The Amsterdam Waag

The Amsterdam Waag
Amsterdam, the Netherlands

In the heart of Amsterdam lies a remnant of the former city walls known as the “Amsterdam Waag”. The walls were constructed here between 1481 and 1494. The Waag was constructed in 1488 and originally housed one of the city gates known as the “Sint Anthoniespoort”. The lower part of another gate also exists here called the Regulierspoort (“Munttoren”) and a defense tower known as the Schreierstoren. As the city wall disappeared, the New Market (Nieuwmarkt) began and the building housed the weighing scales. It became the predominant weigh house in Amsterdam. Weigh houses are buildings where scales are set up to weigh goods and levy taxes on goods transported through the area. From 1550-1690 those accused of witchcraft were sometimes brought here to be subjected to a “witch test” where if the person was found to be lighter than a set weight, s/he was deemed guilty. During the Spanish Inquisition, public executions took place here and to the left of this building you can find an inclined alleyway called the “Bloedstraat” (Blood street) where the blood from executions drained down. “Waag” means “scale” and his how the place got its name. In the late 16th century, as the city expanded, the wall was torn down and the gate lost its function. The defensive canal and palissade was turned into the market square, raising the ground, and filling in the canal. The upper floors housed four guilds – the smiths, the painters, the masons, and the surgeons. Each had its own entrance tower. This is the famous spot where in 1632 Rembrandt van Rijn was commissioned to paint the surgeons at work which is how the Anatomical Lesson of Dr. Tulp made his name. They added a theatrum anatomicum in 1691 so that paying members of the public could witness human dissections. the guilds were dissolved in 1795 leading to many different uses of the building, including a fire brigade and two museums before being taken over by a foundation in 1990. This foundation originally planned to partly destroy the building and build an addition designed by Philippe Starck but because the foundation went bankrupt they were unable to accomplish this feat. The local neighbourhood, historians, and the Amsterdam city council worked to restore it keeping its medieval background. In 1996 the Waag Society became the principal tenant. The Waag Society is the ICT research foundation that is working in the social and cultural domain of Amsterdam, and is a responsible group, according to locals, for its part in shutting down the Red Light district and cafes. The building also houses a very expensive cafe/restaurant on the ground floor that most locals recommend to avoid.


Amsterdam Waag

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