The Amsterdam Royal Palace on Dam Square was built as Amsterdam’s Town Hall in the Golden Age, the 17th Century. Louis Napoleon, brother of Napoleon declared himself King of Holland in 1806. Louis choose the Town Hall to be his personal Palace.
Louis Napoleon spent most of his time redecorating his new grand home in the most fashionable style of the era: the French Empire style. Amsterdam’ Royal Palace on Dam Square holds one of the best kept and most complete collections of the Empire style in the world. Part of the Palace is open for visitors.
7 Reasons to visit the Amsterdam Royal Palace
1. Largest non-religious structure in its time
The Royal Palace on Dam Square was built originally as the town hall. During the Golden Age, Amsterdam was a powerful city and its new prestige and wealth had to be mirrored in the house of public administration and services. The Amsterdam town hall was one of the largest and most impressive non-religieus structures built in its time. A symbol of liberal Amsterdam. It was so impressive, it was called the Eight World Wonder.
2. Inspired by the Roman empire
The Royal Palace is built in the Dutch Classicist style, a Dutch version of Italian Renaissance. On the outside its is made entirely out of the luxury Bentheimer sandstone (originally much lighter of colour than it is today).
To prevent the huge construction from sinking into the wet, swampy Amsterdam, first 13.659 wooden piles had to be drilled into the soil!
The architect was Jacob van Campen. He was inspired by the Roman empire and Greek architecture. All over the building, huge statues and sculptures were placed. Special paintings were created for the walls. All the paintings were made by the most famous artists of time: Rembrandt van Rijn, Ferdinand Bol and Govaert Flinck and from Antwerp Artus Quellinus.
3. The Citizen Hall
Visitor will find the main hall, the Burgerzaal (‘Citizen Hall’) the most impressive. The floor is laid with a map of all parts of the world in Italian marble. In the 17th century, the doors to this hall were always open. People gathered here for business and pleasure. All of the rooms and halls had a special function, made clear from the symbolic sculptures that decorate the entrances and the paintings on the walls.
4. The Orhan Room
An example is the Orphan room. A special commission protected the interests of the children of Amsterdam (till 25 years old) who had lost one or both parents. A care taker was appointed to keep save the finances of the orphan.
The Orphan room is decorated with a painting by Cornelis Holsteyn. It depicts an (old Greek) story about the legendary lawmaker Lycurgus. Lycurgus had been made King of Sparta since his brother died. But his brother’s widow was pregnant. She promised to get rid of the child if Lycurgus would marry her. Lycurgus plays along until the baby is born and then protects the newborn child. In the painting we see him holding out the baby to the public, calling it the new King.
5. The Justice area
One of the most important events happening in Town Hall on Amsterdam Dam Square was the court of Justice. Criminals received their official death sentence during a special public ceremony. In the Justice Room, the public could watch the scene through the barred windows.
A criminal could only be sentenced if he had confessed the act. Underground the Amsterdam Royal Palace, there were prison cells with torture chambers and dungeons. Here, suspects were questioned to get a confession. After the ceremony, the public execution took place on Dam Square, usually by beheading. But also hanging and strangling was possible.
The Justice Room is heavenly decorated with famous verdicts: Zaleucus, Salomo and Brutus and there are symbols of justice, death and punishment all around.
6. Napoleon’s brother
In 1808, Amsterdam is occupied by the French army led by Napoleon Bonaparte. His brother, Louis Napoleon adores Amsterdam and asks Napoleon if he may be King. And so it happens. Louis Napoleon redecorates the Amsterdam Royal Palace in the French Empire style, a style that is inspired much by Antiquity. And so it matches rather well.
The prison cells become wine cellars and the cold marble floors are covered with thick carpets. On the outside, facing Dam Square, he puts up a balcony, where the King can address his people.
7. Palace of the Dutch Royal family
In 1815 the building officially becomes the Royal Palace of the Dutch royal family. The Dutch royal family however only uses the palace during official state visits and the occasional state affairs of festivity. There are voices who say the Amsterdam Royal Palace should be given back to the citizens.
Entrance and opening times of Amsterdam Royal Palace on Dam Square
A number of rooms of the Amsterdam Royal Palace on Dam Square are open to the public. On days the Royal family uses the Palace, it is closed to the public. Check the website if it’s open.
Entrance is €10 with free audiotour.
The Royal Palace is open from 10.00 to 17.00.