For our second day in The Hague, we got to experience Dutch culture and history. We started out at the Binnenhof which is the Dutch word for Inner Court. This historical complex of buildings houses the Dutch Parliament. We were lead by our wonderful guide into the main square of the Binnenhof where we could take in the beautiful architecture.
We went inside one of the buildings to watch a brief video about the Binnenhof and to be exposed to some Dutch history. We learned about the Hall of Knights, a castle that is part of the Binnenhof. It was originally built to be a hunting lodge because the surrounding dunes and woods are ideal for hunting. Construction began with Count Floris IV of Holland and was completed under the reign of his grandson, Floris V. It was interesting, after focusing so much on European integration as a whole to zoom in on the history of The Netherlands specifically.
After watching the video, our guide took us into the Hall of Knights. When you walk in you can really see the beauty but also the humility of the building. There is a throne in the center for the King to sit in that’s large, but not incredibly ornate. Our guide explained that it’s very Dutch for this style to be more simple. She also pointed out small facial sculptures all along the ceiling that each have one large ear. This is meant to show that someone’s always listening to what goes on in the Hall of Knights and that what is said travels through their ears and up to the heavens. While being comedic, these sculptures also stress the importance of the work done in the Dutch government. We learned about how this room is used for Prince’s Day every year, a very important holiday in the The Netherlands. On this day, there’s a grand procession from the palace to the Hall of Knights where the King rides in the Golden Coach. All of the citizens of The Hague come outside to wave to the royals. Kids even get the day off from school to watch the parade! When the King gets to the Hall of Knights he makes a speech outlining the government’s plan for the upcoming year. This is more or less a formality given that the King does not have a lot of power in government. However, it’s an important symbolic moment for the country each year. The Hall of Knights isn’t only used for Prince’s Day, it’s also the place where heads of state are welcomed to the country and it’s the site of official royal receptions and conferences.
After the Dutch Parliament, we had a quick break to get ice cream, a coffee, or to try the Dutch specialty of raw red herring. I stuck with ice cream, but I heard from those who were brave enough to try the red herring that it was really good! After our snack break, we were off to the Peace Palace. Given that it’s difficult to get a visit inside the actual building, we only went to the visitor’s center. Right outside the entrance was a tree where people could tie notes about their own wishes for peace in the world. We all stopped for a moment to read some of the hundreds of notes tied to this tree. It was moving to see various messages in so many languages about the hope people of all nations have for a more peaceful world.
We then went inside for an audioguide tour of the visitor’s center. We learned about how the Peace Palace houses two different courts: the Permanent Court of Arbitration and the International Court of Justice. Between visiting the International Criminal Court and the Peace Palace, it’s been interesting to see how The Hague is such an integral city for institutions that stand for maintaining peace and human rights in the world.
After our visits, we were free for the rest of the day to explore The Hague. Some went to the Mauritshuis museum to see the infamous Girl with a Pearl Earring painting. Victoria and I decided to enjoy the beautiful weather and did some reading on the terrace of a cafe behind our hotel. In the evening we got dinner at the pier and enjoyed the sound of the waves crashing while watching the sunset. A great ending to our second day in The Hague!