Seemingly following a citywide trend, the Royal Palace will be closed for renovations until at least summer 2008. And it's a damn shame. Designed along classical lines by Jacob van Campen in the 17th century, built on 13,659 wooden piles that were rammed deep into the sand, the Royal Palace was originally built and used as the city hall. The poet Constantijn Huygens hyped it as 'the world's Eighth Wonder', a monument to the cockiness Amsterdam felt at the dawn of its Golden Age. It was intended as a smugly epic 'screw you' gesture to visiting monarchs, a species that the people of Amsterdam had thus far happily done without.
The exterior is only really impressive when viewed from the rear, where Atlas holds his 1,000-kilogram (2,205-pound) copper load at a great height. It's even grander inside than out: the Citizen's Hall, with its baroque decoration in grand marble and bronze that depicts a miniature universe (with Amsterdam as its obvious centre), is meant to make you feel about as worthy as the rats seen carved in stone over the Bankruptcy Chamber's door.
Though much of the art on display reflects the typically jaded humour of a people who have seen it all, the overall impression is one of deadly seriousness: one screw-up and you could end up among the grotesque carvings of the Tribunal and sentenced to die in some uniquely torturous and public way. Kinder, gentler displays of creativity, though, can be seen in the chimney pieces, painted by artists such as Ferdinand Bol and Govert Flinck, both pupils of Rembrandt (who, oddly enough, had his own sketches rejected). The city hall was transformed into a royal palace in 1808, shortly after Napoleon had made his brother, Louis, King of the Netherlands, and a fine collection of furniture from this period can be viewed on a guided tour. The Palace became state property in 1936 and is still used occasionally by the royal family.