The Hague

A little espresso was called for before taking on the centre of political power in the Netherlands…


The city’s name recalls the hunting lodge of the counts of Holland, which was located in a woodland area called Haghe, or “hedge”. Count William II built a castle there in 1248, around which several buildings, including the Knights’ Hall (1280), came to be clustered, and these became the principal residence of the counts of Holland. These buildings now form the Binnenhof (“Inner Courtyard”) in the old quarter of the city. About 1350 an artificial lake, the Hofvijver, was dug just to the north of the Binnenhof and still forms one of the many attractions of the city.

A commercial district grew up around the Binnenhof in the 13th and 14th centuries. In the 16th century, Holland became the chief centre of Dutch resistance to Spanish Habsburg rule, and in 1559 William I, stadtholder of the Netherlands, made The Hague his capital. About 1585 the States-General, along with other bodies of the Dutch Republic’s central government, established themselves in the Binnenhof. William’s son, Prince Maurice of Orange, soon took up residence in The Hague, and at his initiative in 1616 a web of canals was constructed around the city that continued to define its borders to the mid 19th century.


In the 17th century, when the Dutch Republic played a leading role in Europe, The Hague became a centre of diplomatic negotiation. From 1795 to 1808 it served as the capital of the French-controlled republic of Holland, and with liberation from the French the city alternated with Brussels as the meeting place of the States-General of the enlarged Kingdom of the Netherlands (1815–1830). After 1850, when the revenues from the Dutch East Indies started to pour in, the city prospered. As a result of the international conferences (Hague Convention) held there in 1899 and 1907, The Hague became a permanent centre of international law. After a long sojourn in Amsterdam, the Dutch central government returned to The Hague in 1913. The city grew rapidly in the 20th century, and new districts linked it with the popular sea resort of Scheveningen, Rijswijk, Voorburg, and other adjoining municipalities.



Today The Hague is the seat of the Dutch government and parliament, the Supreme Court, and the Council of State. Most foreign embassies in the Netherlands and 150 international organisations are located in the city, including the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, which makes The Hague one of the major cities hosting the United Nations, along with New York, Brussels, Geneva, Bonn, Vienna, Tokyo and Nairobi.

The city sustained heavy damage during World War II. Many Jews were killed during the German occupation. Additionally, the Atlantic Wall was built through the city, causing a large quarter to be torn down by the Nazi occupants. On 3 March 1945, the Royal Air Force mistakenly bombed the Bezuidenhout quarter. The target was an installation of V-2 rockets in the nearby Haagse Bos park, but because of navigational errors, the bombs fell on a heavily populated and historic part of the city. The bombardment wreaked widespread destruction in the area and caused 511 fatalities. After the war, The Hague was, at one point, the largest building site in Europe. The city expanded massively to the south west and the destroyed areas were quickly rebuilt.

City life concentrates around the Hofvijver and the Binnenhof, where the Parliament is located. Because of its history, the historical inner city of The Hague differs in various aspects from the nearby smaller cities of Leiden and Delft. It does not have a cramped inner city, bordered by canals and walls. Instead, it has some small streets in the town centre that may be dated from the late Middle Ages and several spacious streets boasting large and luxurious 18th-century residences built for diplomats and affluent Dutch families. It has a large church dating from the 15th century, an impressive City Hall (built as such) from the 16th century, several large 17th century palaces, a 17th century Protestant church built in what was then a modern style, and many important 18th century buildings.


The former Dutch colony of the East Indies, now Indonesia, has left its mark on The Hague. Since the 19th century, high level civil servants from the Dutch East Indies often spent long term leave and vacation in The Hague. Many streets are named after places in the Netherlands East Indies (as well as other former Dutch colonies such as Suriname) and there is a sizable “Indo” (i.e. mixed Dutch-Indonesian) community. Since the loss of these Dutch possessions in December 1949, “Indo people” also known as “Indische people” often refer to The Hague as “the Widow of the Indies”.

The older parts of the town have many characteristically wide and long streets. Houses are generally low-rise (often not more than three floors). A large part of the south western city was planned by the progressive Dutch architect H.P. Berlage about 1910. This ‘Plan Berlage’ decided the spacious and homely streets for several decades. In World War II, a large amount of the western portion of The Hague was destroyed by the Germans. Afterwards, modernist architect W.M. Dudok planned its renewal, putting apartment blocks for the middle class in open park-like settings.

The layout of the city is more spacious than other Dutch cities and because of the incorporation of large and old nobility estates, the creation of various parks and the use of green zones around natural streams, it is a much more green city than any other in the Netherlands. That is, excepting some medieval close-knitted streets in the centre. There are only a few canals in The Hague, as most of these were drained in the late 19th century.


Prince’s Day is an annual ceremony held on the third Tuesday of September. The reigning monarch rides from Noordeinde Palace in the famous horse-drawn Golden Carriage to the medieval Hall of Knights at the Binnenhof to deliver the Speech from the Throne. The speech sets out the main features of government policy for the coming parliamentary year. Although it’s an important formal event in Dutch politics, it is also a festive day in The Hague, celebrated with traditional treats: orange bitter en orange biscuits.


The Golden Carriage was a gift from the citizens of Amsterdam to Queen Wilhelmina to commemorate her 1898 investiture. Craftsmen used materials from all parts of the world to construct the carriage and covered the outside in gold leaf. The carriage is beautifully decorated with detailed paintings and symbolic figures, which represent the four activities on which the prosperity of the nation depends: shipping, commerce, labour and agriculture.

One of the main attractions in The Hague is the Mauritshuis, a splendid 17th century palace and an example of Dutch classicist architecture which today houses 17th century paintings from the Northern and Southern Netherlands.


The palace owes its name to its first occupant, Johan Maurits (1604 – 1679), count of Nassau-Siegen, who had the impressive building constructed in the centre of The Hague between 1633 and 1644. Its location was, and still is, ideal, for it is situated right next to the Binnenhof, the seat of Dutch government. Through the mediation of his cousin, the stadholder (governor) Frederik Hendrik (1584 – 1647), Maurits gained the rights to this piece of land, which had fallen into disuse. The adjacent lot was given to Constantijn Huygens (1596 – 1687), secretary to the stadholder, who also built an impressive mansion. Huygens was so well versed in architecture that he designed the house himself. He also played an important part in the design and construction of the Mauritshuis. When his own house was completed in 1637, Huygens was asked to supervise the construction of the house being built for Johan Maurits, then serving as the governor of the Dutch colony in Brazil. Huygens was also a good friend of Jacob van Campen (1596 – 1657), the architect of the Mauritshuis. Both men were inspired by the treatises of the 16th century Italian architects Palladio and Scamozzi, whose ideas were based in turn on the writings of the Roman architect Vitruvius. As a result, the Mauritshuis was designed in a style inspired by classical antiquity. The construction of Mauritshuis and Huygens’ house (demolished in 1876) enriched the centre of The Hague with two majestic buildings. The Mauritshuis and the Royal Palace in Amsterdam, also designed by van Campen, are among the most striking examples of Dutch classicist architecture.

After the death of Johan Maurits, the Mauritshuis came into the hands of the Maes family, who rented it out. The Duke of Marlborough was living there when fire raged throughout the building on the night of 23 December 1704; by the time the fire was extinguished, only the outside walls were standing. Fortunately, it was decided not to demolish the house, but to restore it instead. The building was given a completely new interior, with a modernised floor plan, white stucco walls and contemporary mantelpieces.

The Venetian painter Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini (1675 – 1741) was staying in The Hague at the time and he was commissioned to provide the paintings that decorate the Golden Room.


In the 18th century, the Mauritshuis was initially used as an ambassador’s residence. It later served as a military school. The cellars were rented out for wine storage, and there was even a time when prisoners were locked up there. The building was restored to some of its former glory when the Royal Library took over the premises in 1807. The library’s collection grew so quickly that it was forced to find more spacious accommodation ten years later. The Mauritshuis was bought by the Dutch state in 1820 to house the “Royal Cabinets of Paintings and Curiosities”. This made Mauritshuis a museum once and for all, and on 1 January 1822 it opened its doors to the public.


The Mauritshuis is home to the very best of Dutch Golden Age painting. More than two hundred top works from Dutch and Flemish masters are on display in the historic yet intimate interior, with its silken wall covering, sparkling chandeliers and monumental painted ceilings. Genre paintings by Jan Steen, landscapes by Jacob van Ruisdael, still lifes by Adriaen Coorte and portraits by Rubens offer a rich and varied representation of the best of 17th century Dutch and Flemish painting.

William IV (1711 – 1751) and his son William V (1748 – 1806) passionately set about the task of reconstructing the collections put together by their forebears. The treasures amassed two centuries before by William the Silent (1533 – 1584) in his palace in Brussels had all been dispersed: part had been seized by the Spaniards, including the famous Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymous Bosch (now in the Prado museum), another part sold to finance war. Frederick Henry (1584 – 1647), his son and also a stadholder, had established a brilliant court in The Hague where, like his wife Amelia of Solms, he proved a remarkable collector. The interior of their residence reflected the refined taste of humanist circles for mythological and history painting. Constantijn Huygens, author of Latin poetry and secretary of Frederick Henry, served as an intermediary with Rembrandt for the commissioning of a cycle on The Passion of Christ. The collection also had a sizeable series of paintings by Rubens. As a result of inheritances and divisions, much of the collection left the Netherlands. The same thing happened with the paintings owned by Frederick Henry’s grandson, William III, who became King of England in 1689.

The accession of William IV finally inaugurated the age of reconstruction. This time inheritances worked to royal advantage and the prince received part of the collection of the stadholders, including Simeon’s Song of Praise by Rembrandt. In 1749, at an auction in Haarlem he bought The Bull by Paulus Potter. After the early death of his father and the regency of his mother, Anne of Hanover, it was the turn of William V to indulge his love of arts. He restored the royal lustre of the stadholders’ collections. His acquisitions at auctions were astute. In 1766 he bought The Garden of Eden, a precious panel by Jan Brueghel the Elder and Rubens, the only work by these two artists that they both signed. The year 1768 was particularly rich, with the acquisition of the complete collection of Govert van Slingelandt, a former receiver general of taxes and great art lover, bringing precious portraits by Anthony van Dyck and paintings by Gabriel Metsu, Adriaen van Ostade, Paulus Potter, Jan Steen, Gerard ter Borch, and David Teniers the Younger into the collection, along with Susanna by Rembrandt and three portraits by the master. In 1774, William V opened the gallery to the public on certain days and at fixed times, making it the first museum in the Netherlands.

In 1795, after the invasion of the Netherlands by French troops, the masterpieces from the Mauritshuis were seized and taken to Paris and exhibited in the Louvre. After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, they were seized again, this time by the Prussians. The Duke of Wellington had to intervene personally for the collection to be restored to the Netherlands, however some 60 works remained in France.

The new king of the Netherlands, William I (1772 – 1843), decided to donate the collection to the nation in 1816. Its transfer to the Mauritshuis began in August 1821. On 1 January the following year, the new museum was ready for visitors. Anyone but children could gain admissi=on, providing they were decently dressed. No mention of bears! It was also under William I that the collection acquired some of its most famous works: Vermeer’s View of Delft, The Lamentation of Christ by Rogier van der Weyden, and The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt.

The main attraction of the Mauritshuis is Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.


Dubbed “The Mona Lisa of the North”, this painting has been extremely famous ever since Arnoldus des Tombe bequethed it to the Mauritshuis in 1903. des Tombe purchased the work at an auction in The Hague in 1881, for only two guilders and thirty cents. At the time, it was in poor condition.

So who was the young woman with half-open mouth, whose eyes gleam like the pearl dangling from her ear? One commentator thought she was the artist’s daughter, whereas novelist Tracy Chevalier suggested that she was a humble servant named Griet. The pearl, meanwhile, strikingly highlighted by a stroke of white paint, has sometimes been ascribed symbolic meaning – but does it represent virtue or, on the contrary, lust? In fact this painting is not a portrait but a fanciful figure or tronie (‘portrait head’). This genre emerged from Rembrandt’s workshop around 1630. Such studies, halfway between portrait and history painting, often featured models dressed in lavish, exotic garments evoking an imaginary Orient. All the artistry of Johannes Vermeer is displayed on this canvas, whose every brushstroke seems long meditated. Painted against a dark, abstract background, the model is very slightly shifted rightward, emphasizing her face, seemingly lit from within.


In 2012, as part of a traveling exhibition while the Mauritshuis was being renovated and expanded, the painting was exhibited in Japan at the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, and in 2013-2014 the United States, where it was shown at the High Museum in Atlanta, the de Young Museum in San Francisco and in New York City at the Frick Collection. Later in 2014 it was exhibited in Bologna, Italy. In June 2014, it was returned to the Mauritshuis museum, where it was given a more prominent place than before.

A little break for lunch by the fireplace…


… and the next stop was M.C Escher museum.


“I can’t stop fooling around with our irrefutable certainties. It is, for example, a pleasure knowingly to mix up two- and three-dimensionalities to make fun of gravity. Are you really sure that a floor can’t also be a ceiling? Are you definitely convinced that you will be on a higher plane when you walk up a staircase? Is it a fact as far as you are concerned that half an egg isn’t also half an empty shell?” – M. C. Escher

Maurits Cornelis Escher was born in 1898 in Leeuwarden, Holland. His family pushed him to become an architect, following in his father’s footsteps, but poor grades at the academy kept him from this career. Instead he decided to pursue his interest in graphic design. His artistic interpretations of the universe came in the forms of his specializations in woodcarving and lithographs. He is most recognized for his repeating geographic patterns (tessellations), his work with Platonic solids, representations of hyperbolic space, Topology, and special illusions.

When you first glance at Escher’s work you see fascinating buildings, fish transforming into birds, reptiles coming in and out of books, and floors becoming ceilings and ceilings becoming floors. His work has intrigued mathematicians for many years. One of the questions being posed is how can he understand such concepts as division of the plane with no formal mathematics background? As Escher said himself, “By keenly confronting the enigmas that surround us, and by analyzing the observations that I had made, I ended up in the domain of mathematics. Although I am absolutely innocent of training and knowledge in the exact sciences, I often seem to have more in common with mathematicians than with my fellow artists.”

Escher drew his inspirations from mathematical ideas he read about. With this knowledge came the understanding of non-Euclidean geometry. Through this understanding he focused on the geometry of space and the logic of space. His interest in tessellations (arrangements of closed shapes that completely cover the plane without overlapping and without leaving gaps) led to his series named “Metamorphosis”. He was able to distort animals, birds, and other figures to allow them to come in and out of the tessellation patterns.


Another area of interest was in Platonic solids, polyhedras with exactly similar polygonal faces. Examples of this are tetrahedrons with four triangular faces or the cube with six square faces. He represents this concept in “Order and Chaos” and “Stars”.

Hyperbolic space and the idea of infinity can be seen in his woodcut “Circle Limit III” and “Snakes”. Escher once expressed his view of infinity as follows:

“It can apparently happen that someone, without much exact learning and with little of the information collected by earlier generations in his head, that such an individual, passing his days like other artists in the creation of more or less fantastic pictures, can one day feel ripen in himself a conscious wish to use his imaginary images to approach infinity as purely and as closely as possible.”

The visual aspect of Topology interested Escher. Topology deals with properties of space, which are unchanged by distortions which may stretch or bend it, but which do not tear or puncture it. The “Mobius Strip” is a good example of the bending of space. If you follow the path of the ants you will observe that they are walking on one side of the strip. Escher has also created closed water systems for us to ponder as in “Waterfall”. Where is the water coming from and which direction is it flowing?


“I try in my prints to testify that we live in a beautiful and orderly world, not in a chaos without norms, even though that is how it sometimes appears. My subjects are also often playful. I cannot refrain from demonstrating the nonsensicalness of some of what we take to be irrefutable certainties. It is, for example, a pleasure to deliberately mix together objects of two and three dimensions, surface and spatial relationships, and to make fun of gravity.”


From 1922 till his death in 1972 Escher astounded mathematicians and artists with his artistic ability and knowledge of space. He was able to tie the realms of mathematics and art into beautiful works of art and entertainment.

Puffles’ metamorphosis…


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