Amsterdam has an emblem with a bold design, and it’s used in a flag. It might be a surprise to learn that in this secular, even sin-filled, city that the crosses have religious significance. It’s the cross of St. Andrew, but no-one is sure how it ended up on the Amsterdam flag, it may have been part of the arms of the Persijns, a landowning family. The black centre stripe may represent the Amstel, the river after which Amsterdam is named, or not. The flag passes the Roman Mars design criteria and gets a nod in this TED talk on flag design (at about 10 minutes in).
The shield forms part of the city’s arms, it “wears” a crown, which is the Imperial Crown of Austria, and the right to use it was granted to Amsterdam by the Emperor Maximilian I in 1489 as a reward for the money lent in the Hook and Cod wars. The same crown sits atop the Westertoren, and turns up on the Blauwebrug.
Sometime in the 16th century two golden lions were added flanking the shield. I can’t find any particular reason for them being added, but it did bring the city’s coat of arms in line with the national coat of arms where the lion comes from the family arms of Nassau – one title still held by today’s Dutch royal family. This version of the coat of arms is common around Amsterdam on older buildings.
The most recent addition to the coat of arms is less than 100 years old, and it’s the city’s motto “Heldhaftig, Vastberaden, Barmhartig”, meaning “Valiant, Steadfast, Compassionate”. It was granted to the city by Queen Wilhelmina in 1947, in recognition for the bravery and compassion shown by the city in the General Strike of 1941. So on older buildings you won’t see the motto. Here’s today’s coat of arms for Amsterdam.
So this secular, liberal, anything goes city has a coat of arms that features the crown of a Catholic monarch, the cross of a Catholic saint and a motto recognising a very humanitarian protest. It tells you a lot about the city.
The image of the city’s coat of arms is in the public domain, but its use is restricted within the city, however there are variants of it created and appearing on buildings around the city, and in local art. Including this by Amsterdammer street artist Hugo Mulder.
- flag; mine
- Westertoren shield; Grachten van Amsterdam. (excellent site, but Dutch only)
- Shield with lion; Radisson Blue
- full coat of arms for Amsterdam,
- art image of coat of arms; GoGallery