Gevangenenpoort (Prisoners'gate), Rephotography
Picture left: Detroit Publishing Company, c1905 - Print no. 17464
Picture right: Erik van den Ham, 2013
In the year 1280, the gate on The Hague’s Buitenhof formed the main entrance gate to the castle belonging to the Counts of Holland, today’s Binnenhof. In 1428, this Voorpoort van den Hove (Main Gate to the Court) also became a prison. This was where debtors were locked up and suspected criminals awaited their trail. A century later, the gate was added to with a new area containing the cells and courthouse.
Suspects were locked up in the dark, cold cells to await questioning and trial. This could sometimes take months, but until the 17th century, imprisonment was not considered a punishment in itself. Punishment instead consisted of fines, banishment, public shaming and corporal or capital punishment.
Famous Dutch figures such as Cornelis de Witt, accused of conspiring against Willem III, Prince of Orange, and the writer, philosopher and theologian Dirk Volckertszoon Coornhert were incarcerated in the Prison Gate. They were held in their own luxury cell: the Ridderkamer (Knight’s Chamber).
For four hundred years, the gate functioned as a prison. By 1828, however, the Gevangenpoort (Prison Gate) stood empty. It survived two attempts to knock it down: one in 1853 thanks to the efforts of prominent Dutch politician J. R. Thorbecke and one in 1873 thanks to Victor de Stuers, a pioneer in the preservation of national monuments. Since 1882, the Gevangenpoort has been a museum.