The Old Amsterdam Town Hall

Photo of author


Pomp and circumstance, that’s what the administrators of Amsterdam wanted to portray when the old town hall no longer sufficed. The eighty-year long war with Spain had finally come to an end, peace at last and money in the coffers. So, the ink on the treaty of Munster (finalizing the war) wasn’t dry yet when the first stone was laid.

The building had to be sufficiently imposing, had to have a certain allure and had to be of a certain size, of course, so quite a few buildings had to be torn down to make room. The new town hall was finished by 1655. Jacob of Campen had been its architect. The administration in those days consisted primarily of four mayors. The roof supports a statue of Atlas carrying a heavenly sphere on his back. He was to symbolize the dominant position the city held in the area of world trade.

When Napoleon ruled Europe and made his brother Lodewijk (Louis) Napoleon, king of the Netherlands, in 1808, he confiscated the building, made it his palace and added the balcony. It is all that is left to remind us of his reign.
That and some stories, he actually wasn’t a bad ruler, despite not having a drop of Dutch blood in him. His wife hated Amsterdam, hated the weather, and hated the town hall/palace, although Louis did his best to renovate it to suit her pleasure. She soon left and returned to Paris.

The palace is now primarily used by the queen to receive foreign dignitaries. Once a year, in January, she holds a reception for all the ambassadors and embassy staff in the city. The building contains paintings by Ferdinand Bol and Govaert Flinck. The city could no longer afford the upkeep of the place after Napoleon’s defeat, so it bestowed it upon the state. In exchange for this most generous gift, the state, in its turn, granted Amsterdam the right to call itself the capital city of the nation.
So, we should be glad for the fact that the building is no longer the town hall. Otherwise, the Hague would not only be the seat of our government but our capital as well.

The town hall on Dam square is window number 17 on the Canon of Amsterdam.

The Royal Palace on Dam square is window number 24 on the Canon of Amsterdam. De Canon of Amsterdam.