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Den Haag (The Hague) is markedly different from any other Dutch city. In a country built on municipal independence and munificence, it’s been the focus of national institutions since the sixteenth century, but is not – curiously enough – the capital, which is Amsterdam. Frequently disregarded until the development of central government in the 1800s, Den Haag’s older buildings are a comparatively subdued and modest collection, with little of Amsterdam’s flamboyance. Indeed, the majority of the canal houses are demurely classical and exude that sense of sedate prosperity which prompted Matthew Arnold’s harsh estimation of 1859: “I never saw a city where the well-to-do classes seemed to have given the whole place so much of their own air of wealth, finished cleanliness, and comfort; but I never saw one, either, in which my heart would so have sunk at the thought of living”.

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