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In order to slow the spread of the corona virus, the Dutch government has decided to enforce a night-time curfew and people are prohibited from leaving their homes at night. The curfew will be in force from 23 January 2021. At 9pm I look outside to see nothing but an empty street. People who violate the curfew will be fined. After a couple of minutes a police van slowly drives by. Apart from that, there is nothing going on. It’s extremely quiet outside.

A song from my childhood about curfew bells keeps running through my head. In times gone by, the bells would toll to announce the evening closure of the city gates. Amsterdam’s curfew bells were situated in the Oude Kerk church. The city guards protected the local population at night and were responsible for the night watch. An old Dutch book called Hamboech scutterieboeck dating back to 1540 says: ‘des sonnendaechs savens > die boevecloc gheluyt …’*  Nobody could enter or leave the city until the morning bells were rung and this kept thieves and other criminals outside the city gate. The old Dutch name for the city guards, ‘schutterij’, is probably derived from the description of their job to ‘guard or protect’ the citizenry. Perhaps they can best be compared to our Special Investigating Officers (BOAs). The city grew rapidly in the 17th century. Around the new canal belt a system of 26 bastions and 8 city gates was built along the new Singel canal, including the Muiderpoort Gate. Following the collapse of the first gate, the city architect Cornelis Rauws built the current Muiderpoort Gate in Louis XVI style in 1770. The gates of the Singel bastions were closed at 10pm in those days. According to old customs elsewhere in Europe, this would also be the time when people extinguished their open fires. The Italian word for curfew is ‘Coprifuoco’ which means ‘cover the fire’. The Sardinian writer Grazia Deledda wrote the following in her book The Evil Path: ‘There, before him, were the dark and silent houses of Nuoro. He could still make out some small red lights flickering in the darkness. The evening bell was ringing: it was time to go to sleep, to go to dreamland or to commit a crime…’. Consciously or subconsciously, she splits the locals into two types of people. Good and evil.

The protective city gates may have disappeared, yet the imposition of a curfew led to anti-curfew riots on Monday evening 25 January 2021 in Amsterdam Oost in the Indische Buurt neighbourhood, around Molukkenstraat. Property was vandalised and the windows of restaurant Badhuis Oedipus on Javaplein were smashed. Maarten Poorter, chair of the district council called the riots a ‘major setback for the area’. Fortunately, it has been eerily quiet at night in my own street since the curfew was introduced. We have even seen some snow. Snow muffles sounds. Sounds have disappeared, it’s a silent night.



by Dineke Rizzoli

Meer info:

  • Avondklokje Koor Van Vergeten Liedjes 16 ‘Zonnetje gaat van ons scheiden….. – YouTube
  • Hollanders in de Gouden Eeuw *
  • Schuttersstukken in de Hermitage *
  • Detail uit 1632 van ‘Maaltijd van schutters van de compagnie van kapitein Backer en luitenant Rogh’ door N. E. Pickenoy.
  • In 1540 vermeldde het Hamboech scutterienboeck onder meer: ‘des sonnendaechs savens die boevecloc [boevenklok] gheluyt met drie grote cloeken, daer xv man an gheluyt hebben een uure lanc …’ *


Soundtrackcity Het huis van Amsterdam met dank aan: Gemeente Amsterdam West