Secret Amsterdam: The weird house plaques
Amsterdam is an old city, and like most old cities it is full of secrets. Hidden in places where hundreds of people pass every day without noticing, there are small details that are full of history. To discover the secret Amsterdam we have to keep our eyes open.
I was walking by the canals, looking at the houses, when I noticed that some houses have a plaque in their façade. I was very intrigued by those pictures in the plaques. I started hunting them around the city, puzzled by their meaning. I was determined to research more about it later.
Later on, I discovered that they are called gable stones — gevelstenen in Dutch. They are stone tablets, carved, and colorfully painted. In Middle Ages, the gable stones were used to identify the houses because many people couldn’t read at that time. The pictures in the stones represented the name, origin, religion or profession of the owner.
Besides being used to identify the owner of a house, the gable stones served to embellish the houses. Some of them have a religious theme, showing saints or biblical scenes, like the ones found in Begijnhof. It’s estimated that there are over 650 gable stones in Amsterdam.
It wasn’t until Napoleon came along, around 1875, that numbers were used to identify houses in Amsterdam. Today, they don’t hold the same function but the tradition still lives on. Nowadays new stones are done to commemorate special occasions. To protect and restore the gable stones there’s an association called VVAG(Friends of Amsterdam Gable Stones). If you want to take a look at other gable stones go to their Flickr account.
This gable stone is located at the corner of the Keizersgracht and the Leliegracht. It shows the stages of paper making in a paper mill. It used to be at the Damrak 98, which was built in 1649 for a paper merchant named Pieter Haack.
Butchers’ inspectors office
This plaque, from 1644, can be seen at the corner of the Nes and the Sint-Pieterspoortsteeg. It’s located in the building where the butchers’ inspectors had their office, called DIE VINDERSKAMER, as you can read below this sign. It shows the meat of a lamb and a cow being salted.
This gable stone is located at Nieuwebrugsteeg 13. The picture shows three men in 17th-century costumes surrounded by sugar loaves. At first, the building housed a sugar refinery as the stone’s inscription indicates. Nowadays it houses the brown cafe In de Olofspoort specialized in Jenevers.
Other gable stones
This map shows the locations of gable stones in Amsterdam.
For more information visit: http://www.livius.org/dutchhistory/amsterdam/amsterdam_gevelstenen1.html