From City Gate to Weigh House
The weigh house was originally built in 1488 as one of Amsterdam’s city gates, St Anthony’s Port. A stone incorporated in the tower facing Zeedijk recalls the date in an inscription: In MCCCCLXXXVIII  on the XXVII [27th] day of April the first stone of this port was laid.
St Anthony’s Port was one of Amsterdam’s three main gates. The others were Reguliers Port, the bottom of which forms the base of Mint Tower, and the old Haarlemmer Port, which no longer exists.
In 1601 the city’s walls were torn down to allow Amsterdam to expand further. St Anthony’s Port remained standing, although it was now redundant. On either side, part of the canals were filled in to create a square: St Anthony’s Market – since renamed Nieuwmarkt. In 1617 the former city gate was provided with a new function: that of weigh house. Some of the arrowloops were widened to form windows, giving the building a more open character.
Amsterdam’s merchants were pleased with the new weigh house, since the old building on Dam Square had been unable to handle the explosive growth of trade.
A new function was also found for the upper floors of the former city. The largest room became the guardroom of one of the city’s militia companies. The other rooms were assigned to various guilds.
Each guild was given its own entrance. All kinds of details on the outside walls recall this period. For example, above the door to the St Luke’s guild – the artists’ guild – is a relief of St Luke, identifiable by the ox at his side. Above the St Eligius’ guild door is the heraldic shield of the smiths’ guild with its crowned hammer. And still legible above the door leading to the surgeons’ guild is the inscription: theatrum anatomicum.
The masons’ and surgeons’ guilds made the greatest changes to the building’s appearance. The masons were responsible for numerous decorations inside and to the exterior, including a new staircase, fireplaces, window frames and the tower decorations.
The surgeons in turn commissioned an octagonal wooden ceiling for the centre of the building which was ornamented with the heraldic arms of its doctors. In the same room they built an amphitheatre for anatomical lectures. In the centre stood a dissection table on which the corpse of a recently executed criminal could be cut up. These demonstrations were open to the public and proved immensely popular in Amsterdam.
It was especially for the theatre that Rembrandt painted his famous Anatomical Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp in 1632, currently at the Mauritshuis in The Hague.
Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
When the guilds were disbanded in the early nineteenth century the former weigh house, by now the last of Holland’s weigh houses, was once again redundant. For years it was earmarked for demolition. Fortunately, that never happened, partly because no suitable home could be found for the medical collection and for the anatomical lectures.
So the weigh house became home to a remarkably varied succession of tenants. In the nineteenth century, for example, it served first as a municipal fencing hall, a furniture factory, municipal oil lighting workplace, a fire brigade station and then municipal archive. For much of the twentieth century the weigh house was a museum: from 1926 to 1932 it housed the Amsterdam Historical Museum, and until 1987, the Jewish Historical Museum.
After many years of disuse and then restoration, Restaurant-Café In de Waag eventually opened its doors here in 1996.
The ‘new’ history of the Waag!
In 2011 Jacqueline de Graauw MSc graduated on her research on the Waag at the
Catholic University of Leuven. Her thesis has resulted in some interesting new
conclusions. For example, she has discovered that the Waag was originally much
smaller than it is today. The original gate building was probably built in
1425. Until now it was assumed that the building dated from 1488.
A study of the masonry and the still visible crenels in the Eloy tower resulted in some pretty illustrations. With
worked up pictures Jacqueline shows how small the original gate was.
Source: J.J. de Graauw, ‘The Waag at the Nieuwmarkt in Amsterdam’, master thesis for the post-initial master in
Conservation of Monuments and Sites at the Raymond Lemaire International Centre for Conservation, Catholic University of Leuven, 2011