The Binnenhof is a complex of buildings in the city centre of The Hague, next to the Hofvijver lake. It houses the meeting place of both houses of the States General of the Netherlands, as well as the Ministry of General Affairs and the office of the Prime Minister of the Netherlands.
Little is known about the origin of the Binnenhof. Presumably, the grounds next to the Hofvijver lake, and the small homestead on it, were purchased by Count Floris IV of Holland from Meiland van Wassenaar in November 1229. Between 1230 and 1234 he had the homestead expanded to a small keep. After Floris' son and successor William II was crowned King of the Romans in 1248, this construction continued. Between 1248 and 1280, William had the Ridderzaal built. To its left and right, walls were built, which divided the area in front of the building from that behind it. Both walls had a gate. At the end of the wall on the left, near the Hofvijver, the court chapel was built, and near that the Ridderhuis (literally Knights' House) where visiting knights were sheltered. William died in battle in 1256, before the construction of the Ridderzaal had finished, and the castle was completed during the reign of his son, Floris V. The Binnenhof was the residence of the counts of Holland for a short period. After the house of Holland died out in 1299, the county fell in the hands of the counts of Hainaut. The counts of Hainaut barely resided in the Binnenhof in the early 14th century. Duke Albert I of Bavaria and his successor William II lived in the Binnenhof virtually permanently. Under their reign, the castle saw a sizeable expansion, and gradually became enclosed by buildings.
When Holland had become part of the Burgundian Empire in 1432, the Binnenhof lost its purpose and was abandoned. Part of the complex was later made into the residence of the stadtholder of Holland, who governed the county in absence of its ruler. After Philip II was deposed as Count of Holland and the Dutch Republic was proclaimed in 1581, the Ridderzaal was initially a public space, often used by traders, stallholders and book sellers. In 1584, stadtholder Maurice moved into the stadtholder's quarter, and in the same year, the Ridderzaal became the meeting place of the newly formed States General of the Dutch Republic. The expansions of the Binnenhof by Maurice were the beginning of a gradually advancing reconstruction of the castle that ended after the construction of the southern wing under stadtholder William V, in the late 18th century.
Between 1806 and 1810, under French rule, the administrative centre of the Netherlands was moved to Amsterdam, and the Binnenhof became useless and it was considered for demolition. When the Netherlands gained independence from France, however, the government moved back to the Binnenhof. The existence of the building was in danger a second time in 1848, when a new constitution instituted a system of parliamentary democracy and the States General wished to symbolically demolish the old government buildings and build a new complex. The local residents, however, cared more for the historic value of the building, and successfully protested against demolition.
The House of Representatives sat in the Oude Zaal (literally Old Hall) until 1992, when it had become too small to facilitate the 150 members of the house, and a modern expansion was built on the south of the building, housing its new seat.
Originally built as a ballroom, the Gothic Ridderzaal (a great hall, literally Knight's Hall) today forms the centre of the Binnenhof. Every third Tuesday of September, on Prinsjesdag, this is where the King holds his annual Speech from the Throne. Other buildings shape a rectangle around the Ridderzaal, creating a large courtyard in front of the building, and a smaller square behind it. A gilt Neo-Gothic fountain adorns the courtyard and a statue of King William II, one of few Dutch equestrian statues, guards its gate, the Stadtholder's Gate, which dates from 1620.
Looking out over the Hofvijver, the Senate sits in a chamber in the western corner of the Binnenhof, while the House of Representatives originally sat in the southern corner, at the other side of the Stadtholder's Gate. Today, the lower house meets in a chamber in the large modern eastern part of the complex. The Prime Minister's office has since 1982 been located in the small tower in the northern corner, simply called the Torentje, Little Tower. Located in the north-western wing, the Trêveszaal is meeting room originally built for negotiations during the Eighty Years' War; today, it is the meeting room of the Cabinet.References:
From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.
The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.
At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.
The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.
The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.
Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).
The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.
At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».
The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.