The location of Hotel The Grand at Oudezijds Voorburgwal 197-199, between Prinsenhofsteeg and Agnietenstraat, has a rich history and has had various functions over time: it started out as convents in the 14th century — in 1578 it became a guest house for important visitors called the Prinsenhof (Prince’s Court). It has also been city hall, then headquarters of the Amsterdam Admiralty, then city hall again for 180 years, before becoming Hotel The Grand in 1988. The complex is a national monument.
The tympanum shows the Dutch crowned lion with two crossed anchors, flanked by Justitia and Mars, with navigation instruments and a rooster. Symbols of prosperity and trade are on the sides, with Neptune on a dolphin and Triton on a seahorse, and of course the Amsterdam town patroness. The sculptures are by Jan Gijseling the Elder, after a sketch by architect Salomon de Bray, who renovated the Prinsenhof for the Admiralty in 1661. Weather vanes on the chimneys show a cog ship.
Convents of St. Catherine and St. Cecilia (1411-1578)
Within the medieval city walls Amsterdam had many convents, their inner courtyards and convent gardens surrounded by walls, taking up 18% of the terrain in the old city. The nuns of both these convents leased the terrains from the medieval Oude Nonnenklooster (Old Nuns Convent, the current Binnengasthuis on Grimburgwal). The St. Catherine convent was on the southern side of the current hotel terrain, the St. Cecilia convent on the northern end. The convent of St. Cecilia, probably founded between 1342 and 1352, is first mentioned in official papers in 1411. The order was disbanded in 1585.
The adjacent St. Catherine convent was first mentioned officially in 1412. That convent was also on leased terrain, located between the convent of St. Cecilia and St. Agnes — but they also owned many terrains on Kloveniersburgwal. Various city fires have destroyed the documents which could have shed more light on the St. Catherine convent’s history.
Prinsenhof, a VIP Guest House (1578-1656)
With the Protestant Alteration of 1578, the Catholic city council was chased out of the city and all Catholic possessions and convents were confiscated and repurposed. The terrain of both convents was given a new function: lodging for important guests visiting the city. The buildings of the old convent on the north side were remodeled and renovated. The chapel was turned into a fencing school. It was demolished in 1758, but the spire was spared and repurposed — it is still there today.
Temporary Amsterdam City Hall (1652-1656)
In 1652 a fire destroyed the 14th century first city hall on Dam square. The former convent complex was then used as a temporary city hall for four years, until in 1655 the first parts of the new city hall (now Royal Palace) on Dam square were completed.
Amsterdam Admiralty (1656-1795)
Originally there were five Admiralties in the Dutch Republic, created during the Eighty Years War with Spain (1568-1648). The Amsterdam Admiralty was founded in 1578, when the city finally joined the revolt against the Spanish rulers. This admiralty was governed by the parliament (Staten-Generaal), not beholden to the city of Amsterdam. Until 1795 the organization of the war fleet and all seafaring matters was handled by the Admiralty, who also collected the taxes to reinforce the coastline.
The former convent chapel became the office of the Amsterdam Admiralty around 1597. When the new city hall (now Royal Palace) on Dam square was built and the civil servants left in 1656, the Admiralty took over the entire convent complex. In 1662 they had a new main office built in the middle between the two former convents. Their important staff members lived on the terrain with their families as well. The façade of this main building is now the entrance of the hotel, the wings are still the original convent buildings. In 1795, when the Netherlands were overtaken by the French, the Napoleontic rule marked the end of all former Admiralties — they were replaced with a national navy.
Amsterdam City Hall (1808-1988)
In 1806 French Emperor Napoleon appointed his brother Louis to be King of Holland, who then claimed the city hall on Dam square as his palace. The city council was forced out of the Dam building and took up their business in the Prinsenhof. The interior was heavily remodeled multiple times. In 1817 the entrance was remodeled.
City Hall New Wing (1924-1926)
The Nieuwe Vleugel complex was an extension created between 1924 and 1926 in Amsterdam School style, designed by city architects A.R. Hulshoff and N. Lansdorp. It was one of the last expressions of this style. The façade follows the bend in the canal and ends in a high corner structure.
The sculptures in granite on the exterior are by Hildo Krop (1884-1970). The extension was meant to be a temporary solution until a new city hall was built and the interior structure was remodeled many times. Many artist contributed to the interior of the building. Two houses designed by Philip Vingboons were demolished to build the new addition.
When the city council left for the Stopera on Waterlooplein in 1988, people were worried about the old city hall building and the irreplaceable art in it. The council then nominated it as important cultural heritage. This location was in use as city hall from 1808 until 1986 and during those 180 years many Amsterdam couples were married here (including my parents).
Hotel The Grand (1988-now)
When the council moved to the Stopera, this old city hall was transformed from 1988 until 1992 into Hotel The Grand. There are still many relics of the past to be admired within, as the hotel owners spared neither efforts nor expense during the renovations. The most important chambers were painstakingly restored, complete with 1920s Amsterdam School furniture. The impressive rooms and interiors can still be admired on daily guided tours for hotel guests.
Wedding Room Decorations by Chris Lebeau
In the former wedding chamber are beautiful Jugendstil wall and ceiling paintings as well as stained glass windows from 1927, created by Chris Lebeau (1878-1945), Dutch designer, painter and anarchist.
During the German occupation he was actively creating false documents and helping Jews, for which he was arrested in 1943. He declined an offer to be set free, because he did not want to promise to refrain from doing what the Germans considered illegal. He died in the Dachau concentration camp in April 1945, one month before the Dutch liberation.
When the murals were revealed they were not received well, although they are now considered to be of immense value to the city. The room can still be used for marriages.
Website Hotel The Grand: https://www.sofitel-legend-thegrand.com/en/
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