Passing the Peace Palace in The Hague, you may be tricked into thinking that once upon a time queens and kings resided here. But in fact, Vredespaleis (Peace Palace) was built solely for the purpose of keeping the peace between nations and international parties by having the law triumph. And this is how it is still used today. When courts are not in session, however, guided tours take place and so I decided to jump at the opportunity and take a look inside the Peace Palace.
The idea behind the Peace Palace in The Hague is simply beautiful, albeit a little Utopian. It all started with a dream of peace with a remarkable message in 1898 by the last Czar of Russia, Nicholas II. War was looming in Europe and its colonies in the second half of the 19th century, like never before. New technologies and industrial progress not only increased the number of weapons that were now mass produced, but their destruction was also no longer limited to the frontline. They could do their damage anywhere, any place and were sold to the highest bidder.
The constant threat of war and social unrest caused Nicholas II to send an invite to his European colleague heads of state to contemplate keeping the peace, without getting into war first, in 1898. It being a huge success, a second peace convention was held in 1907. By that time, the international community was convinced of reaching peace through a court of arbitration and the first stone of the Peace Palace in The Hague was laid.
The Carnegie legacy
The Scottish born US industrialist Andrew Carnegie was at the time the richest man on the planet and considered war cruel and barbarous. He strongly believed that without peace societies, technology and science couldn’t flourish and he decided to pay for the Peace Palace completely, as long as it would also have a library, and should become a symbol of the universal desire for peace and prosperity.
As soon as you enter the Peace Palace you will notice the exquisite stained glass windows, richly decorated walls and wood carved ceilings. The entire palace was decorated with gifts from different countries. The stylish marble floors were a gift of Italy, the Delfts blue porcelain tiles in the hallway downstairs of The Netherlands, the candelabras of Austria, the temple vases of China and the giant ornamental vase was given by Russia. My personal favourites were the tapestries adorning the Japanese room, featuring birds and flowers made in pure silk and gold thread.
Art inside the Peace Palace: symbols of hope and peace
Through the palace, you simply can’t stop looking up, down and out as the tapestries, marble floor motives, stained glass windows and painted ceilings are simply stunning and brimming with symbols of peace, hope and justice. A lot of paintings and tapestries have Irene, goddess of peace, in their centre, with war at her feet and technology and science flourishing at her side. Lady Justice is often portrayed without her blindfold, scales laid by her side, but the blade (symbol of decision-making) at her throat to keep her alert at all times.
The courts of international peace today
The Peace Palace started out as a court of arbitration where two international parties would meet, at their own initiatives, to find a peaceful solution to their conflict. Both parties would appoint a judge and the two judges would choose a third judge. The permanent court of arbitration is still used today, both by countries as by multinationals having a conflict with one or two countries on a certain matter.
But the most famous court inside the palace is the (UN) international court of justice, which was established after World War II, as the court of the United Nations and all members of the UN automatically become a member of the court. Countries are still their own highest authority, they have mutually decided to transfer a part of their sovereignty to the court, in order to keep international peace. There are 15 judges that preside the international court of justice and all parts of the world are equally represented. The court settles disputes in contentious cases and provides advisory opinions. War crimes, committed by individuals, are treated by the International Criminal Court which has its headquarters in another part of The Hague. Court Sessions by the (UN) international court of justice are always open to the public.
A guided tour will take about 50 minutes and I found it to be very informative and interesting to take a look inside a place where people work around the clock to keep peace in our always tumultuous world. At the end of the tour, you can leave a message of peace in the courtyard.
Visiting the Peace Palace in The Hague
- From The Hague HS station or the city centre, you can take tram 1. There is a stop right in front of the Peace Palace called ‘Vredespaleis’
- Guided tours through the palace are very popular and I highly recommend booking your tickets in advance through their website, a ticket costs €9,50.
- You need to show a form of ID (like your passport) when entering the Peace Palace.
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- My complete city guide The Hague
As I was not allowed to take photos inside the Peace Palace, the photos of the interior of the palace were kindly provided to me by The Hague Marketing and the Carnegie Stichting.