The news that the Hall of Orange of Palace Huis ten Bosch in The Hague would be exceptionally open from 7 September 2015 to 1 November 2015 was very much welcomed by Dutch royalty-watchers and others who would love to have a look. The Palace must have been open to visitors before, in the 1960s at least, as my mother had visited in 1965. But it hasn’t for ages. Dutch palaces are usually not open, at least not the ones that are used as residences by the Dutch Royal Family.
Many soon lost hope when on 7 September it turned out that so many people had applied for the tickets for the first two weeks that many had no idea whether they had really come through or not, as the website showed a lot of error pages, and quite often emails with tickets never were received either. Imagine over 5500 tickets were gone in six minutes. Probably good the website is in Dutch only. I contacted the responsible “Rijksvastgoedbedrijf” as I thought I might have managed to get tickets for 7 September (yes, I was really very quick), but never received a reply … Only when on 7 September I tried again as another week of tickets were released, after half an hour of trying I was shown the message I had already applied for tickets … another angry mail and I finally got my tickets for – you guess – 7 September, but far too late to get to Huis ten Bosch as my mother and I had to come from the north of the country. The staff, having become much more helpful, sent me a link so I could at least get tickets for the next date I had applied for: 22 September. Just imagine how many people must have had the same experience as me in the first two weeks, as lots and lots of people didn’t show up for the tours on the first days the Hall of Orange was open.
Although the system had told me I would receive the tickets before 13 September (my birthday), I didn’t receive them. I feared for another disaster, but after a mail (the online form now finally shows some opportunities, including: I didn’t receive my tickets) I received them on 15 September … and again in the afternoon. My guess is that despite of the system time, you simply only get them one week before your visit. My mother and I took the earliest train possible after 9am (our cheaper train tickets were not valid beforehand), and at 12.30pm finally reached The Hague. Plenty of time left so we walked into the city and had lunch at the “Plein” near the Knight’s Hall. My mother even spotted a minister and a secretary of state while we were there. The walk through the “Haagse Bos” (a small forest) was not that short – normally about half an hour – but the nature was great, we saw birds, a big red-white fly amanita/agaric and some nice art too. But finally we reached our destination, nicely in time for the 3.40pm tour. It turned out there were tours each 20 minutes, and on this Tuesday there had been just over 400 visitors.
Needless to say we enjoyed the tour immensely. Just a pity you’re not allowed to take any pictures as soon as you have passed security. There were about 20 people in our group aged early 20s to 95 (!), and we had our own tourguide and a security man as they don’t let you in otherwise. From the reception room outside the palace we walked to the front of the palace, and received some explanation. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to climb the stairs. Amazing how small the palace actually is. Then we entered the centre of the building. Inside we were shown a short video about the history of the palace, in the room with green stairs that many will know from official photos, on which it looks so much bigger. Behind it is the Hall of Orange, where we were allowed to spend 20 minutes. Although it was smaller than I had imagined there was too much to see in such little time, the paintings are all over the place and are so detailed. The guide told quite nice stories about all the paintings. I myself could hardly imagine that in March 2014 they had turned the hall into a dining area for visiting heads of state. Of course I had a look through the window to have a quick look at the garden.
Anyway, after 20 minutes we had to leave as another group was already waiting. Back outside it had slowly started to rain, not to our surprise. We were just happy it only started raining at the end of our visit. We collected a few chestnuts as a souvenir before going back to the reception room. I bought myself two booklets about Huis ten Bosch and the Hall of Orange, and my mother bought me some napkins with crowns on it. Then we returned to the railway station, and had something to drink before returning home.
In 1229 the Counts of Holland built a hunting castle – now the Binnenhof [seat of the Dutch government] – to be able to hunt. Nowadays the Haagse Bos is left of that area. And around it arose The Hague. It were Stadtholder Prince Frederik Hendrik and his wife Amalia née Countess of Solms who started building Palace Huis ten Bosch in 1645. It hadn’t yet been finished when Frederik Hendrik died in 1647. It was rather too small to live in. And it was not until 1743 that two wings were added to the middle part and the house receives the name “Palace Huis ten Bosch” (house in the wood). After the family had returned to the Netherlands in 1813 after the French occupation the Palace needed to be restored. But for many years it was not used as a permant royal residence. Another extensive restoration was needed after WWII. Only in 1981 Queen Beatrix started to use the palace as main residence for herself and her family. She only left the palace in 2014. Now they have started to renovate the palace, so King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima and their three daughters can live in there in a few years time.
As for the Hall of Orange: Frederik Hendriks unconsolable widow Amalia turned the hall into a memorial for her husband. It is not a miracle that several of the paintings depict scenes from the prince’s birth and life and of course the dynastic importance of the House of Orange. The hall was restored already between 1998 and 2001.