Hidden messages in the sculptures of the Dam Palace – Amsterdam, The Netherlands

The Dam Palace was built during the Dutch Golden Age, the 17th century. Amsterdam was the largest city of the Dutch Republic and prosperity was at its peak. The Dam Palace was originally built as a town hall and was meant to show the city’s pride. The architect Van Campen and the sculptor Quellinus worked together to make sure the town hall conveyed a clear message: “Amsterdam is the centre of the cosmos and there is peace and prosperity here due to the virtues of the mayors.”

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There are pediments on the (former) seaside and the landside of the palace. The seaside is where the Dam square is now. On this side, we see various sea creatures bringing gifts to the personification of Amsterdam. She wears a crown upon her head and holds the weapon of Amsterdam.

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On the land side, we see personifications of continents that honor Amsterdam. She is wearing Mercurius’ helmet, who is the god of trade and at her feet lie the personifications of the Amstel river and ‘t IJ. On the left side there’s Africa surrounded by monkeys, a lion and an elephant and Europe with a cow and a horse. On the right side there’s Asia with a camel and America, depicted as a few native americans with an alligator at their feet.

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On the inside of the palace, you have a big central hall with some corridors around it. On the floor of the central hall, two maps of the earth and one of the cosmos are depicted. Above the doorways to the corridors, we see personifications of the four elements: earth, water, fire and air. We can also see Atlas carrying the cosmos on his shoulders. In the corners of the corridors stand eight sculptures of classical figures. The Sibyl symbolizes the start of spring, Apollo stands for the sun, Diana stands for the moon and the rest of the sculptures are personifications of other planets (like Venus, Mars etc.). All these symbols point to the idea that the earth is the centre of the cosmos and that Amsterdam is at the centre of the earth.

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The most central figure of the building is the woman standing on top of the seaside pediment. She is the personification of peace and is holding the scepter of Mercurius. She tells us that there is peace and prosperity, which is also made clear by the landside pediment, where all the continents are honoring Amsterdam. The other figures standing on the sides of the pediments are personifications of virtues: Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Vigilance. These are the virtues needed for good governance.

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Apart from the sculptures that point to the central message, there are also some beautiful sculptures that point to the function of certain rooms. Because the palace was a town hall in the 17th century, the jurisdiction of the city also took place here. There was room especially meant for those who had gotten the death sentence and had to wait to be executed. There are reliefs of the blinding of Zaleukos, the judgement of Salomo and the death of the sons of Julius Brutus. There are also caryatids that are symbols for guilt and repentance.

The opening hours of the Dam Palace are quite irregular. It’s usually open from 10:00 to 17:00, but you should check in advance, because sometimes there are official events going on and the palace is closed to tourists. A full-price ticket is 10 euros and the audio tour is free!

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6 thoughts on “Hidden messages in the sculptures of the Dam Palace – Amsterdam, The Netherlands

    1. The downside is that it’s only open two times a year, so even if you’re in the Netherlands for a long time, you only have few chances to see the Keukenhof. I hope you’ll return some day to see the blooming tulips! 🙂

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