The Royal Palace

This might seem like an odd question, but bear with me: what was the highest building in Amsterdam in the seventeenth century? Anyone who even remotely payed attention during history class might make the educated guess of it being a church, or maybe one of the city’s gates. But that would be wrong: the tallest building by two centimetres was the Royal palace, a building with a misleading name, an interesting history and a colorful story.

Royal Palace

Firstly, the Royal palace was not supposed to be a palace, but rather the town hall of Amsterdam. The function of a town hall back then was a healthy mix between law-making and justice-administering, which means that it both functioned as a mayors office and a court. It was built to honor (and show off) Amsterdam’s newly acquired wealth. Architect Jan van Kampen was determined to outshine any other town hall. A little bit of background knowledge is required here: the Dutch (which includes the Belgians at this point) were fighting a war against Spain. Spain had destroyed the powerful (and easily accessible) port of Antwerpen. This was Amsterdam’s chance to become the next most powerful port in Europe, which it did. The Dutch, after winning the war, became a republic and considered themselves relatively democratic. Instead of having a king like most other countries at that time, the (rich) citizens ruled. This is shown throughout the palace, as there are references to this nearly everywhere. Most significantly, of course, is the building’s length. This is to say: citizens are the most important rulers here, not the church, not a king.

The Royal palace was built in a style which we call neoclassicism, or, as the Dutch like to call it, Dutch classicism. This was a style which recycled a lot of Greco-Roman elements, such as pillars, arches and marble everywhere. The style does only use architectural elements, because if you look closely, or if you listen to your (audio-) guide carefully, you will see Greco-Roman gods and myths pop up everywhere. The great hall, or Citizens Hall, is a great example of this, since there is a whole universe to discover. It begins with the three big circular maps of the ‘’world’’ (remember, these were made in the seventeenth century, so their accuracy is, let’s just say, debatable). These, of course, represent the world. The elements, water, earth, fire and air, decorate the archways to the gallery. The Citizens Hall is, therefore, considered a representation of the micro-universe.

Combined with the gallery, it forms the macro-universe. The gallery is namely decorated with the Greco-Roman representations of the planets (among many other things) in our solar system. To sum them all up: Apollo (god of the sun, his Roman name is the same) and Jupiter (god of, well, Jupiter, also known as Zeus) decorate one corner. Mercurius (of course, he would be god of none other than the planet Mercurius, he is also known as Hermes by the Greeks) and Diana (goddess of the moon, goes by Artemis in Greek) decorate another corner. Up next we have Saturnus (more commonly known as Chronos, god of, you guessed it, Saturn) joined by none other than our favourite goddess Cybele (goddess of earth, better known as Gaia). And lastly we have Mars (god of the lovely planet Mars, who is better known as Ares) and lastly Venus (who is goddess of our other neighbour-planet and goes by the name Aphrodite in Greek). These together form the solar system and therefore the macro-universe. All this is, of course, to show that Amsterdam is, in fact, the centre of the universe.

Only when Napoleon took over our country in 1806 and made his brother, Louis, King. He lived in the town Hall and turned it into a palace. And so, Amsterdam’s grandeur, especially built for the citizens, was once again wasted on a king. It did not last long, though, because in 1813, Napoleon was defeated and the Netherlands was free at last. King William the first was appointed and the palace passed to him. Through his line, eventually we get to King William the fourth, our current king, who is now the owner of the palace. The palace is mostly open for visitors, though it is still used for royal visits, as it still serves as a visiting palace, to show off what the Netherlands have to offer.

In conclusion, the Royal palace is the ultimate tribute to Amsterdam, as its grandeur and elegance reflect Amsterdam. Its classic style is clearly visible through not only the architecture, but also the decoration as well, as the halls are decorated with Greco-Roman gods in galore. Although it is no longer Amsterdams town hall, it has not lost its magic. The palace is something you definitely cannot miss on your trip to Amsterdam. And with any luck, you can impress everyone with your knowledge about our solar system : )