What is with the three Xs on the Amsterdam flag?

What's up with the triple X in the Amsterdam Flag? Time to take a closer look

If you live in Amsterdam, you’ve heard the question. It’s one of the first things visitors want to know about: why is “XXX” stamped right in the middle of the flag?

You can’t blame them, the place does have a reputation. Even before tourists get here, they’re already thinking about a certain area of town. You know it, it’s the one with a red glow and people practising the world’s oldest profession. ❌❌❌

Interestingly, the flag isn’t just a depiction of the triple-X entertainment that Amsterdam usually has to offer. Instead, it’s the official symbol of the Dutch capital.

What does the Amsterdam flag look like?

Just in case you’re not familiar with the flag, let’s have a look. It has three horizontal stripes — red, black, red. The black one is slightly thinner, and it has three white Xs in it.

flag-of-amsterdam-red-with-black-stripe-three-white-crosses
The Amsterdam flag is very distinctive. Image: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Why does the flag have three crosses?

Depending on whether you have the maturity level of a teenager or not, we have some good news (or bad news): those Xs find their origins in Christianity.

That’s right, they’re actually representative of St. Andrew’s three crosses, one of Jesus’ apostle, who was crucified on an X-shaped cross.

St. Andrew also used to be a fisherman, that is, during the first century AD. But, it’s interesting to know that, back in 1505, when Amsterdam was a renowned fishing town, all the registered ships that would sail there had this flag hanging on from their boats. 🛶

Not just a random design

As cool as the flag looks on its own, it doesn’t usually stand on its own. In reality, it’s borrowed from the city’s coat of arms, where the popular red flag rests as the centrepiece.

photo-of-coat-of-arms-amsterdam-symbol
Image: Nescd/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

A common legend about the flag is that the three crosses represent fire, floods, and the black plague. Why? Those are precisely the problems that Amsterdammers had to deal with a little too often back in the day, unfortunately. But, that theory isn’t true either. 🤷‍♀️

The meaning and symbolism of the coat of arms symbol are actually still unknown. 🤫

The flag can be seen everywhere in Amsterdam

Another thing any visitor to Amsterdam will notice is that this symbol is everywhere.

Those crosses aren’t just on the flag. They’re carved into the bricks on buildings and sticking out of the little poles that keep cars off the sidewalk. They are printed on bus stops, museum signs and even on official letters.

And, they’re also in every single tourist shop, in the “things you don’t need” section (but will probably buy anyway). 🛍

READ MORE | Why Amsterdam is the capital and not The Hague

If you came to this article wanting some raunchy story on the Amsterdam flag to make your friends giggle, we’re sorry that we let you down. But, we hope you’re now a little more interested in the history of Amsterdam and why things are the way they are!

What do you think of Amsterdam’s flag? Tell us in the comments below!

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in October 2016 and was fully updated in September 2022 for your reading pleasure.

Feature Image:Pixabay

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14 COMMENTS

    • XXX Corps in World War 2

      Having read the article I understand what the Amsterdam flag now means. I studied in Groningen University many years ago and during WW2 Groningen was taken from the Germans by the Canadian tank Division. However prior to this Operation by the Canadians the Allies Both British, Americans and Polish parachutists were dropped near Arnhem in a planned attack known as Operation Market Garden.
      So I knew that in WW2 the British XXX Corps was the one that advanced up to Nijmegen and was parachuted in to take a bridge (see film. ‘A bridge too far.’) but was stalled by the Germans at Arnhem. The flag resembles one of the armoured Engineer Corps and I thought it was from WW2 from the liberation of the Netherlands. As the crosses are similar to XXX Corps.
      Martin.

  1. What I heard is that Amsterdam inspired the XXX in porn indirectly. As all material had the XXX (for the city) people from other parts of the world made a connection.

  2. I think this article is poorly written . I don’t like the style of it. Is there anyway I can report or complain?

  3. Well, isn’t that just too bad for you, Robert Al White. Submit an article that’s better laid out, better formulated,and informative, please?!

  4. So today I think I figured out the link of XXX in Amsterdam’s flag to XXX use in the English world. First you need to know that the Dutch invented gin or ‘jenever’ or ‘genever’ from where we get today’s Geneva Gin. Also gin had a bad reputation from the ‘gin mills’ in England, where men, women and children drank to tremendous excess, as life was tough and gin was super cheap, as it was not taxed for a time; it was the crack cocaine of its day.
    Also gin was made with turpentine and/or sulphuric acid (look it up!) and it had a real kick to it. At some point the XXX became a marker or warning for strong (possibly fatal) liquor, maybe when ‘bathtub gin’ was being made in the depression. Because XXX was probably on bottles of real gin from Amsterdam, there was the borrowing of a recognizable trademark – remember many were still illiterate and needed simple signs like XXX. So XXX meant hard liquor – the real stuff.
    The adoption by the pornography industry in the sixties of XXX to signify ‘hard’ porn – yes, Virginia there was such a thing as ‘soft’ porn before the WWW – was another example of stealing a symbol/trademark and re-purposing it. So that is the link, I think.

  5. On a recent tour from a local tour guide we were told that Amsterdam’s name originated from the river amstel that ran through the place before the locals built the first dam to stop the water and is now known as dam square. This city then became later known as amterdam and the 3 X,s were actually a symbol of being only 3 places of where you could actually cross the river Amstel.

  6. The crosses probably have their origin in the shield of the noble family Persijn. The knight Jan Persijn was lord of Amstelledamme (Amsterdam) from 1280 to 1282.

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