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The Coat of Arms of the City of Amsterdam

The Coat of Arms of the city of Amsterdam is somewhat of an enigma: not much is known about its origins or its precise meaning.

Amsterdam emblem on the side of a houseboat

Amsterdam emblem on the side of a houseboat

At its heart are three white X’s displayed on a black band that runs down the middle of a red shield.

You can dismiss one frequently suggested explanation right off the bat: Forget the dated, louche image of Amsterdam as a city high on triple-X entertainment.

The X’s are actually St. Andrew’s Crosses — named after the apostle Andrew who was martyred on an X-shaped cross in the 1st century AD.

The shield is the official symbol of the City of Amsterdam.

In the full coat of arms the shield is shown underneath the Imperial Crown of Austria (more about that in a moment).

Coat of Arms of the city of Amsterdam

Coat of Arms of the city of Amsterdam

Two golden lions flank the shield, and the motto of Amsterdam is on a scroll below it: Heldhaftig (Heroic), Vastberaden (Resolute), Barmhartig (Merciful) — jokingly updated by some as ‘Defiant, Stubborn, and Extremely Tolerant.’

Throughout Amsterdam you can see depictions of portions of the Coat of Arms, but the full version is seldom used.

Amsterdam Cost of Arms: Meaning Unknown

Many people believe the St. Andrew’s crosses refer to the three dangers medieval Amsterdam faced: fire, floods and the Black Death. But there is no historical evidence for that interpretation.

Emblem of the city of Amsterdam

Emblem of the city of Amsterdam

As mentioned, though titillated folks with an active imagination often assume the three X’s refer to the city’s liberal reputation, that is not the case either.

The three crosses also do not represent the words of the official motto, which has only been in use since 1947. The motto was added that year by then Queen Wilhelmina to commemorate the demeanor of the citizens of Amsterdam during World War II.

We do know the symbol has been in use for a long time.

During recent construction work for the North/South metro line workers found a pair of old pliers bearing the three crosses. Archaeologists have dated the tool to 1350 — making it the oldest instance of the emblem.

The official web site of the City of Amsterdam explains:

The heraldic origins of the coat of arms of Amsterdam are unknown. The black banner in the centre could represent the water of the rivers Amstel and IJ at which the city is located.

Westertoren, Amsterdam

Detail of the Westertoren, showing the emblem of Amsterdam, as well as the symbol of the imperial crown of Maximilian of Austria

The three St. Andrew’s crosses may stem from the Persijn crusader family from Waterland, which owned a considerable amount of land in and around Amsterdam.

In 1489 the small merchant city obtained the right to add to its coat of arms the crown of the monarch, Maximilian I, archduke of Austria, German king and Holy Roman emperor.

For the merchants of Amsterdam the crown was a weighty recommendation in other elements of the Kingdom, right down to the 17th century.

By that time, Amsterdam had long been a powerful trading city in a by now Protestant country which, in 1648, was formally to leave the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation under the Peace of Münster.

The crown adorning the emblem and the tower of the Westerkerk church is in fact the crown of emperor Rudolf II. The two lions were added as shield-bearers in the 16th century.

In recognition of the conduct of the people of Amsterdam during the German occupation of 1940-1945, Queen Wilhelmina granted the city the right on 27 March 1947 to add to the coat of arms the motto ‘Valiant, Resolute, Compassionate’.
– Source: Amsterdam.nl

Amsterdam City Flag: “The most badass city flag in the world”

Bear with us for a moment.

The study of flags is called vexillology. An expert on flags is called a vexillologist. Yes, a vex-il-lol-o-gist.

Podcast host Roman Mars loves flags. In 2015 he gave a hugely popular TED Talk on city flag design: Why city flags may be the worst-designed thing you’ve never noticed.

He shows many examples of poorly (or even terribly) designed flags representing American cities.

Then, while displaying Amsterdam’s coat of arms, he says:

Amsterdam seal flagThe European equivalent of the city seal in the city coat of arms [Shows the Amsterdam Coat of Arms]. And this is where we can learn a lesson on how to do things right. So this is the city coat of arms of Amsterdam.

Now if this were a United States city, the flag would probably look like this [Shows the same coat of arms, but now on a blue background].

But instead, the flag of Amsterdam looks like this [Shows the flag of Amsterdam]

Rather than popping the whole code arms of Amsterdam on a solid background and writing ‘Amsterdam’ below it, it takes the key elements of the escutcheon — the shield — and they turn it into the most badass city flag in the world.

And because it’s so badass, those flags and crosses are found throughout Amsterdam.

TED Talk by Roman Mars. His comments regarding the flag of Amsterdam start at 10:05

Flags of Amsterdam and Holland

Amsterdam Emblem: Flags, umbrellas, hats, underwear, tattoos, and more

The emblem shows up on just about anything and everything: flags, buildings, hats, cups, underwear, napkins, and so on. You can have it tattooed on your body, buy it as jewelry, or eat it as chocolate.

Chances are you’ll buy at least one souvenir with the emblem imprinted on it.

A buyer beware: the umbrellas sold in tourist/souvenir shops often don't make it through more than a week's worth of rain.

A buyer beware: the umbrellas sold in tourist/souvenir shops often don’t make it through more than a week’s worth of rain.

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This post was last updated: Jan. 20, 2018