The magnificent Binnenhof, the 13th-century hunting lodge of the counts of Holland, is the center of Holland's political life. It now houses the First and Second Chamber of the Staaten-Generaal (States General), an equivalent to the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, respectively. At the cobblestoned courtyard's heart is the beautiful, twin-towered Hall of the Knights, measuring 38*18m (126*59 ft.) and soaring 26m (85 ft.) to its oak roof. Since 1904, its immense interior, adorned with provincial flags and leaded-glass windows depicting the coats of arms of Dutch cities, has hosted the queen's annual address to Parliament (third Tues in Sept) and official receptions. Adjacent to the Ridderzaal are the former quarters of the Stadhouder (Head of State).
When Count of Holland Willem II was crowned king of the Romans and emperor-elect of the Holy Roman Empire in 1248, he appointed the Binnenhof, his late father's palace, the official royal residence, thereby providing the city with what is considered its foundation year. Willem's son, Floris V, added the massive Ridderzaal in 1280.
Visit the Parliament exhibit in the reception room of the Hall of Knights, and join a guided tour to visit the hall and, government business permitting, one of the chambers of Parliament. It's worthwhile to visit the courtyard and the Hall of the Knights, which you can do easily in an hour; the tour of Parliament isn't all that exciting, so don't fret if you miss it. Be sure to check out the view from the outside of the Binnenhof, across the rectangular Hofvijver (Court Lake) pond, which has a fountain and a tiny island.