Mata Hari: The Myth and the Maiden


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The Mata Hari exhibition at the Museum of Friesland in Leeuwarden, subtitled ‘The Myth and the Maiden’, takes a unique look at the life of the Friesland-born superstar, who is widely regarded as one of the most popular exotic dancers ever, as well as an accused wartime spy. This major exhibition is part of Leeuwarden-Friesland 2018, the European Capital of Culture program, shedding new light on her story, showcasing letters, personal belongings, pictures, newly released military records and more.

  • Dare to discover one of the most intriguing tales from Frisian history at the Museum of Friesland, from 14 October 2017 until 2 April 2018.
  • Learn new sides of Mata Hari’s dramatic story from newly released French military records.
  • Her story is just one of many riveting, surprising elements to uncover during Leeuwarden-Friesland 2018.

Delve into the history of a Frisian icon

Leeuwarden-born Margaretha Zelle, more commonly known as Mata Hari, captivated the European media as an exotic dancer in Paris. Throughout the pinnacle of her career, from 1903 to around 1912, the free-spirited nonconformist attracted attention from all sides. In true Friesland style, Mata Hari lived in the here and now, always embracing the moment and living her life to the fullest. Her numerous love affairs sparked much suspicion from the French authorities, which ultimately led to her execution in 1917, aged 41.

From 14 October 2017 until 2 April 2018, the Museum of Friesland pays tribute to the icon with a major exhibition called ‘Mata Hari: The Myth and the Maiden’. And exactly 100 years since her death, France has at last made her case records public, so expect some surprises. 

Learn the full story at the Museum of Friesland

The hotly anticipated Mata Hari exhibition at the Museum of Friesland, an impressive home to Frisian art, culture and historical artefacts, offers a personal glimpse into the life of the seasoned seductress. Through her letters, personal belongings, pictures, costumes, rare performance recordings and now military records, dare to get to know the real woman behind the myth. From her early life to the intrigue-filled years before her death, new sources provide fresh insights into her legacy and whether she was indeed a double agent. The city of Leeuwarden, in partnership with the province of Friesland, is the European Capital of Culture 2018, so what better way to embrace the area’s striking history than to delve into the past of one of its most infamous and culturally defining stars?

A double agent or duped seductress?

Mata Hari is iconic in every sense of the word. The very embodiment of a femme fatale, her legacy is symbolic of Europe’s decline during the First World War. Following her lavish childhood years, a slew of family troubles led to her marrying an abusive Dutch army captain and relocating to the Dutch East Indies. After the marriage failed, Mata Hari took off to start her life in Paris. She began as a circus horse rider in 1903, but slowly began to gain fame as an exotic dancer, learning from the Parisian leaders of the movement.

Her flirtatious nature attracted wide-spread male attention. She became a mistress of many high-profile men in positions of power, including politicians, high-ranking military officers and even a millionaire (a rarity during the early 20th century). During the Great War, she utilised Holland’s neutrality to travel freely across international borders, leading to her becoming romantically involved with a Russian pilot. After he was gravely injured, Mata Hari was given an ultimatum: she could only visit her wounded lover if she agreed to spy for Germany. Whether or not she actually spied is still contested, but she was eventually found guilty in France and was executed by firing squad on 17 October 1917.

We recommend: Get a taste of the diva lifestyle for yourself by paying a visit to one of Leeuwarden’s many top-notch shopping areas and by checking out the area’s vibrant nightlife.

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Mata Hari: The Myth and the Maiden
Wilhelminaplein 92
8911BS Leeuwarden
Watch this video: Leeuwarden-Fryslân 2018