Netherlands Carillon

B&W photo; steel tower on left and tree on right
The Netherlands Carillon resonates in sight and sounds atop a hill in Arlington, Virginia.

National Park Service

Quick Facts

"From the People of the Netherlands to the People of the United States."

This simple dedication on the Netherlands Carillon expresses the gratitude of the Dutch people for American aid received during and after World War II.

A carillon is a 'set of bells in a tower, played using a keyboard or by an automatic mechanism similar to a piano roll.' The Netherlands Carillon symbolizes a friendship between the people of the two countries, a friendship so rooted in a common allegiance to the principles of freedom, justice, and democracy that it can weather any temporary differences of opinion. The 50 bells of the Netherlands Carillon hang in an open steel tower.

History of the Carillon
On April 4, 1952, Queen Juliana of the Netherlands visited the United States to present a small silver bell to President Truman as a token of the carillon that was to come. In ceremonies at Meridian Hill Park in Washington, DC, the queen spoke of the importance of the small bells of the carillon:

"To achieve real harmony, justice should be done also to the small and tiny voices, which are not supported by the might of their weight. Mankind could learn from this. So many voices in our troubled world are still unheard. Let that be an incentive for all of us when we hear the bells ringing."

Two years later 49 bells arrived and were installed in a temporary tower in West Potomac Park, where they were formally accepted by the United States. A permanent tower was built near the United States Marine Corps War Memorial, the bells were installed, and an official dedication was held on May 5, 1960—the 15th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands from the Nazis.

Design and Symbolism
The 50 bronze alloy bells of the carillon weigh almost 30 tons (61,403 pounds) ranging from 12,654 pounds for the largest bell and just 35 pounds for the smallest. Each bell includes an emblem signifying a group within Dutch society and an inscription by Dutch poet, Ben van Eysselsteijn . The smallest bells represent the youth of the Netherlands. 

The tower housing the carillon was designed by Joost W. C. Boks, a leading Dutch architect. It is an open steel structure reinforced by steel plates. The tower is approximately 127 feet high, 25 feet deep, and 36 feet wide. It stands on a quartzite plaza 93 feet square and is enclosed by a low, lava stone wall. Two bronze lions, designed by Dutch sculptor Paul Koning, guard the plaza steps. A rectangular staircase leads to an observatory platform from which a small circular staircase winds up to the glass-enclosed playing cabin 83 feet above the ground. Planted on the surrounding grounds are thousands of flowers, including tulip bulbs in the springtime.

On May 5, 1995, the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands by the allies, the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce in the United States, the Netherland-America Foundation, and the Netherlands government, completed a renovation and modernization of the carillon.  The smaller bells were removed and returned to the Netherlands for work. The larger bells (which would have been extremely difficult to remove) were repaired in place. The original playing console was removed and a new unit installed.

Visit Today
The carillon's peaceful setting, with its floral libraries and sculpted lions, is the perfect place to listen to the music of the bells.  The grounds of the Netherlands Carillon, located near Arlington National Cemetery, offer sweeping views of National Mall and Memorial Parks and Washington, DC. In temperate weather the grassy slope and large shade trees form a perfect picnic spot.

The Netherlands Carillon grounds are open daily from 6 am to midnight. Automated and live concerts are available on a regular basis. For their safety, members of the general public cannot climb to the top of the bell tower.

Plan your visit today!

Last updated: June 5, 2018