The Dutch Institute in Rome, which celebrates its centenary this year, came into being as a direct result of the opening of the Vatican archives to scholars in 1880. It was founded in 1904 by the historian Petrus J. Blok of the University of Leiden, and Victor de Stuers from the arts and sciences department of the Dutch ministry of the interior.

The Vatican was in the unique position of having maintained unbroken relations with all European countries over many centuries, and the opening of the archives brought scholars from all over Europe to study the historic documents of their respective countries; this included the Netherlands, where to this day one third of the population is nominally Roman Catholic.

The Dutch Institute therefore started life as a historical institute, but soon the disciplines of archaeology and history of art were introduced. Since 1933 the home of the institute has been a handsome building in the green and tranquil Via Omero in the Valle Giulia, in Villa Borghese. This was an area set aside by Mussolini for the various foreign cultural organisations in Rome and the land still belongs to the city.

The institute is directly overseen by the University of Groningen, with an administrative council drawn from six Dutch universities, together with representatives from the Dutch ministry of higher education. The director is from a Dutch university and holds the position for five years. The present incumbent, Dr Marjan Schwegman, is a professor of modern Italian history at the University of Utrecht. She took up this post at the beginning of 2003 and considers her responsibilities to be a mixture of administration, teaching and following students in their studies. She is assisted by Catharina van der Linden, who is the permanent administrator. The staff includes experts in archaeology, history and history of art; members conduct their own research and guide the fellows and students in their studies.

The institute sees itself as an intermediary for the interests of Holland in Italian academic circles, and as such regards the organisation of conferences in collaboration with Italian and Dutch universities as one of its most important functions. It provides accommodation for up to 20 students or academics at a time, with a turnover of 500600 a year. They are mostly on fellowships and, when applying, must specify the exact project they wish to work on in Rome.

The atmosphere is one of quiet and ordered efficiency. This is particularly noticeable in the library, which is spacious, peaceful and well-lit, with large windows overlooking a restful garden. It is well-provided with basic books on the history, culture and institutions of the Low Countries, but is specialised in works on Rome and central Italy. Its books are mainly in Dutch, German, Italian and English. The library is open to all students interested in the Netherlands, and has a catalogue, which can be consulted on the institutes website.

The celebrations for the centenary of the Dutch Institute are concentrated at the end of October and take various forms. There will be several events under the overall title of La Diva Dolorosa about women in cinema and more specifically about the personification of the unhappy film star. These will start on 20 October with a symposium at the institute explaining the role of women in Italian public life and the interaction between emotion and expressiveness in cinema and musical productions. Then on 21 October there will be a showing at the Auditorium-Parco della Musica of the film La Diva Dolorosa, made in 1999 by the Dutch director Peter Delpeut. It is an assembly of cuts from Italian silent films from the beginning of the 20th century, and will be accompanied by a live performance of music specially composed for the occasion by Loek Dikker. From 26-31 October there will be performances of the play Tre volte Duse, by the writer and director Rosamaria Rinaldi in La Casa delle Culture in Via S. Crisogono 45 (Trastevere), which will feature the Dutch writer and psychiatrist Frederick van Eeden, and Italian stars of the early 20th century, such as Eleanora Duse, Etha Fles and Cordula Poletti.

In addition to La Diva Dolorosa project, several other events will take place. On 22 October the institute will inaugurate a virtual show on DVD about its history, with an accompanying book, photos, architectural designs, valuable books from the library and archaeological finds from the excavations under the church of S. Prisca on the Aventine and from the ancient city of Satricum.

Also on 22 October there will be the inauguration of the exhibition Wonderholland in Trajans market, with illustrations, photographs, fashion, architecture and graphic design by contemporary Dutch artists, with specific emphasis on the Dutch inclination to experiment. This exhibition will last until the end of November.

Finally, on 21 October, an exhibition in the Capitoline Museums will begin, dedicated to the famous engraver, M.C. Escher (1898-1978), who came to Rome in 1924 and then spent the next ten years working in various parts of Italy, before returning to the Netherlands in 1934. The exhibition will highlight the bonds of culture and friendship linking Italy and the Low Countries.

For information: Istituto Olandese a Roma, Via Omero, 10-12,

Tel. 063269621,