire the flowers.
Designed by J.R.Kruyff, Dr Sarphati’ monument itself is an attractive reminder of the Netherlands in the 19th century. The good doctor was a descendant of the Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Spain and Portugal after 1492.
The persecution of Jews continued during the World War 2 when the Nazis removed the doctor’s bust from the park, because of his non-Aryan origins, and the park was renamed Bolland, after Dutch philosopher Gerardus Bolland (1854-1922). But 12 days after Amsterdam was liberated in 1945, the good doctor’s bust and his name for the park were quickly restored.
To improve what he considered to be poor level of health in the city, city planner Sarphati set up more efficient collection of garbage and initiated modern bread factories to bake bread that was more affordable to all. He also improved housing in the district for lower-income workers, while also envisaging improvements for the neighbourhood through building the large Amstel Hotel, designed by Cornelis Outshoorn, now a large magnificent luxury hotel on the waterfront, and laying out Sarphatipark that was open in 1885. A large-scale construction project of his in 1895 was the People’s Industrial Palace (Paleis voor Volksvlijt), a trade exhibition hall, also designed by Cornelis Outshoorn, on Frederiksplein, built of glass and unfortunately burned down in 1929.
Amsterdam’s chief architect in the 1860s, J.G. van Niftrik, proposed an ambitious plan, that was rejected by city planners, to move the city centre to the southwest so that Central Station (not yet constructed) would have been where the Sarphatipark is today. The location of the architect’s grand city plan was at that time a damp countryside, dotted with windmills and country houses. Niftrik went on to draft first plans for an English-style landscape park, initially to be named Prins Hendrikpark.
But in 1870, grateful residents Amsterdam presented a petition, signed by many, for the park to be named after the late Dr Sarphati.As a residential district grew around the park, some residents voiced their opposition against the green space. Being much lower than the ground level of the surrounding neighborhood, the park was said to disturb ground water in the area by pumping up groundwater into its lake, causing houses around to subside and crack. The lake was also criticised as a source of malaria.
A special pump was built to adjust the level of the groundwater, sections of the park were filled higher in 1908. More work was done in 1972. Major renovations were made in 2004 to the park’s design: the lake water became better, two of its three small bridges were renovated, a gym and a playground were also built.
Changes that no doubt would please the town-planning doctor, Samuel Sarphati.