Saturday, July 23, 2011

Saturday's postcard: Nieuwmarkt and the Waag in Amsterdam

Today's postcard is undated (1960s?) and unused. The text on the back comes conveniently in several languages:
Nieuwmarkt met Waaggebouw.
Newmarket with Weighing-house.
Nouveau marché avec poids public.
Neuer Markt mit Wagegebäude.
This square in central Amsterdam is called Nieuwmarkt ("New Market") and the building in the center is called the Waag. It was originally built in 1488 and was one of the main gates of walled Amsterdam.1

Here's some history of Nieuwmarkt and the Waag, culled mostly from Wikipedia2:
  • In the late 16th century, Amsterdam expanded, the walls were torn down and the Waag lost its function as a city gate. In 1614, the defensive canals around the gate were filled in and the Nieuwmarkt square was created. The weighing scales for the market were placed inside the former gate.3
  • In 1691, an anatomical theatre was added to the Waag and paying members of the public were allowed to witness human dissections.
  • In the early 1800s (and surely at other times in history), executions were staged in the square.
  • Also in the 1800s, there were spring and autumn village fairs in the square. The spring fairs were small and quiet, but the autumn fairs regularly degenerated into brawls and scuffles, and they were prohibited by authorities in 1876.
  • The Nieuwmarkt was within Amsterdam's Jewish district. During World War II, the square was used by the Nazis as a collection point for Jews who were to be sent to concentration camps.
  • In the 1970s, many historic buildings near the square were torn down to make way for a planned train station and highway, which were to run right through the Nieuwmarkt neighborhood. In 1975, however, there was rioting over this proposal, forcing the abandonment of the highway. The train station was eventually built, though.
  • The square has had its current appearance since about 1990, when cars were banned from parking there. Nieuwmarkt and the Waag are now aimed more at tourists and filled with cafés and markets.4

Here are some public-domain images of Nieuwmarkt and the Waag over the years:

From 1902:

A close-up of the Waag from today's postcard:

Side view from 2007:

Front view from 2007:

1. The building houses the oldest plaque in Amsterdam, which states: "On 28 April 1488 the first stone of this gate was laid." The gate, part of the walls that surrounded Amsterdam at the time, was called the Sint Anthoniespoort. For more, check out this 2009 entry on the Tales of a Technogypsie blog.
2. Primary sources are the Wikipedia pages for weigh house and Nieuwmarkt, and the Yahoo! translation of the Dutch Wikipedia page for Nieuwmarkt.
3. Another fascinating note from Wikipedia: "Between 1550 and about 1690, people accused of witchcraft were at times brought to a weigh house in order to be subjected to a 'witch test'. If a person was found to be lighter than a set weight, he or she was deemed guilty."
4. There is also apparently a market for antiques and books on summer Sundays!

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