The Binnenhof belongs to the oldest areas of The Hague. It was here that in the 13th century the first buildings appeared alongside a pond in a clearing in the forest. This settlement evolved into a complex of buildings including the Hall of Knights (Ridderzaal: a festive hall for the Counts of Holland) the Court Chapel (Hofkapel), the Stadholder’s quarters and the assembly hall of the States of Holland and West Friesland. These buildings are now used by the Senate and the House of Representatives. Both Houses together make up the States General. Originally, the building complex was surrounded by the Court Pond (Hofvijver) and a moat, which has now disappeared. The city of The Hague gradually developed around this complex of buildings.
For many centuries, the buildings around the Binnenhof square form the political centre of the Netherlands. The current Plenary Hall of the Senate dates back to 1655. It was built by order of the States of Holland and West Friesland and is the oldest parliamentary meeting venue in Europe. The Senate has gathered here since 1849.
The buildings now used by the House of Representatives once housed government departments. In 1992, the complex was completely refurbished and extended, including a brand new Plenary Hall. The Binnenhof is also the workplace of the prime minister — who has his office in the so-called Torentje, a small medieval tower situated at the side of the Court Pond — and his administration. Moreover, the the Council of State has conference rooms that are located in the Binnenhof building complex.
The Binnenhof is one of the most important monuments in the Netherlands. Every year, many hundreds of thousands of visitors from home and abroad visit the Binnenhof. Heritage Day alone attracts 10,000 visitors to the parliament and the Hall of Knights. The government has set up a programme to make sure that every youngster in the Netherlands will at least once visit the major buildings of the Binnenhof complex.
The Hall of Knights is an impressive landmark and the centrepiece of the Binnenhof square. As a matter of fact it is a cluster of three buildings, also known as the Counts’ Halls (Grafelijke Zalen): the Roll Building and the Roll Room (Rolzaal), the Lairesse Wing with the room of the same name and the Hall of Knights. The original name of the Hall of Knights was “Great Hall” (Grote Zaal).
Around 1230, Floris IV, Count of Holland, had a hunting lodge built in this part of the Binnenhof. At right angles to this building he had a hall built for feasts and receptions. In the middle of the 13th century his son, Willem II, had this hall demolished and the Great Hall built instead, in gothic style. Floris V completed and embellished his father’s castle around 1280.
In the past, this impressive hall was restored several times and it was used for various purposes. The Knights of the Order of the Golden Fleece gathered here, for instance. Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy, administered justice in this hall and the States General regularly gathered here. In 1619, the Dutch statesman Johan van Oldenbarnevelt was beheaded right in front of the Hall of Knights, after he had been imprisoned and convicted of high treason following a coup d’état by Prince Maurits of Orange-Nassau. During the period of French domination, the Hall of Knights was used as a military school and also served as a lottery hall. In the 19th century the hall fell into disuse, but in 1904 the renovated Hall of Knights was brought into use again, when Queen Wilhelmina delivered the so-called Speech from the Throne here — in which the Government sets out its plan for the next budget year — before a joint sitting of the States General. Since then this ceremony has taken place every year on the third Tuesday of September: Prince’s Day.
The Hall of Knights is property of the state and is used on special occasions, such as important international conferences. Five of the six conferences of the Parliamentary dimension of the Dutch EU presidency will be held in the Hall of Knights.
The Hague is the International City of Peace and Justice. It is the United Nations’ second city, after New York. There are 160 international organisations in The Hague, employing around 14,000 people dedicated to the cause of world peace.
The Hague is also the seat of the Dutch government and parliament.
For more information, please visit http://www.denhaag.nl/en.htm