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Visiting the Hofvijver, beside the Binnenhof, The Hague, The Netherlands: reflecting on history

Updated on July 5, 2012
Flag of The Netherlands
Flag of The Netherlands | Source
The Hofvijver, the Binnenhof and a Dutch flag
The Hofvijver, the Binnenhof and a Dutch flag | Source
Imagined, bird's eye view of the Hofvijver and the Binnenhof, circa 1400
Imagined, bird's eye view of the Hofvijver and the Binnenhof, circa 1400 | Source
Map location of South Holland province, The Netherlands
Map location of South Holland province, The Netherlands | Source

The nuances of reality seen over centuries

Where is it?

It is situated in The Hague (Dutch: Den Haag , or, more formally, 's Gravenhage — yes, really!), in South Holland (Dutch: Zuid-Holland ) province, The Netherlands.

What is it?

Well, to answer this carefully, it may be usefully to break the word Hofvijver into its component Dutch parts. Vijver in Dutch can be translated variously into English: 'pond', 'pool', 'lake'. Each of these words has its particular resonance in English. 'Pond' can suggest a somewhat stagnant course of water in a village (complete even with ducks making their inimitable noise!). 'Pool' can variously evoke a place for swimming, or an ornamental reflecting basin; in some specific instances it can even refer to a port, such as in the Pool of London. A 'lake' is a more general word, which can fit anything from a large pond to an enormous inland sea such as in the Great Lakes of North America.

So let's stick with 'lake' for the moment.

Now for the other part of the word.

Hof in Dutch means 'court'. In the case of the court denoted here, it is the Binnenhof , which has housed the States-General (Dutch: Staten-Generaal ), the Dutch parliament, since 1446. But actually the City of The Hague commemorates its founding when, near what is now the Binnenhof, a lakeside castle was built by William (Willem) II, Count of Holland, in 1248 (1). The Hofvijver took on its rectangular shape under Albert of Bavaria (1336-1404).

Thus, the image of a lakeside court is one which has basically remained unchanged in the Middle Ages. Since at least the thirteenth century, a prominent building has reflected in the Hofvijver . Maybe the notion of a reflecting pool is not irrelevant, after all. (And doubtless reflection of a more metaphorical nature has occurred here for centuries also.)

In 1919 the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga (1872-1945) wrote an influential book The Waning of the Middle Ages (Dutch: Herfsttij der Middeleeuwen ), which reached English readers in translation in 1924. He argued that the way people thought in the past was very different from modes of thinking in the 20th century in which he wrote, and he later stressed also that the Middle Ages were often times of pessimism and even decadence.

So maybe the built and aquatic environment around the Hofvijver has not been as constant for several hundred years as might have been thought. Let one not be too conceited here: as the Binnenhof reflects into its waters, one might wonder, which part of one's contemporary thinking may actually be illusion?

July 5, 2012


(1) Interestingly, this personage perished when he fell through ice into a lake, and was said to have been dispatched by unsympathetic Frisians shortly thereafter.

Also worth seeing

In The Hague itself, the Mauritshuis State Museum is also situated close to the Hofvijver . The Royal Huis ten Bosch , the neighbouring park of which is accessible, and the Noordeinde Palace, with gardens which are open to the public, are also located in the city. The Peace Palace (Dutch: Vredespaleis ), dating from 1913, houses the International Court of Justice.

Scheveningen (distance: approx. 5 kilometres), is a suburb of The Hague; well known for its pier.


How to get there: Airlines flying to Amsterdam Airport from New York include Delta Airlines and KLM. The Dutch railroad company NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen) maintains rail services from Amsterdam to The Hague . There is car rental availability at Amsterdam airport. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

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

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