Tour of the Peace Palace The Hague

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, guided tours occasionally take place.  [Look at the official site and book when you see one that suits you.]    I did just that – saw they were offering tours over the weekend, and we decided to jump at the opportunity and take a look inside the Peace Palace.

But if you find yourself in the area  of the Peace Palace during the week or didn’t book tickets for a tour in advance on a weekend, you can still go in and visit the visitor’s center and gift shop. Before Corona time it was free, but now they ask you to book a 15 minute prior to arriving online and charge €3 per person.  There you can do an independent, self-guided audio tour of the center where you learn a bit about what is behind the imposing facade of the Peace Palace.  The center is opened every day, except on Mondays. A visit to the Visitors Center will take you about 30-45 minutes. If you are doing a tour, it is recommended that you visit the center before your tour (if applicable).

VISITOR’S CENTER

The Visitor’s Center exhibition is informative and covers the history of the Courts and of the building. On display are photographs and historical items.   Amongst them are:

  • A check for 1.5 million dollars from Scottish-born, US industrialist, Andrew Carnegie to fund construction of the building.
  • Items from the first Peace Conference – including a fan autographed by conference attendees.
  • Commemorative plates and medallions, like the bronze Nobel price.
  • Photos of Big Chief White Horse Eagle who paid a visit to the Peace Palace in 1930
  • A selection of books from the Peace Palace Library and Academy.
  • The 17th century De Iure Belli ac Pacis (On the Law of War and Peace) by Dutch legal scholar, Hugo de Groot.
  • There’s also a short video presentation and several audio/video stations for those who wish to learn more about the history, purpose, and interior decoration of the Peace Palace.
  • EritreaYemen Arbitration Agreement.
  • Two embroidered, wood-carved chairs of former countries which were once present in the Japanese Room.  One of which was Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia.   Not all countries who are members have these chairs – those delegates sit on “normal” chairs.

If you a youtube video of the making of the wood carving part of the chair.    I couldn’t find anything about who does the embroidery but each one is very detailed and the coat of arms of the country they represent and very impressive.

INTERESTED IN TAKING A TOUR?

Tours in Dutch, English, and German are offered to groups of 20 people only a few times per year on the weekends – and of course, only when there are no hearings.  The tours must be booked in advance here  and cost €14,50.  The palace tour is not suitable for children under 8.  There was child around 12 on our tour.  I personally would not bring kids any younger than 12.  The tour will take approx. 1.5 hours.  Important for my US readers: you must be an EU resident to tour and you need to show an ID.  But truthfully when I went to show the guy my ID, he just waved me through.  Never looking at the photo – either I look trusting or they didn’t care as it was a weekend and there was no one else in the building which I could harm.    Should there be court in session, we’d never be allowed inside.   There are other tours  (garden only) and can be found on their site by clicking the link above.  Ours was the best and most comprehensive on they offered – I would never want to just see the garden – going inside was AMAZING! 

The guide will gather you just before the metal detectors, and walk you outside and bring you across to the palace.  You will walk from room to room, where a guide will tell you about the building, the institutions that are housed there and the works of art that decorate the building.  During your tour you will visit the Great Hall of Justice, the Small Courtroom and the Japanese Room, which will give you an impression of the most beautiful rooms in the building.  Afterwards before heading back to the Visitors Center, we walked through the historical gardens.  I really wished I could have had my phone inside to take photos – so impressive.   Before passing the metal detectors, all items except the visitor badge and one form of identification had to be left in the free lockers in the lower level near the bathroom.   If it is raining no worries, they have tons of umbrellas waiting for you before you head out into the garden.

HOW IT ALL STARTED

It all started with a dream of peace with a message in 1898 by the last Czar of Russia, Nicholas II. 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.

BUILDING ITSELF

The Peace Palace, built on the former site of a royal estate, was constructed in the early-20th century with funding of $1.5 million (in today’s value over $40 million) from steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.  Carnegie stipulated that the building also have a law library, which is in a stand-alone building next to the Peace Palace.

French architect Louis M. Cordonnier won the design competition with his Neo-Renaissance style palace and the first stone was laid at the Second Hague Peace Conference in 1907. The somewhat lopsided monument to big dreams and aspirations of world peace was inaugurated on 28 August 1913 after two of the original four towers had been scrapped by cost restraints. Sadly world peace did not materialize in the short term. Within a year World War I broke out and the weapons specifically prohibited in the 1899 convention including projectiles or explosives launched from balloons, “or by other new methods of a similar nature” and projectiles with “the sole object of which is the diffusion of asphyxiating or deleterious gases” were deployed on the battlefields of Europe.

WHAT IS INSIDE?

The Peace Palace could not find a better home than The Hague; the City of Peace and Justice. Today the building is still used by the International Court of Justice (IJC), the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), the Peace Palace Library, as well as, by The Hague Academy of International Law.  Those seeking the International Criminal Court need to look elsewhere (but also in The Hague) as war criminals do not undergo trial at the Peace Palace – this is a common misconception.  By taking a tour you will discover some facts detail of this iconic structure.  Of course, tours are limited and their website contacts a LOT of information.

PERMANENT COURT OF ARBITRATION
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 one judge and then these two judges would choose a final third judge. The permanent court of arbitration is still used today, both by countries and multinationals having a conflict with one or two countries on a certain matter.  These cases are more often than not private.   Currently there is a pending case – Italy v. India called the Enrica Lexie case. It is an ongoing international controversy about a shooting off the western coast of India.

INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE
But the most famous court inside the palace is the 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.   These cases are public and you could be lucky enough to come in and watch it if interested but they are often featured in the news.   You can view all the cases here.

INTERNATIONAL GIFTS GALORE

As soon as you enter the Peace Palace, you will notice the exquisite items decorating the place all donated by various countries.  The nations represented at the Second Hague Peace Conference (1907) were asked to contribute to the new to be built Peace Palace. Many countries responded positively to this call and donated a work of art or a national product to decorate the building. The last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, donated this 3 ton vase made of green jasper adorned with gilded ornaments.  While some might love it, I find it awful 🙂

Through the palace, you simply can’t stop looking around – up & down.  Everywhere you look including the tapestries, marble floors, stained-glass windows and painted ceilings are simply stunning and include symbols of peace, hope and justice everywhere.

A LOVE STORY

One of the most rememberable stories during our tour in the Peace Palace was the love story that took place within it.  The interior designer Herman Rosse was hired at only 24 year old to decorate the Peace Palace’s interior.    As you’ll see in this photo the ceilings are decorated with beautiful flowers and art motifs with a twist.  Although he assumed that these designs would be painted over in the future by a famous artist, his stunning designs have beautifully lasted the test of time. His painting of Peace, Law, Order, and Justice as goddesses are shown above.  During his time decorating the interior, he ended up falling in love with the apprentice of the gardener Sophia Helena Luyt.  He even pained her face as one of the faces in the ceiling.   The couple ended up marrying and moved to California where Herman Rosse went on to win an Academy Award for his work on the King of Jazz’s sets.

As you will probably agree, everything inside is really bold, grandiose, and extravagant!  Quite frankly over the top!   But I really appreciated the opportunity to see this historic building in person, the chance to be in the empty courtrooms where such important events around peace take place while listening to our tour guy, Michiel.  If only I have some kind of proof to show you I was actually inside the Peace Palace vs just outside the gates like the rest of the tourists.  The photos here, apart from the ones inside the visitor center and the outside one, were taken from the internet, and credit is due to Dan Flying Solo and Architectuurfotograaf.nl and the Peace Palace’s website directly.  

Also on their site, along with their impressive photographs, is a short video where you can see some of the interiors and a bit of the story of the inception of the Peace Palace.  

Have you ever been to Peace Palace? What are the tips you would give?  Feel free to private message me or even share in the comments!

Visiting Den Haag soon?  Be sure to check out my post Day Out In Den Haag for other things to do in the great city of Den Haag. 

 

 

 

 

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