Originally designed to be a town hall, the palace was once Amsterdam’s chief administrative building. But then along came a man in 1806. A man who decided that only this building dubbed the eighth wonder of the world by the people of Amsterdam would do as his palace. And that man was Louis Bonaparte, who had been named the King of Holland by his brother, French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Amsterdam’s former town hall has been the Royal Palace of Amsterdam, Het Koninklijke Paleis or Paleis ob de Dam ever since.
Die-hard monarchists can get one step closer to the royal family by visiting this spectacular stately home. If you’re a fan of palatial architecture, art, culture and the history of the Netherlands, you won’t want to miss out on a right royal trip to the palace.
Anyone hoping for bells and whistles is going to be disappointed. If anything, the rooms are all a bit too dark. Do you think they realise the curtains open?!
Don’t just go along for a straightforward tour of a lavish and luxurious location. I’d recommend taking the time to learn about the history and significance of the building while you’re there. Pick up the free audio guide, which draws your attention to details you’d otherwise miss and provides plenty of background information.
Did you know that the palace was originally a town hall and Amsterdam’s chief administrative building for 150 years? All kinds of public offices were based here alongside the court and even a prison.
But then along came a man in 1806. A man who decided that only this building dubbed the eighth wonder of the world by the people of Amsterdam would do as his palace. And that man was Louis Bonaparte, who had been named the King of Holland by his brother, French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Amsterdam’s former town hall has been the Royal Palace of Amsterdam, Het Koninklijke Paleis or Paleis ob de Dam ever since.
It’s no surprise, then, that the original classical town hall became home to one of Europe’s largest collections of furniture and decorative pieces in the French Kings’ signature Empire style after King Louis Bonaparte was finished with his renovations. It certainly makes for an interesting contrast!
When you visit the palace, you can see the converted living areas and reception rooms that are still in use to this day. Here you’ll find pure white sculptures depicting ancient mythology that are so typical of classicism. Surrounded by elaborate furniture, colourful carpets and heavy curtains. And everything is made from opulent materials like gold, marble and mahogany. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve stepped straight into a French royal court.
The Citizens’ Hall has got to be the most important and most lavish room in the place. Classicism through and through with a nod to the most important element of antiquity. Located at the heart of the palace, it was designed as a place where people could gather in the original town hall in the style of the Roman Forum. The ostentatious chandeliers were another reminder of home for King Louis. And the sculpture of Atlas carrying the sky upon his shoulders is striking, with two giant world maps and a sky chart on the floor to match.
You can also explore the Throne Room set up by King Louise Bonaparte, as well as various bedrooms and salons, including the private chambers of King Willem-Alexander. Not to mention several reception rooms, the Thesaurie Ordinaris, the Council Chamber of the former mayor, the Mayor’s Room and the Justice Room. Make sure you check out the Moses Hall too, with its floor-to-ceiling painting by Jacob de Wit depicting the Biblical story of Moses and dating back to 1737. This is also where Queen Beatrix signed the instrument of abdication in 2013.
What used to be the Announcement Room, where new laws and notices were proclaimed across the bustling Dammplatz, is now the Balcony Room, which leads onto the famous royal balcony. This is where the royal family – and the royal family alone – now greet the crowds outside to mark weddings or coronations. The balcony was added in 1808 when the palace underwent some renovations and Eisenhower, Churchill and Nelson Mandela have all stood on it since then to address the public.
Royal Palace Amsterdam A bit of history
The foundation stone of the town hall cum palace was laid on 28 October 1648. This monumental building was designed by Jacob van Campen, a famous architect known as the figurehead of Dutch classicism. His style shines through in the architecture and the use of many elements and symbols of Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece. The sculptures on both the outside and inside are the work of Artus Quellinus, a renowned sculptor from Antwerp.
Amsterdam’s standing on the world stage is reflected most clearly in the goddess of peace holding an olive branch and caduceus at the tip of the tympanum on the front of the palace (peace was essential for trade) and Atlas bearing the sky symbolising the universe at the back of the palace (the city was its citizens’ universe back in those days).
The new town hall represented the Golden Age, when Amsterdam was a major trade hub. The idea was for the city’s wealth and power to be reflected in the lavish luxury of the building. Once the Eighty Years’ War against the Spanish ended, it was also earmarked as a memorial for peace.
Back in the day, the palace was referred to as the eighth wonder of the world. And that was down to its sheer beauty and stunning architecture. Construction work was an absolute nightmare thanks to the marshy ground that needed to be able to support the weight of six floors.
There was an official opening ceremony on 29 July 1655, even though the town hall was only half-finished by that point. And building work wouldn’t be complete until 1665.
Amsterdam’s chief administrative building for 150 years, the town hall was open to all citizens as a meeting point. The mayor, town councils and public offices were based here alongside the court and a prison.
With no escaping the revolution in Europe, the proclamation of the Batavian Republic in 1795 saw the Netherlands become a confederate of France. French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte named his brother Louis Bonaparte the King of Holland in 1806.
As I already mentioned, the newly appointed monarch had his heart set on transforming the town hall into the royal residence he would call home from 1808. The work to remodel the building was left in the hands of French court architect Thibault and Dutch architect Ziesenis.
But the reign of Louis Bonaparte, a popular monarch by all accounts, was rather short-lived. In 1813, William Frederick, Prince of Orange-Nassau, son of the last Stadtholder, William V, was asked to become the Sovereign Prince of the Netherlands. He proclaimed himself King William I of the Netherlands in 1815 and continued to use the former town hall as a palace.
The following Dutch kings, however, preferred to stay at their residences in The Hague or out in the countryside. Queen Wilhelmina (1880–1962) was the first monarch to start using the palace as a regular residence again. Many of her royal descendants followed in her footsteps, with Queen Beatrix one who would stay there whenever she was in Amsterdam.
The palace has been open to visitors for most of the time since 1979. It is still one of the royal family’s residences, providing the setting for major royal events like inaugurations of heads of state, abdications and weddings. All the most important state visits, official receptions, exhibitions and prize ceremonies, including those for the Erasmus Prize, the Prince Claus Award and the Royal Award of Modern Painting, happen at the palace too.