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.
It doesn’t help that when visitors get off the train at Central Station they’re greeted by plenty of sex stores. So, it’s not really their fault that they think the flag is somehow related to the dirtiest of the dirty.
But, is it?
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 skinnier, and it has three white Xs in it.
Get to the point, why does Amsterdam have an XXX flag?
Depending on whether you have the maturity level of a teenager or not, I have good news or bad news: those Xs are actually crosses.
That’s right, they’re not advertising naked people doing unspeakable things together. In an ironic turn of events, they’re actually a Christian symbol. They’re St. Andrew’s Crosses, and they’re used in honour of the saint who was crucified on a cross.
And before you get upset that you’ve never seen a cross like that before, I’m going to promise you that you have. What about the flag of Scotland? Or Great Britain? There you go, it’s the cross of St. Andrew again.
Not just a random design
As cool as the flag looks, it wasn’t just the work of a crazy graphic designer trying to impress their friends. In reality, it’s all borrowed from the city’s coat of arms, and it’s even more complicated than the flag. Each of those elements has a reason for being there, but that’s another article altogether.
Stretching the truth on the number three
A common legend about the flag is that there are three crosses to represent fire, floods, and the black plague (problems that old Amsterdammers had to deal with a little too often). Unfortunately, that’s not true either. I know I’m just crushing all your dreams today, but please don’t shoot the messenger.
I haven’t found any solid reasons why there are three crosses, but it seems this design was thrown in the coat of arms because some powerful families used it in their own family symbols.
Just call it a case of some old-fashioned sponsorship. If they were designing it today, it would almost certainly have some elements of the Heineken logo worked in.
Have you noticed Amsterdam’s flag is everywhere?
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 on printed on bus stops and museum signs. They’re on government logos and official letters.
And, they’re in every single tourist shop, on hundreds of things you don’t need (but will probably buy anyway).
READ MORE: Why Amsterdam is the capital and not The Hague.
Sorry to disappoint you
If you came to this article wanting some raunchy story on the Amsterdam flag to make your friends giggle, I’m sorry that I let you down. But, I hope you’re now a little more interested in the history of Amsterdam and why things are the way they are! And remember, not everything in Holland is about drugs and sex.
What do you think of Amsterdam’s flag? Let us know in the comments below!
Feature Image: MabelAmber/Pixabay
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in October 2016 and was fully updated in October 2020 for your reading pleasure.