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Amsterdam’s Royal Palace — Why it was called the World’s Eighth Wonder

The Royal Palace situated on Dam Square in the center of Amsterdam was originally built as the city hall for the burgomasters and magistrates of Amsterdam.

Designed in the 17th century by Jacob van Campen, it is built on 13,659 wooden piles [one for each of the days of the year with a one in front and a nine behind] that were driven deep into the sandy soil. It is a construction technique still necessary and employed today.

The palace’s ponderous exterior – meant to convey the civic power of 17th century Amsterdam in particular, and the Dutch Republic in general – belies its magnificent interior.

Video: A Tour of Amsterdam’s Royal Palace

‘The World’s Eight Wonder’

The poet Constantijn Huygens hyped it as ‘the world’s Eighth Wonder’, a monument to the cockiness Amsterdam felt at the dawn of its Golden Age.

However, the exterior is only really impressive when viewed from the rear — where Atlas holds his load from a great height — and you’ll have to go inside to understand what Huygens meant.

This interior also helps the visitor realise that the confidence felt at the time was once laced with fear: God, the devil and their elements were always on hand to kick you in the teeth when you least expected it.

Inside the Palace, the epic Citizen’s Hall, with its decoration in grand marble and bronze that images a miniature universe, is meant to make you feel about as significant as the nibbling rats seen carved in stone over the door above the Bankruptcy Chamber.

Though much of the art reflects the typically jaded humour of a people who have seen it all, the overall impression is one of deadly seriousness: one screw-up and you could end up among the grotesque carvings of the Tribunal and sentenced to die in some uniquely tortuous and public way.

Kinder, gentler displays of creativity, though, can be seen in the chimney pieces, painted by artists such as Ferdinant Bol and Govert Flinck, both pupils of Rembrant (who, ironically, had his own sketches rejected).
– Source: Time Out Amsterdam (Quoted from the 2000 edition).

Royal Palace, Dam Square, Amsterdam

Royal Palace, Dam Square, Amsterdam
© Copyright DutchAmsterdam.nl. Want to use this photo?

Louis Napoleon

In 1806 the Republic was forced to accept Louis Napoleon, the brother of the French Emperor, as the King of Holland. He took possession of the city hall, which he converted to a royal palace, redecorating it in Empire style.

In the course of the 20th centry, Louis Napoleon’s modifications were reversed and the palace was restored to its original state of a government building based on classical models. However, many of Louis Napoleon’s furnishings are still on view today.

At the Queen’s Disposal

The Royal Palace on the Dam is one of the three palaces (Huis ten Bosch and Noordeinde being the others) which the State has placed at the Queen’s disposal by Act of Parliament. It is used mainly for entertaining and official functions, for example state visits, the Queen’s New Year reception and other official receptions. Every year, it provides the setting for the presentation of the Erasmus Prize, the Royal Grant to Painting and the Prince Claus Prize.
– Source: cited from older version of this page: The Dutch Royal House

The palace is also used on National Memorial day, May 4th, when the Dutch remember those who suffered and died under the Nazi German occupation during WWII. The Queen and her entourage walk from the palace to the National Monument at the opposite end of Dam Square, where they participate in a wreath-laying ceremony.

Will the Royal Palace be white again?

A comparison between the 1668 painting of the palace on the right, and the current photograph above shows that the building has dratically changed color over the years.

Royal Palace, Dam Square, Amsterdam

Painted by Jan van Kessel, in 1668, the Amsterdam Town Hall (now the Royal Palace) still sports its original color. (Incidentally, note that this picture clearly shows the origin of the name Amsterdam: a dam in the river Amstel).
Courtesy: Bureau Monumenten & Archeologie

The palace was built using Bentheimer – a sandstone that originally has a white appearance with a slight yellowish gleam. Unfortunately, while the stone is strong enough, it is very susceptible to weathering, which accounts for the palace’s current grey/brownish appearance.

While the palace’s interior currently is being renovated, technicians with the government department in charge of public buildings are now looking into the possibility of cleaning the exterior in such a way that it will not only be white again, but also resistant to further weathering.

Cleaning the building has been considered before now, but the cost — estimated at €100 million, was considered prohibitive. In addition, there is a possibility the cleaning process could damage the stones.

Virtual Visit To The Royal Palace

You don’t necessarily have to be in Amsterdam in order to visit the Royal Palace. Through the magic of Google’s Art Project, you can actually view Amsterdam’s Royal Place online.

Address and Information

While the Royal Palace is currently undergoing renovation work it is open to the public.

Koninklijk Paleis Amsterdam / Royal Palace Amsterdam
Dam square, Amsterdam

Opening Times & Ticket Prices
Open: 10:00 am – 17:00 (10 – 5 pm), but not every day. Check the calendar & opening hoursoffsite.

Getting There
The palace is located at Dam Square, an easy 10-minuted walk from Central Station. At the station you can also take any tram into the city to the ‘Dam’ or ‘Dam Square’ stop (First or second stop depending on which tram you take).

Disabled Access
The palace has easy wheelchair access. It includes a lift, a wheelchair-accessible toilet, and wheelchairs for the use of visitors.

Amsterdam Royal Palace during the Second World War Architect Jacob van Campen

Other things to see and do at Dam Square

Discover what other things you can see and do at Dam Square

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This post was last updated: Nov. 8, 2015