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 women practicing 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's the reason for the design of the flag of Amsterdam?

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

The flag of Amsterdam.

Get to the Point, Why Does Amsterdam Have an XXX Flag?

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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 honor of the saint who was crucified on one of that shape.

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.

The UK flag compared to Amsterdam's flag.
Notice a familiar symbol?

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 his 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.

The Amsterdam coat of arms.
Amsterdam’s coat of arms.

Stretching the Truth on the Number 3

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.

 

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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.

Flag of Amsterdam on bus stop.
The symbol can even be found on glass shelters at bus stops. Photo by Alex Hoskinson.

And, they’re in every single tourist shop.  On hundreds of things you don’t need (but will probably buy anyway).

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.

Stil want to know more about history? We’ve got this article on why Amsterdam is the capital and not The Hague.

Or try this one on where to live in Amsterdam.

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9 COMMENTS

  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.

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