A Brill Calendar: April 20
The Changing Role of Amsterdam's City Hall
Few national cultures are recognized as readily as the one of France.
Its attributes glisten unmistakably: elegance, style & chic, encompassing champagne, jewels, gastronomy, haute couture, etiquette, salons, theatre. However, once upon a time - before Louis XIV (1638 – 1715), the Sun King, - French culture as we know it didn’t even exist. Mark, there has never been a French culture without Parisian culture.
Near the end of the 20th century it developed a new ‘trouvaille’: the cultural notion of ‘lieu de mémoire’: specific sites, places and spaces, where presence of the past in the here & now may be experienced, almost physically. It presupposes, naturally, elementary historical knowledge. The ‘entrée’ of the ‘lieu de mémoire’ concept was heralded in a way by the earlier invention of a new tourist attraction: ‘Son & Lumière’ presentation of fine historical buildings in a theatrical manner enabled by electrical lighting and loud-speakers. The Château de Chambord is reported to have been the first monument displayed this way to enchant the public. In The Netherlands the Dam Square in Amsterdam is a ‘lieu de mémoire’ in a different vein. The site derives its magic mainly from the largest building lining it: the superb creation of the 17th century architect Jacob van Campen.
It involves also a ‘jour de mémoire’: April 20, 1808. On that day the building ceased to be the City Hall (‘Stadhuis’) and became Royal Palace, serving the Holland’s first & only King, the Corsican Louis Bonaparte; half-way his rather short reign over a ‘Kingdom Holland’ - with Amsterdam for its newly decreed official Capital City - which would exist four years in total. As chance would have it, on this very day the King’s spouse, Queen Hortense de Beauharnais, gave birth to their son, Charles-Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, who would become, 42 years later, President of the Second French Republic and soon thereafter Emperor of the French as Napoléon III.
It is seldom in the past of European peoples that decisive events can be understood within a national ‘Pale’.