I took a quick jaunt to Amsterdam last week. Most travel guides give advice about visiting the Hermitage Museum, Rijksmuseum, Van Gough Museum, and the Anne Frank House. All good advice indeed, but I thought I would check out the Royal Palace Amsterdam (Koninklijk Paleis). After all, it would be the site of the abdication of the throne by Queen Beatrix on April 30, 2013.
As they were closing the Palace the very next day to prepare for the ceremony, I felt lucky to get in. After ruling for over 30 years, Her Majesty the Queen will relinquish her throne and be succeeded by her eldest son, His Royal Highness the Prince of Orange, Willem-Alexander, at the Royal Palace.
The Royal Palace History
Located in Dam Square, the Palace was completed in 1655 as the Town Hall of Amsterdam by architect Jacob van Campen and was once considered by the people to be an Eighth Wonder of the World. Sculptor Artus Quellinus from Antwerp created the impressive marble and sandstone sculptures with allegorical and symbolic meanings that embellish the palace. He was influenced by Classical Antiquity and Italian Renaissance artists like Michaelangelo and Bernini.
In 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte selected his brother, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, as the King of Holland and he made the building his private palace in 1808, decorating it with exquisite art and French Empire furniture. After the fall of Napoleon in 1813, Frederick of Orange-Nassau, later known as King Willem I, returned the former town hall to the people. Today, the very same furniture King Louis installed still exists and has been well-preserved for all to see.
The Queen's Abdication
As I started my own tour of the Palace, I imagined what the day would be like for the Queen. As she arrives to the Palace, she would look up at the sculpture of Atlas carrying the heavens on his shoulder for the last time and perhaps feel a sense of relief that all the weight of the Netherlands will be off her shoulders.
Entering the grandiose Citizens' Hall, I envisioned that she would be reminded of all the times she entertained dignitaries over the last 30 years. She might remember her wedding to Claus von Amsberg in 1966, the speech she gave on the balcony after the abdication of her mother Queen Juliana in 1980 or the assassination attempt of the Royal Family in 2009. She'll look down at the inlaid maps of the Western and Eastern Hemispheres on the marble floor and see the influence the Dutch monarchy has had over the centuries. Then, looking up at the sculpture of Atlas as he looks down on Heaven and Earth, she may well conclude that she did the best job she could.
She will sign the Instrument of Abdication in the Mozeszaal Room, formerly known as the City Council Chamber, under the watchful eye of the enormous 1737 Jacob de Wit painting depicting the story of Moses choosing seventy elders to help him rule over the people of Israel and the 1656 painting by Govert Flinck, one of Rembrandt´s best pupils, called Solomon´s Prayer for Wisdom. Both are extraordinary to see in person.
Afterwards, the former Queen and His Majesty the King of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander, will go outside onto the gilded balcony to address the people of the Netherlands, the same balcony and similar speech given over 33 years ago with her mother Queen Juliana. A chapter of the Netherlands history will be ending, but the Royal Palace remains as it has for hundreds of years.
So when you visit Amsterdam, tour the first floor of the palace, which is open most of the year. But check the Royal Palace Amsterdam website before going as it is sometimes closed for ceremonies, royal weddings, state visits -- and once in a blue moon the abdication of the Queen!