By Chrissie Walker
The Hague isn’t the first city one might think of visiting on one’s Big Trip to Europe. In fact, Holland might not be the first country on a discerning traveler’s bucket list. But it should be near the top.
The Hague is a classy and classic city that exudes polish. It’s the home of government and the much-loved Royal Family. It has wide avenues but it also has some narrow streets in the town center that date from the late Middle Ages. One can still find luxurious 18th-century houses built for diplomats and rich Dutch families. It has a celebrated church dating from the 15th century, a purpose-built City Hall from the 16th century. The Hague is, surprisingly, a resort town with a location on the North Sea. The most famous beach neighborhood is Scheveningen which is a popular tourist destination.
The layout of the city is more spacious than other Dutch cities as it doesn’t have a huge network of canals, apart from around the old center. Most of the canals were drained in the late 19th century but many have now been restored. It’s considered the greenest city in the Netherlands: there are parks, fountains, and trees creating a nature-friendly cityscape. The visitor can stroll the old city, window-shop at the stylish boutiques and visit museums. But there are art galleries which offer a chance to take a peek inside those rather stately houses and palaces. You can be charmed by old masters and dream of gentler times.
In 1631 John Maurice, Prince of Nassau-Siegen, bought some land in The Hague. He built the Mauritshuis which was finished in 1641, while he was governor of Dutch Brazil. The Dutch Classicist building was designed by the architects Jacob van Campen and Pieter Post.
The property changed hands and in 1820 the Mauritshuis was bought by the Dutch state in order to display the Royal Cabinet of Paintings, and in 1822 the house was opened to the public.
The collection of paintings of stadtholder William V, Prince of Orange, was presented to the Dutch state by his son, King William I. This collection formed the basis of the Royal Cabinet of Paintings of around 200 pieces. The collection is these days called the Royal Picture Gallery. The current collection consists of almost 800 paintings and focuses on Dutch and Flemish artists, including Pieter Brueghel, Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, and Hans Holbein.
Girl with a Pearl Earring is an oil painting which gained celebrity after the film of the same name. It was painted by 17th-century Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer and owned by Mauritshuis since 1902. There are many other paintings that visitors will recognize such as Rembrandt van Rijn’s Self-Portrait, Paulus Potter’s The Bull, and a couple of my favorites, Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels by Clara Peeters, and Hendrick Avercamp’s Ice Scene.
Visit Mauritshuis at https://www.mauritshuis.nl/en/
For those with an interest in more contemporary art and also royalty, there is a real palace to visit. The Lange Voorhout Palace has something for everyone, and all presented in a unique and imaginative style.
Emma was a princess of the principality of Waldeck-Pyrmont. Her brother, Friedrich, was the last reigning Prince of that state and her sister, Helena Frederica, became the wife of Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Her marriage in 1879 to the elderly William III, King of Holland, was considered a marriage of convenience as he was 40 or so years her senior. He also had a bad reputation as “the greatest debauché of the age”!
William died several years after their marriage and Queen Emma became extremely popular, in contrast to her late husband. She is said to have saved the Dutch monarchy and been the cornerstone of its strength in modern times. She lived in many palaces but bought Lange Voorhout Palace in 1896 as her winter home. We can still see the celebrated staircase up to the living quarters with its copper rail that in the time of Queen Emma had to be polished each week by Royal command. Only three people could use those ornate stairs: Her Majesty and her two most trusted ladies-in-waiting. The servants had to use the staircase that runs behind the walls and this is still the mode of passage for us common visitors today.
Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898-1972) is one of the world’s most famous graphic artists and his works are proudly hung on the walls of this Winter Palace. His art is recognized by millions of people all over the world – one might not know his name but he created the much-reproduced impossible constructions, such as Ascending and Descending with those never-ending stairs, Relativity, Transformation Prints, the Metamorphosis series, and many more works that intrigue and provoke thought in equal measure. He produced beautiful and much more realistic pieces depicting hill-top villages in Italy. His works are demonstrations of skillful draughtsmanship and the craft and precision of a wood-block cutter.
Escher in Het Paleis (Escher at the Palace) is a permanent exhibition and this is the only public building in The Hague where the original royal aura of a palace has been preserved, making this a must-see for any visitor with Royalist inclinations. There are over 150 prints and a changing selection of graphic art and geometric tessellations (mathematically-designed images). The centerpiece of the exhibition is the 7-meters long Metamorphosis III. The exhibits are displayed in rooms decorated in classic fashion, and still sporting many of Queen Emma’s original architectural features, including some memorable and humorous glass chandeliers which are in themselves noteworthy.
Maurits Cornelis Escher would, I don’t doubt, approve of this home for his life’s work. The fabric of the building allows an insight into a bygone age of elegance and refinement. The palace offers visitors art and history in a way that will be enjoyed by every member of the family.
The Hague has an abundance of historic beauty, modern dazzle, culture and fine dining, and all in an accessible small city that will delight lovers of art, architecture, and tradition. One visit will never be enough.
Learn more about Queen Emma, Maurits Cornelis Escher and the Palace at http://www.escherinhetpaleis.nl
Learn more about other destinations in The Netherlands at http://www.holland.com/uk/tourism.htm
Read more about Chrissie Walker and her travels at Mostly Food & Travel Journal http://www.mostlyfood.co.uk