Given one of the most common stereotypes about the city of Amsterdam, the triple X that can be spotted all over the city may come as little surprise - but does it really have to do with the city's reputation for sex tourism? Not at all; the triple X on the Amsterdam coat of arms turns out to be just a coincidence. The three X's are actually silver St. Andrew's Crosses, also known as saltires - the type of cross on which St. Andrew is said to have been crucified, and a common heraldic symbol worldwide.
There are various theories as to what the X's stand for. One popular theory is that the X's stand for the three chief perils that the city of Amsterdam once faced: floods, fire, and the Black Death. Another theory holds that the crosses were taken from the shield of the family Persijn, and refer to three of the family's properties: Amsterdam, Ouder-Amstel, and Nieuwer-Amstel (present-day Amstelveen). The black pale, a heraldic term for a vertical band, that runs down the shield would represent the Amstel River, on which the three were located.
The X's are often found on their own - for example, on the traffic bollards found on countless city streets - but on the Amsterdam coat of arms, the crosses appear vertically on a red escutcheon, or heraldic shield. Two lions, added in the 16th century, flank the shield. Atop the shield is the Imperial Crown of Austria; in the 15th century, Amsterdam was rewarded with permission to use the imperial crown of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I in its coat of arms in return for the financial support it provided to Maximilian in wartime; this was considered a favorable endorsement of the city far and wide. When the personal crown of the Catholic emperor became the Imperial Crown of Austria (under Maximilian I's successor, Rudolf II), the city of Amsterdam updated its coat of arms to the new crown.
The silver scroll below the escutcheon, the most recent addition, contains the motto of Amsterdam: Heldhaftig, Vastberaden, Barmhartig, "Heroic, Steadfast, Compassionate". Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, grandmother of the current Queen Beatrix, introduced the scroll to commemorate the February strike of 1941, when the non-Jews of Amsterdam rose up in protest of Nazi persecution of the city's Jewish population. This was the first, and one of the only, such strikes in occupied Europe. The scroll was added in 1947, and has since been emblazoned on surfaces across the city.