The Hague (; or 's-Gravenhage ) is the seat of government in the Netherlands, and the capital city of the province of South Holland. With a population just over 500,000 inhabitants (as of 1 November 2012) and more than one million inhabitants including the suburbs, it is the third largest city of the Netherlands, after Amsterdam and Rotterdam. The combined urban area of The Hague and Rotterdam, with a population of approximately 2.9 million, is the 206th largest urban area in the world and the most populous in the country. Located in the west of the Netherlands, The Hague is in the centre of the Haaglanden conurbation and lies at the southwest corner of the larger Randstad conurbation.
The Hague is the seat of the Dutch government and parliament, the Supreme Court, and the Council of State, but the city is not the capital of the Netherlands which constitutionally is Amsterdam. King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands plans to live at Huis ten Bosch and works at Noordeinde Palace in The Hague, together with Queen Máxima. Most foreign embassies in the Netherlands and 150 international organisations are located in the city, including the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, which makes The Hague one of the major cities hosting the United Nations, along with New York, Vienna, Geneva, Tokyo and Nairobi.
The Hague originated around 1230, when Count Floris IV of Holland purchased land alongside a pond, the present-day Hofvijver, in order to build a hunting residence. In 1248 his son and successor William II, King of the Romans, decided to extend the residence to a palace, which would later be called the Binnenhof (Inner Court). He died in 1256 before this palace was completed, but parts of it were finished by his son Floris V, of which the Ridderzaal (Knights' Hall), still extant, is the most prominent. It is still used for political events, such as the annual speech from the throne by the Dutch monarch. From the 13th century on, the counts of Holland used The Hague as their administrative centre and residence when in Holland.
The village that originated around the Binnenhof was first mentioned as Haga in a charter from 1242. In the 15th century, the smarter des Graven hage came into use, literally "the count's wood", with connotations like "the count's hedge, private enclosure or hunting grounds". Gravenhage was officially used for the city from the 17th century on. Today this name is only used in some official documents like birth and marriage certificates. The city itself uses "Den Haag" in all its communication. When the Dukes of Burgundy gained control over the counties of Holland and Zeeland at the beginning of the 15th century, they appointed a stadtholder to rule in their stead with the States of Holland as an advisory council. Their seat was located in The Hague.
At the beginning of the Eighty Years' War, the absence of city walls proved disastrous, as it allowed Spanish troops easily to occupy the town. In 1575 the States of Holland even considered demolishing the city, but this proposal was abandoned, after mediation by William of Orange. From 1588 The Hague also became the seat of the government of the Dutch Republic. In order for the administration to maintain control over city matters, The Hague never received official city status, although it did have many of the privileges normally granted only to cities.
Only in 1806, when the Kingdom of Holland was a puppet state of the First French Empire, the settlement was granted city rights by Louis Bonaparte. After the Napoleonic Wars, modern-day Belgium and the Netherlands were combined in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands to form a buffer against France. As a compromise, Brussels and Amsterdam alternated as capital every two years, with the government remaining in The Hague. After the separation of Belgium in 1830, Amsterdam remained the capital of the Netherlands, while the government was situated in The Hague. When the government started to play a more prominent role in Dutch society after 1850, The Hague quickly expanded. Many streets were specifically built for the large number of civil servants employed in the country's government and for the Dutchmen who were retiring from the administration and exploitation of the Netherlands East Indies. The growing city annexed the rural municipality of Loosduinen partly in 1903 and completely in 1923.
The city sustained heavy damage during World War II. Many Jews were killed during the German occupation. Additionally, the Atlantic Wall was built through the city, causing a large quarter to be torn down by the Nazi occupants. On 3 March 1945, the Royal Air Force mistakenly bombed the Bezuidenhout quarter. The target was an installation of V-2 rockets in the nearby "Haagse Bos" park, but because of navigational errors, the bombs fell on a heavily populated and historic part of the city. 511 people died and the scars in the city may still be seen today.
After the war The Hague was at one point the largest building site in Europe. The city expanded massively to the southwest, and the destroyed areas were quickly rebuilt. The population peaked at 600,000 inhabitants around 1965. In the 1970s and 1980s many, mostly white middle-class families moved to neighbouring towns like Voorburg, Leidschendam, Rijswijk and, most of all, Zoetermeer. This led to the traditional pattern of an impoverished inner city and more prosperous suburbs. Attempts to include parts of these municipalities in the city of The Hague were highly controversial. In the 1990s, with the consent of Dutch Parliament, The Hague annexed fairly large areas from neighbouring towns as well as from not even bordering ones, on which complete new residential areas were built and are still being built.