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  • Writer's pictureMoorea Hall-Aquitania, MA

A Brief History of Nieuwmarkt in Amsterdam

What is Nieuwmarkt?

Nieuwmarkt is a famous public square in Amsterdam’s old city centre that was founded in the 17th century.

Nieuwmarkt at night

Nieuwmarkt History

The Nieuwmarkt (or New Market) is one of the bustling hubs of Amsterdam’s city centre and has been so since the 17th century. Located in the Lastage neighbourhood next to the Red Light District and considered part of Amsterdam’s Chinatown, the square is known for its lively restaurants and nightlife, its weekly markets, and the historic Waag building.

The square itself was created when the canals around the Waag were filled in in 1614. The Waag, the turreted structure in the middle of the square, was originally one of the gates in the city wall, known as Saint Anthony’s Gate. This section of the medieval wall was constructed in the late 15th century and consisted of defensive towers and city gates with sections of brick and stone fortification between. Almost none of these walls remain today. When the city expanded in the 16th century to encompass the Lastage area, a new gate was built near the Hortus Botanicus and the former gate on the Nieuwmarkt was repurposed as a weigh house, or waag.

The Waag became a public weigh house in 1617 to help relieve the original weigh house on Dam Square, which could no longer keep up with the growing city’s commercial needs. The building’s inner courtyard was covered at this time, and the upper floors of the building were used by various guilds including the painters’, blacksmiths’, masons’, and surgeons’ guilds. Each body had its own entrance gate, and their emblems are still visible over these entrances. A large hall was added in 1690, topped with the central octagonal tower. The Waag functioned as a weigh house until 1819, and then served various functions throughout the 19th century, including a workshop producing streetlamps, the city archives, furniture makers, and even a fencing hall. Around this time, corporal punishments and executions were carried out in front of the Waag, and the first three deaths by guillotine in the Netherlands occurred here in 1812.

In the 19th century, a biannual fair was held here on the Nieuwmarkt, but after numerous riots and fights at this event it was banned by the city council. Located in the former Jewish Quarter of Amsterdam, it was also used by the Nazis during the Second World War as a gathering place for Jewish residents about to be deported to the camps. After the war, the square was again used for fairs until they moved to the Dam in the 1970s. After serving as a parking lot for many years, it was turned into a city square in the early 1990s and has remained a lively meeting and marketplace ever since. From Monday to Friday there’s a very small market on one side of the square with stalls selling flowers, vegetables and cheese. On Saturdays, the whole square is filled with a weekly organic farmers’ market, with vendors selling natural cosmetics, handmade candles, and locally grown fruits and vegetables. Thankfully this lively public space, once associated with blood and execution, is now a centre for commerce and socialising.

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