The Hague is the home of the Eerste Kamer (first chamber) and the Tweede Kamer (second chamber), respectively the upper and lower houses forming the Staten Generaal (literally the "Estates-General"). Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands lives and works in The Hague. All foreign embassies and government ministries are located in the city, as well as the Hoge Raad der Nederlanden (The Supreme Court), the Raad van State (Council of State) and many lobbying organisations.
The Hague originated around 1230, when Floris IV, Count of Holland purchased land alongside a pond (now the Hofvijver) in order to build a hunting residence. In 1248 William II, Count of Holland and Rex Romanorum, who was supposed to become Holy Roman Emperor decided to extend the residence to a palace. He died in 1256 before this palace was completed, but parts of it were finished by his son Floris V, of which the Ridderzaal (Knights' Hall), still extant, is the most prominent. It is still in use for political events, such as the annual speech from the throne by the monarch.
When the Dukes of Burgundy gained control over the counties of Holland and Zeeland at the beginning of the 15th century, they appointed a stadtholder to rule in their stead with the States of Holland as an advisory council. Their seat was located in The Hague. At the beginning of the Eighty Years' War, the absence of city walls proved disastrous, as it allowed Spanish troops easily to occupy the town. In 1575 the States of Holland even considered demolishing the city, but this proposal was abandoned, after mediation by William of Orange. From 1588 The Hague also became the location of the government of the Dutch Republic. In order for the administration to maintain control over city matters, The Hague never received official city status (although it did have many privileges, normally only attributed to cities). However, since the days of King Louis Napoleon (1806) The Hague has been allowed to call itself a city.
After the Napoleonic Wars, Belgium and the Netherlands were combined in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands to form a buffer against France. As a compromise, Brussels and Amsterdam alternated as capital every two years, with the government remaining in The Hague. After the separation of Belgium in 1830, Amsterdam remained the capital of the Netherlands, while the government was situated in The Hague.
Since early times, probably dating as far back as the 15th century, the stork has been the symbol of The Hague.
Parts of the city sustained heavy damage during World War II. The Atlantic Wall was built through part of the city, causing a large quarter to be torn down by the Nazi occupants. On March 3 1945, the Royal Air Force mistakenly bombed the Bezuidenhout quarter. The target was an installation of V-2 rockets in a nearby park. Due to navigational errors, the bombs fell on a heavily populated and historic part of the city. Over 500 people died and the scars in the city may still be seen today.
After the war The Hague was at one point the largest building site in Europe. The city expanded massively to the southwest. The destroyed areas were also quickly rebuilt. The population peaked at 600,000 inhabitants around 1965.
In the 1970s and 1980s many, mostly white, middle class families moved to neighbouring towns like Voorburg, Leidschendam, Rijswijk and most of all Zoetermeer. This led to the traditional pattern of an impoverished inner city and more prosperous suburbs. Attempts to include parts of these municipalities in the city of The Hague were highly controversial. In the 1990s, with the consent of the Dutch Parliament, The Hague did succeed in annexing fairly large areas from its neighbouring towns, sometimes not even bordering The Hague, on which complete new residential areas were built and are still being built.
The city has a limited student culture due to its lack of an actual university, although the Royal Conservatory of The Hague is located there, as well as The Hague University, a vocational university. The city has many civil servants and diplomats (see below). In fact, the number and variety of foreign residents (especially the expatriates) makes the city quite culturally diverse, with many foreign pubs, shops and cultural events.
The Hague is the largest Dutch city on the North Sea and includes two distinct beach resorts. The main beach resort Scheveningen, in the northwestern part of the city, is a popular destination for tourists and young people. With 10 million visitors a year it is the most popular beach town in the Benelux. It is perhaps for this reason that many, even some Dutch people, mistakenly believe Scheveningen is a city in its own right. However, Scheveningen is merely one of The Hague's eight districts ("stadsdelen"). Kijkduin, in the southwest, is The Hague's other beach resort. It is significantly smaller and attracts mainly local residents.
The former Dutch colony of Netherlands East Indies ("Nederlands-Indië", now Indonesia) has left its mark on The Hague. Many streets are named after places in the Netherlands East Indies (as well as other former Dutch colonies such as Suriname) and there is a sizable "Indisch(e)" or "Indo" (i.e. mixed Dutch-Indonesian) community. Since the loss of these Dutch possessions in December 1949, "Indisch(e)" or "Indo" people often refer to The Hague as "the Widow of the Indies".
The older parts of the town have many characteristically wide and long streets. Houses are generally low-rise (not more than three floors). The layout of the city is more spacious than other Dutch cities. There are only a few canals in The Hague, as most of them were drained in the late 1800s.
Some of the most prosperous and some of the poorest neighbourhoods of the Netherlands can be found in The Hague. The wealthier areas (The Vogelwijk, Statenkwartier, Belgisch Park, Marlot and Benoordenhout) are generally located in the northwest part of the city. The poorer areas (Transvaal, Moerwijk, the Schilderswijk) can be found in the southern and eastern areas, or near the coast in Scheveningen (Duindorp). This division is reflected in the local accent: The more affluent citizens are usually called "Hagenaars" and speak so-called "bekakt Haags" ("Bekakt" is Dutch for "stuck-up"). This contrasts with the "Hagenezen", who speak "plat Haags" ("plat" meaning "flat" or "common"). There is relatively little social interaction between these groups.
The tallest building is the Hoftoren (see image).
The Hague has eight official districts (stadsdelen). They are divided into smaller parts (wijken) In contrast to Amsterdam and Rotterdam, the "stadsdelen" have no political function and there are no elections for them.
See Districts of The Hague for a detailed breakdown.
The city contributes substantially to international politics: The Hague is home to over 150 international (legal) organisations. These include the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The foundation of The Hague as an "international city of peace and justice" was laid in 1899, when the world's first Peace Conference took place in The Hague on Tobias Asser's initiative, followed by a second in 1907. A direct result of these meetings was the establishment of the world's first organisation for the settlement of international disputes: the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA). Shortly thereafter the Scottish-American millionaire Andrew Carnegie made the necessary funds available to build the Peace Palace ("Vredespaleis") to house the PCA.
After the establishment of the League of Nations, The Hague became the seat of the Permanent Court of International Justice, which was replaced by the UN's International Court of Justice after the Second World War. The establishment of the Iran-US Claims Tribunal (1981), the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (1993) and the International Criminal Court (2002) in the city further consolidated the role of The Hague as a center for international legal arbitration. Most recently, in December 2007, the Dutch Cabinet offered to host a U.N. tribunal to investigate and prosecute suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. This Hariri Tribunal will be located in the former headquarters of the Netherlands General Intelligence Agency in Leidschendam, a suburb of The Hague.
Currently the city authority is seeking to establish an image of the city as the "legal capital of the world" and "international city of peace and justice".
Major international organisations based in The Hague include:
Many academic institutions in the fields of international relations, international law and international development are based in The Hague. The Hague Academic Coalition (HAC) is a consortium of those institutions.
Its member institutions are:
There has never been any large-scale industrial activity in The Hague, with the possible exception of the fishing harbour in Scheveningen. Many of the city’s logistical and minor-industrial services are located in the Binckhorst district, which contains many large warehouses.
The Hague has its share of museums and cultural institutions:
Other tourist attractions and landmarks in The Hague include:
The Hague does not have a reputation for a bustling night life, the main exception being one week of January each year when high school students from around the world attend The Hague International Model United Nations and take advantage of the comparatively low drinking age. This lack of night life for most of the year is partly explained by the city's lack of a university and hence student life. What night life there is centers around the three main squares in the city center: "Het Plein" (literally "The Square"), the Grote Markt (literally "Great Market") and the "Buitenhof" (literally the "Outer Court", which lies just outside the Binnenhof). The Buitenhof contains the popular Pathé Buitenhof cinema and a handful of bars and restaurants in the immediate vicinity. A similar pattern of night life centers on the cinema in Scheveningen, although, especially in summer, night life concentrates around the sea-front boulevard with its bars, restaurants, gambling halls and other entertainment.
A regional light rail system called RandstadRail connects The Hague to nearby cities, Zoetermeer and Rotterdam. The system suffered from startup problems and derailings in 2006, but is fully operational now.
There are two main train stations in The Hague: Den Haag Hollands Spoor (HS) and Den Haag Centraal. It is somewhat confusing that many trains bypass the central station because it is on a short spur line. For instance, the international Thalys and Benelux trains to Paris and Brussels only stop at Hollands Spoor (which is located only about 1.5 km (less than a mile) from Den Haag Centraal). The central station does, however, offer good connections with the rest of the country, with direct services to most major cities. With the inception of the Dutch High Speed Line (HSL-Zuid) in 2008/9, high speed trains will run from the central station to Breda, Antwerp and Brussels; Hollands Spoor station, however, will lose its direct connection with Paris and hourly service to Brussels.
The nearest airport to The Hague is Rotterdam Airport. It is, however, not easily reachable by public transport. With several direct trains per hour from the railway stations Hollands Spoor and Centraal, Amsterdam Schiphol Airport is more frequently used by people travelling to and from The Hague by air.
Major motorways (freeways) connecting to The Hague include the A12, running to Utrecht and the German border. The A12 runs directly into the heart of the city in a cutting. Built in the 1970s, this section of motorway (the "Utrechtsebaan") is now heavily overburdened. Plans were made in the late 1990s for a second artery road into the city (the "Trekvliettracé" or previously called "Rotterdamsebaan") but have continually been put on hold. Other connecting motorways are the A4, which connects the city with Amsterdam, and the A13, which runs to Rotterdam and connects to motorways towards the Belgian border.