The Royal Palace of Amsterdam at the Center of the Universe

Larger Than Life: Art that inspires us through the ages
May 31, 2021 Updated: May 31, 2021

The Royal Palace was originally the Town Hall of Amsterdam, created in the 17th-century golden era of Holland. It was a time when Amsterdam and its fleet of ships held a dominant trading position, attracting great wealth to the nation’s capital. 

When the population grew fivefold, a new town hall was needed to serve the people. Jacob van Campen was the appointed architect. He designed in the Dutch classical style, drawing on the proportions and spatial designs found in classical architecture. 

Located in the center of Amsterdam facing Dam Square, the Palace is a harmoniously balanced sandstone building, with the façade’s focal point being a central bay topped by a domed tower. The Palace was built upon exactly 13,659 wooden poles, which were made from Norwegian spruce and driven into soft ground to carry the weight of the building. 

Bearing Amid the Cosmos

At the apex of the west façade, Atlas, a Titan from Greek mythology, stands holding the universe. He reappears in the interior, overlooking Citizens Hall. Each of the four archways leading into the hall from the galleries is ornamented with one of the four elements: wind, water, earth, and fire—the ingredients of all matter in the universe. 

On the marble floor are two large, centrally positioned maps inlaid with brass. One outlines the earth’s landmasses, and the other is a star chart of the Northern Hemisphere revealing the galaxy beyond.  

The Hall creates an empowering moment for guests, acting as a compass and providing bearing amid the cosmos. Artworks throughout the Hall then tell the story of Amsterdam as the center of the universe, which today reminds visitors of the prominence the city once held on the world stage.

The Royal Palace of Amsterdam
For two centuries, the Royal Palace of Amsterdam was the largest secular building in Europe and was called the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” (Ratundo/Shutterstock)
The Royal Palace of Amsterdam
The Citizens Hall at the heart of the Royal Palace of Amsterdam serves to orient people in the world, the galaxy, and the universe. (Koninklijk Paleis Amsterdam)
The Royal Palace of Amsterdam
This relief represents the desire for a just Amsterdam, where avarice and envy—characteristics of thieves and murderers—are not tolerated. The skeleton with its hourglass symbolizes Time and the revelation of Truth. In the end, Justice and Truth will always prevail. Superchilum/CC BY-SA 4.0)
The Royal Palace of Amsterdam
Inlaid with brass on the marble floor, this centrally positioned map outlines the earth’s landmasses. When not in official use, the Royal Palace is open to the public. King Willem-Alexander (C) attends the opening of the exhibition “Universe of Amsterdam, Treasures From the Golden Age of Cartography” on June 28, 2019. (FRANK VAN BEEK/AFP via Getty Images)
The Royal Palace of Amsterdam
The sculptures and reliefs appear in the Tribunal, the place where criminals met their fate, with judgment and punishment handed down. When offenders were sentenced to death, they were hanged on the second floor. (frankmlee/Shutterstock)
The Royal Palace of Amsterdam
Tulips from North Holland fill Dam Square, in front of the Royal Palace’s Dutch classical façade. National Tulip Day is an event held in January each year. (Neirfy/Shutterstock)
Epoch Times Photo
An 18-foot-tall statue of Atlas stands on the rooftop and in the main hall, carrying the universe on his shoulders. Atlas symbolizes the universe and the important position Amsterdam held during the Golden Age. (Jane Rix/Shutterstock)
The Royal Palace of Amsterdam
In the Vroedschapskamer (room of the council), amid the rich interior decoration, the painting over the mantel by Govert Flinck would have reminded the council of King Solomon, who here is asking God for wisdom in leading his people. (Benning & Gladkova/Koninklijk Paleis Amsterdam)
Epoch Times Photo
In 1806, Louis Bonaparte, Emperor Napoleon’s brother, became king of Holland and soon after took the Town Hall as his Royal Palace. The architect J.T. Thibault supervised its redecoration in the Empire style. (Kit Leong/Shutterstock)
The Royal Palace of Amsterdam
King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima. When the Dutch regained control of Holland, King William I adopted the Palace, and from 1813 to the present, it has been used by the royal family. Today, it functions mainly for state visits, award ceremonies, New Year’s receptions, and other official events. The building also plays a role in royal marriages and in the abdications and inaugurations of monarchs. (RDV)
The Royal Palace of Amsterdam
The Town Hall in Amsterdam, painted in 1668, by Dutch painter Jan van der Heyden, found in the Louvre, Paris. (Public Domain)

James Howard Smith, an architectural photographer, designer, and founder of Cartio, aims to inspire an appreciation of classic architecture.