Schreierstoren, Amsterdam

Schreierstoren

On Prins Hendrik­kade 94-95 you can find the Schreiers­toren, a defense tower built around 1487 as part of the medieval city wall. This tower stood at the sharp corner of the city wall, from Gelderse­kade (Guelderian Quay) in the direction of the Saint Anthony’s Gate (the current Weigh House). From here Henry Hudson set sail in 1609 to Northern America, which also led to the discovery of the island of Manhattan.

Schreierstoren, Amsterdam, seen from Geldersekade

Schreierstoren from the back, seen from Gelderse­kade (July 2022).

The tower lost its defense function at the end of the 16th century with another city expansion, but it was spared when the city wall was demolished — it is the last completely preserved tower from the medieval city wall. In the quay wall of the Gelderse­kade at number 18 you can see a few large sand­stone blocks, remnants of the old wall. The tower, restored in 1966, still has the original wooden skeleton as well as two of the oldest convent windows in Amsterdam.

Schreierstoren, Amsterdam, seen from the water of the IJ, between 1620 and 1640

Schreierstoren, seen from the water of the IJ, between 1620 and 1640 (Stads­archief Amsterdam).

It later housed the Tinsmith’s Guild until 1683 and still later the harbour master, who moved to the Haven­gebouw on De Ruyterkade in 1960. Currently the tower is a café. Nautical book­store L.J. Harri was located here on the top floors from 1983 until 2022. That nautical store (from 1730) had been in Amsterdam since 1841 — they moved to Rotterdam in December 2021.

Schreierstoren, Amsterdam, from Geldersekade, engraving from 1652 by Reinier Nooms

Schreierstoren seen from the side of the Gelderse­kade, engraving from between 1652 and 1654 by Reinier Nooms (1623-1664) (Rijks­museum).

Above the entrance on the Prins Hendrik­kade is a plaque commemo­rating the first voyage to the East Indies in 1595 by Cornelis Houtman, four ships with in Latin the words Navigare Necesse Est (Sailing Is Necessary).

Plaques on Schreierstoren, Amsterdam, first voyage to East India and Hudson's voyage to America

Plaques commemorating the first voyage to East India (above the entrance) and Hudson’s voyage to America (left) (July 2022).

Plaque on Schreierstoren, Amsterdam, to remember the first ship to the East Indies in 1595

Plaque above the entrance: Navigare Necesse Est, to remember the first ship to the East Indies in 1595 (July 2022).

The Myth of the Weepers’ Tower

Many invented stories go around, repeated by many guides, where Schreiers­toren is incorrectly translated as Weepers’ Tower or Crying Tower — allegedly this was the spot where weeping women waved goodbye to their husbands going off to sea. The story is partly fueled by a (very much eroded) plaque above the street name sign on the right hand side of the tower, which shows a woman looking away while pointing at a ship on the waves, with the text “Scrayer­houck 1569”.

Plaque on Schreierstoren, Amsterdam, allegory on the year 1569

Plaque on the right hand side of the Schreiers­toren, allegory indi­cating the unfortu­nate year 1569 (July 2022).

1569 was a very unfortunate year for Amsterdam: the Eighty Years War with Spain (1568-1648) had just started, the fleet was captured by the Beggars (Amsterdam only joined the revolt later) and the Spanish Duke of Alba was about the introduce the hated Tenth Penny (a 10% tax on all sales).

So this was probably an allegory referring to the year, based on the pronun­ciation, by one of the Chambers of Rhetoric (Dutch: Rede­rijkers­kamers), dramatic societies in the Low Countries. Actually “Scrayers­houck­toren” means “sharp corner tower”, not “weepers’ tower”. Later the name was shortened to Schreiers­toren, leaving out houck (corner), hence the confusion and the myth — sharp (scray) and weep (schrei) had the same pronunciation in old Dutch.

Schreierstoren, Amsterdam, as it was in 1538, detail of a painting from 1652 by Jan Micker

Under the lens the Schreiers­toren as it was in 1538, detail of a painting from 1652 by Jan Micker. The painting is a faith­ful copy of a map from 1538 by Cornelis Anthonisz. On the left the still half-empty Lastage neigh­bor­hood (Amsterdam Museum).

Henry Hudson & Manhattan

English seafarer Henry Hudson (1560-1611) left on the ship Halve Maen (Half Moon) from the Amsterdam harbour on April 4, 1609. This was his third voyage, paid for by the VOC (Dutch East India Company), in an attempt to discover a north­eastern passage­way to Asia. But around Nova Zembla the ice turned out to be so bad that protests from his crew grew. Hudson then decided to cross the Atlantic Ocean looking for a passage through North America to the Pacific Ocean.

Plaques on Schreierstoren, Amsterdam, commemorating Hudson's voyage to America in 1609

Plaques commemorating Hudson’s voyage to America in 1609 (July 2022).

In September 1609 he explored the region around the modern New York metro­politan area, sailing up the Hudson River (later named after him). His trade with natives around Albany laid the foundation for Dutch coloni­zation of the region. New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island became the capital of New Netherland in 1625. A plaque on the Schreiers­toren, placed in 1927 on initiative of the Greenwich Village Historical Society from New York, commemo­rates his departure from here. In 1959 a second smaller plaque was placed to celebrate the 350th anniversary of Hudson’s voyage. A brick from the Schreiers­toren is attached to the façade of the Tribune Tower in Chicago.

Schreierstoren, Amsterdam, painting by Cornelis Christiaan Dommersen

Schreierstoren by Cornelis Christiaan Dommersen (1842-1928) (Stads­archief Amsterdam).

Schreierstoren Gallery (July 2022)

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