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Visiting Amsterdam, The Netherlands, with its distinctive arms and flag: suggested histories, some of them inspiring

Updated on April 26, 2013
Flag of The Netherlands
Flag of The Netherlands | Source
Coat of Arms of Amsterdam
Coat of Arms of Amsterdam | Source
Flag of Amsterdam
Flag of Amsterdam | Source
Queen Wilhemina by Thérèse Schwartze
Queen Wilhemina by Thérèse Schwartze | Source
Flag map of Amsterdam
Flag map of Amsterdam | Source
Map location of Amsterdam municipality
Map location of Amsterdam municipality | Source

Almost everywhere you go in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, you see the city’s coat of arms, with its striking red, black and silver shield. The basic design of the shield, which also appears in very similar way on the city’s flag (in a horizontal, rather than vertical, setting), contains features, the supposed history of which varies considerably among citizens of Amsterdam.

The shield is red, the pale is black and three vertical St Andrew’s crosses are silver. It is claimed that the three crosses represent the motto of the city: ‘Valiant, Steadfast, Compassionate’ (Dutch: Heldhaftig, Vastberaden, Barmhartig): given officially to the city by Queen Wilhelmina after World War Two, during which the resistance of citizens of Amsterdam to the Nazi occupiers’ oppressive, anti-Jewish measures was widely admired. This resistance and its subsequent, Royal tribute, are indeed accurate events, and form a noble chapter to Amsterdam’s history. But as far as the history of the arms are concerned, the three crosses predate the motto, and so cannot be said historically to represent them.

Then there is another version to the alleged history of the three crosses on Amsterdam’s city arms. In the Middle Ages, fire, floods and the Black Death were said to be the three, principal dangers faced by the city. All very relevant considerations, no doubt, but absent is any historical evidence linking these three undoubtedly important issues to the crosses in the arms of the city.

There is yet another theory about what the three crosses on the city's arms stand for. In the 13th century there was a man called Jan Persijn who was briefly a local ruler; his family also ruled nearby villages with similar crosses on their arms. The cities of Delft and Dordrecht have heraldic pales on their arms similar to the one on the Amsterdam arms and it is known that these pales refer to water. The village which the Persijn family ruled are near the Amstel river, and so it is claimed that this suggests that the pale refers to the Amstel and the black crosses in some way to the worthy Persijns. There may actually be some truth to these suggestions, although as an alternative history to the other versions it is probably not as inspiring!

The arms of Amsterdam are often supported by two lions either side of the shield and an Imperial crown above it (dating from a time in the Middle Ages when the Holy Roman Emperor supported Amsterdam in a cod fishing dispute!)

April 26, 2013

(General sourcing: wikipedia)

Also worth seeing

In Amsterdam itself, the numerous visitor attractions include: the Royal Palace on the Dam and the nearby Nieuwe Kerk, are major landmarks, as are the imposing and ornate Central Railroad Station (Dutch: Station Amsterdam-Centraal), the Rijksmuseum, the Munt tower, and and the Anne Frank House, and many others.

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How to get there: Airlines flying to Amsterdam-Schipol Airport from New York include Delta Airlines and KLM. The Dutch railroad company NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen) maintains frequent rail services between Amsterdam-Schipol and the Central Railroad Station in Downtown Amsterdam. There is car rental availability at Amsterdam airport. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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