Archaeologists stumbled upon medieval material underneath the Dutch parliament building last week. The area is being prepared for a major renovation that’s long overdue. Fortunately, as a matter of procedure archaeologists are involved in scanning the site’s soil for anything of historic value. Whilst conducting this research, they were overjoyed to find the remains of a medieval wall. It appears that the foundations of the Dutch parliament could be hiding secrets as yet to be discovered!
According to a press release published by the Municipality of The Hague , the newly-uncovered wall is estimated to date back to the 13th century, when the Netherlands didn’t even exist yet. The city of The Hague , where the Dutch parliament is seated and this discovery was made, was part of the County of Holland at the time. What’s more, the wall might even have been built during the reign of the famous Floris V, one of Holland’s most important counts.
The 13th century foundations discovered underneath the Dutch parliament, known as the Binnenhof. ( Municipality of The Hague )
Exploring the Dutch Parliament and the Famed Hall of Knights
The manorial hall that Floris V constructed nearby, known as the Ridderzaal or “Hall of Knights”, is still the most well-known part of the Binnenhof, or “Inner Court”, which is the heart of Dutch democracy. The medieval wall that the archaeologists dug up last week seems to have been constructed roughly around the same time as the Ridderzaal.
It’s not yet clear if the wall is connected to the Hall of Knights, but future excavations may confirm this. Nevertheless, for the moment it seems plausible that the wall was part of other buildings belonging to the counts of Holland. It might even have been part of a gatehouse controlling access to the living quarters of lower nobles and knights.
The Ridderzaal or “Hall of Knights” was built during the 13th century, just like the recently discovered medieval wall. ( Public domain )
Baking Bricks: An Expensive Endeavor
The grandeur of the Hollandic court is evident from the material used to build the wall. Large bricks were used to erect it, which points to the wealth and affluence of the counts of Holland. In the 13th century, most of The Hague consisted of wooden buildings with thatched roofs. In order to use bricks in construction, the bricks themselves had to be baked, a process requiring enormous amounts of wood to heat the ovens. Only nobles were able to commit themselves to such high expenditure.
On top of that, the bricks used to construct this wall are of a large format, the so-called monastic format. Baking larger bricks is even more expensive than using the standard format. It’s almost as if, by using such costly materials, the counts of Holland wanted to signal their power and prominence to everybody visiting their court. As it happened, Holland did indeed expand and prosper under Floris V’s reign. The recently discovered wall might have been evidence of the ascendancy of the county as much as the Ridderzaal was.
The Binnenhof has been a focal point of Dutch politics for centuries. This 1618 painting by A. van Breen shows prince Maurice of Orange at the site. ( Public domain )
Archaeologists Map the Dutch Parliament Site Using Finds from Excavations
Working out how the buildings around the Inner Court were connected with one another is a daunting task for both archeologists and historians working at the site of the modern-day Dutch parliament. Over the course of centuries, so much has changed at this site that the mystery is still not completely solved.
Thankfully, the current excavations are providing invaluable information to help with mapping the underlying area. In November 2021, a 15th-century staircase was uncovered nearby. And two years earlier, another 13th-century wall was discovered underneath the Inner Court. These findings assist scientists with reconstructing how the political center of The Hague a might have looked during the Middle Ages .
Using this archaeological detail, the team is now producing a 3D-model of the site underneath the current Dutch parliament, updated with all the recent findings in the area. The bricks themselves will stay in the ground, after thorough examination. Once the data for the model is complete, the walls will be covered up again.
The wall discovered under the Dutch parliament may have been built by Floris V., depicted here. ( Public domain )
But, as preparations for the parliament’s renovation are heating up, archeologists will probably uncover more of the medieval material underlying the Dutch parliament. For now, at least, one can conclude that Dutch democracy has been built on firm foundations indeed.
Simon Duits holds a master’s degree in history from Leyden University, the Netherlands. He blogs extensively about the Middle Ages on his website MedievalReporter.com.
Top image: The Binnenhof, or “Inner Court”, is still the beating heart of the Dutch parliament. Recently, more and more medieval material has been discovered underneath these buildings. Source: Public domain
By Simon Duits