While based in Rotterdam in August, we spent a day sightseeing at The Hague. Neither of us was exactly sure what The Hague actually was. We both thought it was some sort of nebulous international entity, but as it turns out it is actually a pretty large city in northern Holland.
Basic facts about The Hague:
- It’s called Den Haag in Dutch.
- As of 2015 it had a population of over 500,000 residents, making it the third largest city in the Netherlands.
- While its not the country’s capitol (Amsterdam is), it does house the Dutch government and parliament and the Supreme Court.
- The Netherlands still has a royal family—mostly ceremonial—and the King has one of his residences in The Hague.
- It is a city of international importance and has 102 embassies and 13 consulates. It is home to the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court and is one of several cities that hosts the United Nations.
- It stands for a noble cause: according to its website, the city is dedicated to the cause of world peace and is known as the International City of Peace and Justice. Several organizations related to war crimes justice are also based in The Hague.
Obviously, the city is an important one and worth spending time in, but since we just had one day to spend, we only had time to see a few of the most significant landmarks. We also went to a museum and took a quick side trip to The Hague’s beautiful beach, which is on the North Sea. Here’s a summary of our day trip:
Originally built as a castle in the 13th century, the Binnenhof is a cluster of buildings in the city center and beautifully situated on a small pond called the Hofvijver. These buildings house the country’s Senate, House of Representatives, and Assembly Hall, as well as De Ridderzaal (the Hall of Knights), the original building at this site and a medieval hunting lodge, now used for ceremonial occasions. One can tour the Binnenhof; however, we opted not to do this due to time constraints.
Vredespalais (The Peace Palace)
Built in the early 1900s with an initial gift of 1.5 million dollars from Andrew Carnegie as well as contributions from many other countries, the Peace Palace is the home to several international judicial institutions, including the International Court of Justice (also known as the World Court), the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the Hague Academy of International Law, and the Peace Palace Library, one of the most comprehensive and significant international law libraries in the world. Resembling a palace, it’s also a beautiful building that offers public tours. The Palace’s whole existence is devoted to pursuing world peace and justice, and many nations come here for arbitration. It has a noble cause and an interesting history, and here’s a link to its official website for more information.
Museum de Gevangenpoort
This museum is set in a prison that housed inmates from the 15th to the 19th centuries. The incarcerated included both those who had defaulted on their debts and those accused of crimes who were awaiting trial. The approach to justice in medieval law was “guilty until proven innocent,” and torture (or more typically the threat of it) was often used to extract a confession. Medieval prisons hold a strange fascination for me, and most of the cities we’ve been to in Europe have similar museums. The Museum de Gevangenpoort satisfied my morbid curiosity, and it was an interesting way to spend a few hours, giving us close-up looks at both prisoner cells and torture chambers. More can be read about the museum here.
Use your imagination, if you dare…
The North Sea
Probably my favorite part of the day was a stroll along the Hague’s Scheveningen beach, on the North Sea. The Hague has around four kilometers of shoreline. We walked there from the old city center, about 3 miles along a long, tree-lined boulevard lined by stately homes. The beach was beautiful and busy, with lots of surfers in the water, a bungee-jumping operation off the pier, and all kinds of restaurants and kitschy shops lining the boardwalk. It had the same laid-back feel of just about any beach town we’ve ever been to, very different from the staid feeling of The Hague’s old city center and a wonderful way to end the day.
What we missed on our day trip:
The Hague is a large city of international importance, and there were surely plenty of interesting and significant things that we failed to see, but the one that I most regret not including in our itinerary is the Mauritshuis, a small art museum. We opted not to go there because at 14 Euros per person it’s expensive, especially for its small size; however, I did not realize until later that it houses several world-famous paintings, including two that I really, really like: Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Goldfinch. I know of them not because I’m an art expert but because they both inspired novels by the same name that I love. They are beautiful paintings, and I would like to have seen them. Oh well, there’s always next time!