This very fine official plan of Paramaribo captures the capital of Surinam as it was in in 1916-7, when it was a bustling mart of commodities and of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, having large and long established European, Black, Javanese, Indian Hindu, Chinese and Jewish communities. The map was issued by the Opnemingsdienst van Suriname (Public Records Office of Surinam), predicated upon the most recent surveys and cadastral plans, and was published in The Hague by the Topographische Inrichting (Topographic Design Bureau) in 1920.
Located along a sharp bend on the navigable Surinam River, 15 km from the Atlantic, Paramaribo had been settled by Europeans since the first Dutch colonists arrived in 1613. It became the colonial capital in 1667 when Surinam officially became a Dutch colony. Paramaribo became one of the most affluent cities in the Americas from the proceeds of the ignoble slave-sugar economy.
Since the abolition of slavery in Surinam, which occurred in a graduated fashion between 1863 and 1873, Paramaribo continued to thrive, as after a period of struggle, the colony’s agrarian sector regained viability, in part due to the importation of labourers from Asia, while gold mining in the interior increasingly provided more revenue. The city’s population experienced brisk growth, as former slaves moved from the rural plantations into the city, with is population increasing from 20,000 in 1873 to 32,000 in 1900, to 37,000 in 1920, and to 74,237 in 1950 (today Paramaribo has over 250,000 residents).
The present map showcases all of Paramaribo in grand scale and shows the city to have been constructed following a system of neat grids proceeding in from the river, before phasing out into a countryside of plantations. Streets, built up areas, green spaces and the outlines of major edifices are all depicted. The city proper is composed of a reasonably dense concentration of mostly fine wooden structures in a Dutch colonial style, interspersed with spacious courtyards. The riverfront is dominated by the railway lines, quays, and warehouses, while the centre features many commercial establishments and government offices, while the areas beyond are largely residential.
The table in the lower right corner of the map labels additional streets, and the names of the 22 plantations that are adjacent to the city within in the district of ‘Beneden-Suriname’ (Lower Suriname), whole the inset map show the city’s colour-coded wards.
The ‘Legenda’ that runs along the lefthand margin, describes an incredible amount of information given the building material used for each city block and key edifice (ex. stone, wood, etc.), all manner of urban and rural land use (parkland, rice fields, cocoa, sugar, coffee, etc.), infrastructure (roads, bridges, canals, etc.) and institutions.
The coverage continues on the righthand margin, where a numbered key identifies 106 named buildings and points of interest, including government bureaus, schools, hospitals, major commercial establishments, library, theatres, places of worship (churches, synagogues, mosques and Hindu temples).
A notable site is no. 48, the Neveh Shalom Synagogue, home the one of the oldest Jewish communities in the Americas. There had been a synagogue in Surinam since at least 1665, with this site in Paramaribo hosting a temple since shortly after 1716. The present building dates from 1842.
The present map was by far and away the finest general plan of Paramaribo publicly issued to the time and remained so for many years. During World War II, the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers even reprinted it as the definitive record of a city that America might one day be forced to defend from the Axis Powers if the conflict ever got out hand.
The map is rare. While we can locate around a dozen or so institutional examples, it only very rarely ever appears on the market.
References: Koninklijke Bibliotheek (The Hague): Koninklijke Bibliotheek Magazijn 5-1410 14071223; Library of Congress: G5264.P3 1941 .S8; OCLC: 987271784, 67045823, 1090250585, 891695626; C. KOEMAN, Bibliography of Printed Maps of Suriname 1671-1971 (Amsterdam, 1973), no. 234.