top of page

Peace and Diversity: In Design and Spirit- An architectural study of the Peace Palace


The primary motivation of this article is to highlight the symbolic value, representation, and narratives of built spaces. To do so, this article shall provide a historical overview with the intention to shed light on the symbolic value of various objects and interiors in the Peace Palace (herein after Palace). The mission of the Palace is enshrined in the objects it has. Personified in its official tours, it is often said that ‘the interior and artworks symbolize the mission of the building’. To explain this inference, one can refer to the history and the architecture of the Palace as a temple of virtue, a fountain of ideas, and an amalgam of the world’s cultures, and also, international peaceful dispute resolution. It is also imperative to note that the Palace is the venue of the International Court of Justice which is the judicial organ of the United Nations. Also known as the ‘World Court’, the primary function of the Court is to resolve legal disputes between nations and provide legal advisory opinions to the United Nations when sought. Thus, according to its creators, the Court is established to maintain global peace and security using international law. Justifiably, the Palace has been marked as a ‘Heritage Site’ by the European Heritage Label which recognizes the role played by the Palace in exemplifying the ideals of peace since its inception.

Early History

The Palace was built by the generous donations of Andrew Carnegie. The Palace’s construction was started in 1907 and finished in 1913. Carnegie became convinced of the importance of a palace for peace and offered a donation of no less than 1.5 million dollars. He made his donation under the condition that the Peace Palace would not only house the Permanent Court of Arbitration, but also a public legal library of the highest standard. In 1903 the Carnegie Foundation was founded to administer the funds and manage the construction of the Peace Palace. Since the opening of the Palace in 1913, the employees of the Carnegie Foundation facilitate “Peace through law” and promote peace to prevent wars. This foundation today still is the owner and manager of the building, a recognized national monument. The foundation also stimulates the organization of seminars and other initiatives that foster the peace ideal and is a member of the international philanthropic network of Carnegie-institutes.

Built over an area of seven hectares, using granite, sandstone, and red brick. Since then, different countries from all over the world have donated gifts to the Peace Palace. For its architectural plan, a competition was held in 1905, and among 216 plans and more than 3000 drawings received by the jury, the first prize was awarded to Louis M. Cordonnier, as he followed the local tradition of 16th Century architecture in his blueprint for the Palace.

All over the city, bells were tolling half an hour before the start of the solemn inauguration. A more peaceful world seemed to be on the horizon. During the opening ceremony of the Peace Palace, a choir performed and the Royal Military Chapel played cheerful music in the newly landscaped gardens. Worthy of note, is that one of the members of the orchestra – J.J.H. van Rosmalen – would receive a personal ‘thank you note’ from the wealthy benefactor Andrew Carnegie about ten months later.

The Musician

Jan Johannes Hendrik van Rosmalen was born on 22 February 1886 and married on 7 November 1908 in the town of Tiel, The Netherlands. In the municipal registry, it was noted that at the age of 22 years his profession was ‘staff musician’. A local newspaper of 1909 reported a concert that was recently given by Van Rosmalen and his orchestra: “The music has made considerable progress (…) under its new director, Mr J.J.H. van Rosmalen”. In May 1912, one year before the official opening of the Peace Palace, the family Van Rosmalen moved from Leiden to The Hague.

An unknown piece of remembrance to Andrew Carnegie rediscovered in the extensive Peace Palace Library of International Law, as desired by Carnegie, a very modest collection of sheet music is found, mostly marches with the theme ‘War and Peace. In the spring of 2017, however, library staff member Rens Steenhard, discovered the forgotten Peace March Peace Through Law, respectfully dedicated to Mr Andrew Carnegie, Knight of Orange-Nassau. This march was written by J.J.H. van Rosmalen, a member of The Hague Royal Military Chapel Regiment Grenadiers, and published in a piano version in the spring of 1914.

The question remains whether Van Rosmalen wrote and published this composition on his initiative. The title ‘Peace through Law’ is striking. The long-standing Dutch branch of the association Peace Through Law (Association de la paix par le droit (APD)) was very active at the time promoting and honouring the Peace Palace and its founder, Andrew Carnegie, in all sorts of ways. Carnegie was given the title of honorary member of the association and a special Peace Palace remembrance album was dedicated to the new Temple of Peace and its founder, Andrew Carnegie. And finally, a bust of the forefather of International Law, Hugo Grotius, was donated to the Peace Palace by the same association. Therefore it would be likely that Mr Van Rosmalen was also given this charming assignment by the Dutch association Peace Through Law.


The press also reported on the new musical composition, for example in the paper ‘The Schiedamsche Courant’ of 27 June 1914 is read “ (…) Mr J.J.H. van Rosmalen, a member of the Royal Military Chapel, wrote a march composed by him, under the title of Mr Andrew Carnegie’s Peace March “Peace Through Law “dedicated to Lord Carnegie, who wrote to him a letter of Thank you. On the title page of the music piece the sun of justice radiates and the Peace Palace is depicted”. Therefore it would be likely that a copy of the musical composition would also be present in Carnegie’s archives, accompanied by the letter of Van Rosmalen. The ‘Thank you note’ received by Van Rosmalen is most probably not preserved.

An Adaption for Carillon

The peace march exudes the carefree atmosphere of the marches of the time, where John Philip Sousa, among others, was famous. Whether this march was played frequently is unknown. After the discovery in 2017, however, this cheerful music has sounded more than once on special occasions from the tower of the Peace Palace. As of 3 November 1994, carillon concerts are given twice a week with 48 bells donated by individuals and organizations from the Netherlands and abroad. The instrument is part of the International Network of War Memorial and Peace Carillons. The basis of this network was established in The Peace Palace in The Hague, ‘-International City of Peace and Justice- ‘. In the light of the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Andrew Carnegie’s death, on the 11th of August 2019, the administrators of the Network decided to adapt the Van Rosmalen march for the carillon and, after consultation with the Peace Palace Library, to distribute it worldwide. The Network also offers this Carnegie march to other carillonneurs in the network and encourages them to play it on the 11th of August 2019, in memory of Andrew Carnegie, or on the 21st of September, the United Nations International Day of Peace. The musical arrangement is also digitally available in a version for three-octave carillon.

The foundation of the Palace was laid during the second Peace Conference organized in 1907. The interior designer, Herman Rosse, only 24 years old at the time, was selected to design the interiors of the Palace. The Palace, which would come to embody the collective desire for peace by countries from all over the world. The intercourse of Modernism and Traditional art- Rosse’s style was a combination of classical art motifs whilst embracing the clean lines of modernism. Most notably was his work on the ceiling of the Central Hall of the Peace Palace. For the design of the Peace Palace, the jury launched an international architecture competition. The competition enjoyed enormous interest: a choice had to be made out of 216 contributions sent in from all over the world. From the large variety of drawings, the jury selected 6 prize winners and awarded first prize to the design entered by the French architect Louis Cordonnier. The choice for Cordonnier’s design, which was inspired by the architecture of earlier centuries, led to a fierce architectural debate. Many had hoped for a building that also in its appearance would inaugurate a new age.

Cordonnier’s original design was quite exuberant and impossible to realize within the 1.5 million dollars budget provided by Carnegie for the purpose. The French architect was asked to adapt and simplify his design, resulting in the original number of four towers being brought down to only two. A final design was made in collaboration with the established architect Johan van der Steur, who was also appointed as executive architect for the construction of the palace. In six years, an impressive building in the style of the neo-renaissance arose on the grounds of the former estate Zorgvliet, where former Dutch queen Anna Pavlovna had once resided. The great and small towers mark the two courtrooms, the most important spaces in the palace. It features the goddesses of Peace, Law, Order, and Justice. Once the construction was completed in the year 1913, its key was handed over to the Dutch Royal Family, Andrew Carnegie, and the ilk.

Historical Overview of Peace Palace

The Palace, besides being the seat to the International Court of Justice also plays host to the Permanent Court of Arbitration and The Hague Academy of International Law. To provide support, in a scholarly fashion, a grand library promoting the international law and peace movement around the world was also envisaged and now, is used thoroughly. Europe, in the 18th, 19th, and 20th Centuries, was the epicentre of the world’s great wars amongst other things. Europe found itself becoming the battleground of mass atrocities against mankind. However, at the same time, peace movements gathered traction and were increasing rapidly in this battleground of wars.

Masterpieces in the Bolroom

The Bolroom, a conference room in the Peace Palace, is called after the masterpieces that can be admired there. The walls are decorated with three large paintings from de famous Dutch painter Ferdinand Bol. Ferdinand Bol (1616-1682), who was a follower of Rembrandt, received an order from Jacoba Lampsins in 1657. She was the wife of a rich merchant and asked Bol to make five wall-sized paintings for her residence at the Nieuwe Gracht in Utrecht. The subjects of the paintings all fit in with the family history of the moneyed Jacoba Lampsins, but also with the higher aspirations of this lady in Utrecht in the Golden Age. Well over two hundred years later, the paintings were removed from the residence in Utrecht and they were donated to the Rijksmuseum. At the beginning of the 20th century, the museum gave four out of five paintings in perpetual loan to the Peace Palace. Three of the paintings were placed on the walls of the room that became known as the Bolroom later on, the fourth painting is located in an office on the ground floor.

This widespread movement reached its epoch in the latter half of the 20th Century. As a result of the attainment of such stature, values and ideals of peace spewed across spaces and objects amongst thought. To offer a concrete example consider the leaders who imagined institutions to promote Peace gathered. These included but were not limited to Bertha von Suttner, Andrew Carnegie, and Russian Tsar Nicholas II. The novel, ‘Lay down Your Arms’ written by Bertha von Suttner inspired the Russian Tsar, Nicholas II to organize the First Hague Peace Conference in 1899. It also convinced Andrew Carnegie, who after the Conference, wished to support the construction of the Palace. However, it was the Tsar’s Rescripting to the other nation’s Government to unify for the international conference on peace and disarmament that eventually did the trick. This was the initial step that was taken to confirm and host the First Peace Conference in Hague. The First Hague Peace Conference took place in the year 1899. A sum of 26 countries came together to discourse and share their visions about international law and peace. In the Conference, an agreement for the creation of the Permanent Court of Arbitration was made.

Art and Significance

Ever since the laying of the foundation stone, countries have taken it upon themselves to donate towards the beautification of the palace. The idea behind these donations remains to showcase gratitude and solidarity towards the common goals of mankind, such as peace. The Palace and supporting it via donations thus becomes a modus operandi of exhibiting a belief in the attainment of peace through the Palace and its mechanisms.

National gifts

The ceremony of the laying of the foundation stone of the Peace Palace was scheduled at the same time as the Second Peace Conference of 1907. The nations represented at the peace conference were asked to contribute to the new to be built ‘Temple of Peace’. Many countries responded positively to this call and donated a work of art or a national product to decorate the building. Nowadays the Peace Palace still sometimes receives gifts from nations or organizations. A selection of the collection of national gifts is seen in this gallery.

A triptych by Gérard de Lairesse (1640-1711) adorns the ceiling in the Ballroom of the Peace Palace. In 1903, the paintings appeared at an auction and were bought by the Carnegie Foundation for the to-be-built Peace Palace. At the time it was assumed that the paintings symbolized a Triumph of Peace and referred to the Peace of Münster. Three canvasses of the famous painter Gérard de Lairesse (1640-1711) adorn the ceiling in the Bolroom of the Peace Palace. The paintings, forming a Triptych, were originally painted for a room in a stately mayors-house on the Herengracht in Amsterdam. In 1903 the paintings appeared at an auction and were bought by the Carnegie Foundation for the to-be-built Peace Palace. At the time it was assumed that the paintings symbolized a Triumph of Peace and referred to the Peace of Münster. Although this theme fits beautifully in a building for Peace, it is incorrect. The ceiling can be read as an image of the political thought of the client, the Mayor of the City of Amsterdam. The ensemble shows the city of Amsterdam as of the Republic. In the three pieces Unity, Freedom, and Safety are represented, the opposites of the virtues in the Arms of the City of Amsterdam, Courage, Resolution, and Mercy. In addition, a large painting by the french artist, Albert Besner. The painting, in all its might, hangs over the doorway through which members of the Court enter the Great Hall of Justice.

The Japanese Hall

The Japanese Hall gets the name from the silk tapestries on the walls given by the Japanese Government, but one can find the gifts from various and different countries such as Turkey’s carpet, or oriental symbols and floral decoration made of wood from Brazil. However, for the Japanese donations, it is noted that in 1909 Japan decided to assign the imperial firm of Kawashima Jimbei in Kyoto to manufacture the finest wall tapestries with a theme of flowers and birds for the new Temple of Peace in The Hague. These precious wall tapestries consist of nine panels, named Hundred flowers and hundred birds in late spring and early summer. The wall tapestries are woven in the tradition of the ‘Tsuzure Nishiki’ technique. This technique is one of the most refined, complex, and rare weaving techniques in the world. For nearly three years in a row, thousands of people worked day and night to produce this magnificent work of art.

The Room also hosts gifts from other countries. On the floor, one can observe Turkey’s donation. The Turks, famous for their carpets, donated one which is said to be the largest Hereke carpet in the world outside of Turkey. This carpet was hand-knotted by the “Koninklijke Tapijtknoperij Kinheim”. During the construction period from 1907-1913, the Peace Palace commissioned 15 carpets to be manufactured including a large custom-made carpet based on pomegranate motifs from Turkestan.

Stained Glass Windows

The Great Hall of Justice, like the rest of the palace, is grand in stature and significance. Adorned with gifts donated from states, there are four stained glass windows produced by the Scottish artist Douglas Strachan. These were a gift from the United Kingdom.

Ramskells’ Heroics

Ramskells, a cat was adopted by the justices of the Permanent Court of International Justice. In 1924, a fire broke out at the Peace Palace trapping the justices inside. Legend holds, Ramskells, who was fiercely loyal to the justices, lead the justices to safety through the fire. While the justices made it to safety, Ramskells succumbed and passed away three days after the fire. Distraught, the justices demanded that a memorial be made for Ramskells. A local artist, Brettamore Higgs was commissioned to create the memorial. On the Palace’s grounds, the statue depicts Ramskells in a sitting position and, according to Higgs, bravely staring into the fire.


The Peace Palace has two towers, the highest of which was adorned with a clock donated by Switzerland. Several committed individuals and organizations have eventually made it possible to also place a carillon with 48 bells in the tower. The last bell was donated in 2013 during the centenary celebrations of the Peace Palace. The carillon is owned by the Carnegie Foundation, but the Hague Carillon Foundation organizes for it to be played. Influenced by international developments, the Peace Palace was established in 1913 in The Hague. During that time a carillon was not yet installed in the tower of the Peace Palace. There was, however, a timepiece placed in the tower, donated by Switzerland. The Hague has a distinctive carillon culture. Throughout the year, there are seven carillon concerts every week divided over three bell towers: the tower of the Great Church in the city centre, of the Old Church in Scheveningen by the sea, and the tower of the Peace Palace. The Peace Palace carillon is played every Tuesday and Thursday from 13.00 to 13.45.

Goddess of Justice on The Gates of Peace Palace

Hugging the mighty gates of Peace Palace is the Goddess of Justice. This visual depiction of a lady clad in the symbols of justice, represents the concepts of law, order, and justice. Dressed in a robe, holding the scale in one hand and a sword in another, thus immortalizing the importance of balance and integration. The balancing scales depict impartiality and conscience. The sword, on the other hand, depicts the enforcement of justice. The blindfold represents the objectivity of the law which will not sway in times of trepidation or those who wield influence. In sum, one is, at a cursory glance assured of the founding principles of the Palace.

World Peace Flame

First discussed and then eventually started in July 1999, the decision was to have seven flames from five different continents named Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia, and America. Later, in 2002 the first World Peace Movement was lit in the city of Hague next to the building of Peace Palace. The motivation behind these flames was to be considered as actions to symbolize international cooperation and unity for peace. The inaugural event was attended by distinguished persons who ascribe to the mission statement of the palace, writ large. The inscription of the World Peace Flame reads, “may all beings find peace”. World Peace Flame Pathway, was built 2 years after the inauguration of the World Peace Flame Monument. The pathway was built surrounding the monument with 196 stones of different sizes which were contributed by the same number of independent countries supporting the movement, some of these stones contributed these countries were very special, as some stones were from Robben Island, which was the place where the jail was situated Nelson Mandela spent a lot year of his life, while some stones inducted in the pathway were directly the stones which were broken off the berlin wall, and for building the simple motivation behind I was to inspire people to keep working for attaining the worldwide peace.


The Peace Palace is one of the important and historic buildings of the 20th and 21st Centuries. It has been termed as the ‘temple of peace’ by many from around the whole world and has been home to organizations like the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the United Nations’ International Court of Justice, and the Hague Academy of International Law. These institutions have been fighting and educating upon global peace since the 19th century. Since time immemorial, the Palace has stood the test of time, not only physically but also metaphorically. That, one might argue is because the Peace Palace, since its inception was propounded on spreading the ideals of peace, international unity, and cooperation amongst all nations. And in the unfortunate situation of a dispute, use the Palace as an avenue to peacefully discuss and resolve disputes using the rules and regulation of international laws which they as nations have created. The values of unity are best enshrined in spirit and old practice. Examples in forms of narratives are dotted in the palace’s architecture, art, and interiors. It represents the ideals of peace and unity in a way everything is built around the palace. The art and furniture in the Peace Palace remind its viewers of the lives lost in battles and the sacrifices made in the name of peace. In the 21st Century, the Peace Palace is a beacon of peace and an attempt of working towards a peaceful settlement of disputes.

As of this year, 1,000 bright young students are educated annually as lawyers and diplomats to work towards peaceful relations between states. Your League of Peace, as you called it in your Rectorial address at St. Andrews, is expanding every year. Incredible as it may seem, the war did happen again. The Great War would later be labelled the First World War, as mankind experienced a Second World War some 20 years later, not even halfway through the twentieth century. Could men treat men even worse than during the Great War? Yes, men could. And, unfortunately, it turns out in various places of the world that men still do.


bottom of page