A walk through the royal city of The Hague, Part 1

Ulrike Grafberger, Thursday, 11 April 2013

The Hague is not Holland’s capital city, but the seat of government and the Royal Family. The Hague is therefore designated as “hofstad”, the city of the royal court, and Amsterdam as “hoofdstad”, the capital city.

It’s no longer the case that you’ll simply cross paths with the Queen or the King when out shopping in The Hague. But when you live in The Hague – as I do – there’s occasionally a “royal point of contact”. Queen Beatrix, for instance, inaugurated my son’s school and she can be seen at a concert or cultural event. And of course you can catch a glimpse of the Golden Carriage as the Royal Family travels in it through The Hague and thousands of people are lining the streets. This happens once a year and always on the third Tuesday in September when the new parliamentary year is officially opened. This day is known as Prinsjesdag, or the opening day of the Dutch Parliament.

The destination of the royal carriage ride is the Binnenhof, or Inner Court, with the Ridderzaal, or Knights' Hall, in which the Members of the Senate and Parliament, Government representatives, ambassadors and other invited guests greet the Queen or the King and then listen to the speech. This special day, which is a school holiday for the children of The Hague, is accompanied by festive concerts, banquets and ceremonies. It’s a lot of fun when watching the news on TV in the evening to see what mad hats the female ministers and Members were wearing that year.

Where history is being written

Our royal walk through The Hague starts in the Binnenhof in front of the Ridderzaal. The Binnenhof is a mediaeval building complex in which Holland’s Counts lived and ruled. The Binnenhof was founded by Count Floris IV, who built a hunting lodge here. Where high-rise buildings stand today, deer and pheasant used to come together. The Counts have since given way to the politicians and today, the Dutch Prime Minister resides in what is known as the Torentje, the Binnenhof’s little tower. The State Rooms, which can only be visited as part of a guided tour, are located in the Binnenhof’s stately buildings. The Binnenhof and Parliament next door to them are generally accessible.

We leave the Binnenhof through the gate in a westerly direction (Buitenhof, or Outer Court) and go east around the idyllic Hofvijver lake. Here, we have a wonderful view of the Binnenhof group of buildings (note the Prime Minister’s tower, which can clearly be seen). And look down, too: the walkway is covered with sea shells.

Anyone who now feels like delving into the Counts of Holland and the House of Orange in more detail may visit the Historical Museum of The Hague that lies on the eastern side of the Hofvijver. From its large paintings, you’ll get a good overview of the city’s royal history. The Bohemian King Frederick V, for instance, who was also known as the Winter King for his short reign, stayed in The Hague for a while with his wife, Elisabeth Stuart. And we learn that the German Countess Amalia of Soms-Braunfels rose rapidly from court lady to Princess of Orange, genuinely reviving court life in The Hague in the 17th century as she did so.

A walk through the royal city of The Hague continues ... in Part 2

Addresses:

Guided tours through the Binnenhof, Parliament and the Ridderzaal can be booked at the ProDemos Visitor Centre, 1 Hofweg (opposite the Binnenhof, next to Café Dudok)
The Hague’s Historical Museum, on Korte Vijverberg (located right on the Hofvijver, on the lake in front of the Binnenhof); please ask for the brochure at the ticket office.