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During the Middle Ages, the city of Amsterdam only covered the area of what is now the old centre. At that time, the striking building known as De Waag was one of the city gateways, called Saint Anthony’s Gate.
A plaque commemorates the day when building started, on 28 April 1488. It is also of value because, alongside the Mint Tower and Weeper’s Tower, it is the only vestige of the old medieval wall to remain standing. If you take a good look, you will notice the tower’s defensive nature in weapon apertures all around the perimeter of the towers.
In the late sixteenth century, the city started to expand and new times began. The walls were no longer necessary, at least in this spot; they were therefore demolished and, as a result, the Saint Anthony’s Gate became a building within the city.
Around 1614, a whole district was being planned around this gate, and very close to it a square had been built in which an important market, the Nieuwmarkt or New Market, was held.
The gate with its previous function was clearly no longer of any use and it was thus given a new function. A roof was added between the two towers, which gave rise to the building it was to serve from that time onwards, as the place where the local authorities controlled and weighed the goods from the markets, because international standards had yet to be introduced.
It was then, in the seventeenth century, that the building was given the name De Waag by which it is known today, which in Dutch means “weighing scales”, a very appropriate term for the new public weigh house.
The top floors of the tower were also put to use and were assigned to different guilds: the blacksmiths’, painters’, masons’ and surgeons’. Human dissections could be attended at the guild of surgeons upon payment of an entrance fee. Rembrandt also painted one of his most famous paintings, the “Anatomical Lesson of Dr. Tulp”, here. The entrance to the guild of masons was decorated by the prestigious architect Hendrick de Keyser.
There was then another change and in the late eighteenth century. The guilds were dissolved, whereupon the Waag became vacant. Dutch pragmatism would not allow this and the majestic building was immediately assigned other uses. These have ranged from the headquarters of the fire brigade and museums to its current function as the head office of the Waag Society for social and cultural projects and, of course, a busy café.
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