The Binnenhof (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈbɪnənɦɔf], Inner Court) is a complex of buildings in The Hague that has been the meeting place of the States-General, the parliament of the Netherlands, since 1446, and has been the centre of Dutch politics for many centuries. Built mostly in the 13th century, the complex originally functioned as residence of the counts of Holland.
Little is known about the origin of the Binnenhof. The oldest building is a keep that had existed before 1230. Presumably, the grounds next to the Hofvijver lake, on which the Binnenhof now stands, were purchased by Count Floris IV of Holland in 1229. It is certain that his son and successor, William II, started the expansion of the castle. Between 1248 and 1280, the Ridderzaal was 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.
It is assumed that the castle was completed during the reign of William's son, Floris V, and that the Binnenhof was the residence of the counts of Holland for a short period. The counts of Hainaut lived here only temporarily. Nonetheless, they expanded the castle with new buildings. The Binnenhof was also the residence of some dukes of Bavaria; particularly Albert I has lived here for a long time. The Binnenhof had long been surrounded by canals, which also offered a connection to Delft via Spui. This was particularly important for the transportation of beer, which only cities with city rights were allowed to brew. Today, only a small canal north-east of the complex, connected to the Hofvijver, remains.
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.
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