Schreierstoren – Amsterdam

A brief history of the Schreierstoren

The Schreierstoren was originally a defense tower. In 1481 Maximilian I ordered the construction of the tower, which had to protect the east side of the city. Construction work on the tower was not finished until the end of the 15th century, maybe because the completion of the city wall had more priority. The edifice is the only (completely) preserved tower of the city wall of Amsterdam. The Schreierstoren was built on a point where this wall made an sharp angle (Oudezijds Kolk – Geldersekade) and it owes its original name (Scrayer-houck tower, ‘sharp angle-tower’) to that location.

At the end of the 16th century, the city of Amsterdam expanded considerably and the Schreierstoren no longer had its original function. Successively, the building served as a shelter for the Tinsmith Guild and (until 1960) housed harbor masters. After that it was the residence of the Water Engineering Department of Public Works; later a nautical appliance manufacturer moved there.

The Schreierstoren in AmsterdamIn 1927, a memorial plaque (an initiative of the Greenwich Village Historical Society) was placed in the tower’s wall that recalls the departure of Henry Hudson in 1609 to what is now America. His mission was to find a passage through the West with his ship ‘De Halve Maen’ (“Half Moon”) to the East Indies. On that trip he discovered Manhattan and the river that now bears his name (Hudson River). Another plaque commemorates the first voyage to the East Indies from the tower in 1595.

The Schreierstoren as an attraction

Now the Schreierstoren is best known as the site of the “VOC-cafe”, a popular location for going out and parties. Enjoying food and drink in the oldest tower of Amsterdam clearly speaks to the imagination: lots of tourists visit the Schreierstoren. With its central location and impressive historical background, it has become a major Amsterdam attraction, with even its own miniature version in Madurodam.

Emotional farewells from the Schreierstoren

As is often the case with historical sites, there is an alternative explanation of the origin of the name ‘Schreierstoren’. According to a myth, the tower was a point where weeping (‘schreien’ means ‘to cry’) women sent off their seafaring husbands. This explanation seems quite logical if we consider the plaque from 1569 that adorns the tower: a woman who appears to be waving at a ship. At the time of the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (Dutch East India Company) , many men who voyaged to distant lands, did not come back. That certainly explains the ‘crying’. Although this is a plausible explanation, it is historically incorrect.

The schreierstoren on an old map of Amsterdam