Map of Teylers
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
Teylers is an 18th century museum complex and former scientific institution in the centre of Haarlem. It has been on the Dutch Tentative List since 2011, and even already was brought up for nomination in 2013. However, ICOMOS advised a ‘Rejection’ and the nomination was subsequently withdrawn by The Netherlands before the WHC session. The nomination failed to convince of the building’s scientific purpose (next to being ‘just’ a museum) and only small part of the complex was seen as exceptional. The Dutch still have hopes for a future renomination though, especially after several extensive renovation projects will be finished.
I had visited Teylers before in 2010, but was very disappointed at the time because of its small size and presence of crowds of inexperienced museum visitors. Now, in 2018, they have finished one of their major projects: the Lorentz Lab. This shows the office and laboratory of physicist Hendrik Lorentz, winner of the Nobel Prize in 1902 and “leading spirit” in an international network of early theoretical physicists that also included Albert Einstein.
On a rainy Sunday in March I paid the quite hefty 13.5 EUR entrance fee plus 1 EUR extra for a tour of the recently opened Lorentz Laboratory. I was one of the first to enter the building and directly walked all the way to the end, to the Oval Room. This was the only part that ICOMOS deemed of exceptional value, although its value also is as much about the (moveable) exhibits as about the design of the room. It is here that scientific experiments were shown to the public. Visitors could look down upon that from a balcony (now unfortunately closed).
The room is full of cabinets stuffed with scientific instruments. What they are is written on small accompanying notes in Dutch and English, but how they were used remains a mystery to the visitor. This is a handicap of the whole museum: there is so little space in the 3 original rooms and the entrance hall that there is no room for interpretation.
They’ve tried to solve this issue with the Lorentz laboratory. Access is only possible by a guided tour, a few times a day with a maximum capacity of 20 people. The tour is conducted by 2 actors, who tell about the life of Lorentz and reenact some experiments. It’s totally in Dutch and mostly relies on the spoken word, so it’s not worth it for foreign visitors I believe. The most spectacular ‘experiment’ takes place at the end of the 50 minute tour: a copy of the large electrostatic generator (the original from 1784 is in the museum upstairs) is put to work to generate electrical sparks.
With this exhibition, Teylers is adding the promotion of scientific knowledge to the general public again to its agenda. I doubt however that this will be enough to convince the WHC of a future inscription. To me they seem to strive just a little too hard for gaining WH status, while the visitor numbers are high already at the moment (127,000 in 2017) and there is little space for growth in the 18th century complex.
On the occasion of our WHS get together in Rotterdam, I decided to visit Teylers Museum in Haarlem. My parents recommended visiting Haarlem in general. And the logistics were good, as Haarlem is well connected with both Amsterdam and Rotterdam.
Teylers is a museum named after Pieter Teyler, a wealthy citizen of Haarlem. He died childless and donated large parts of his estate to the founding of the museum in 1778. The topics of the museum range from natural science to the arts and fit well into the age of enlightenment.
The very original (18th century) presentation of items is the key feature of the museum. I hope the linked image gives a bit of an impression.
While this may have historical or cultural value, it makes it very hard to access and enjoy the collection as a visitor nowadays. You receive very little visual guidance (where to look, what is important, some explanations). And the cabinets feel cluttered with too many objects on show. I do feel that how we present objects in museums has significantly improved since the 18th century.
The Dutch argument for inscription rests on the role of the institution in fostering science in the Enlightenment, the civilian origin of the museum and the original state of the museum. They claim this to be a first.
Personally, I found myself greatly reminded of the Franckesche Stiftungen in Halle, a civilian foundation by a childless merchant itself. The Stiftungen house the oldest civilian museum in Germany. While the exhibition in Halle is smaller and served a different purpose (school instead of science with a clear religious bent), it's still about natural science and presented in similar 18th century manner using large cabinets. Finally, Halle is older (80 years or so). Knowing that Halle is up for decision soon, the Dutch should possibly rework their nomination file a bit to strengthen their OUV claim.
There are plenty of regular trains from Amsterdam. Then it's a 15min walk from Haarlem station.
While You Are There
- Haarlem itself is quite nice and worth a visit. Small streets, canals, .. very Dutch and less crowded than Amsterdam.
- The Grote Kerk and the Grote Markt are images you will know if you have seen any Dutch Masters.
All sites of the Amsterdam hotspot, specifically: