A great story to tell.

About the building

In 1287, a Zurich burgher by the name of Michel built a house on the current site of the Zunfthaus zur Waag which we know was still undeveloped land in 1262. Michel's house was later passed on to the children of the knight and sheriff Heinrich Biber (before 1304). They in turn sold the building to the three daughters of the late knight, Heinrich von Weinfelden, for 50 Zurich pounds in 1303. The oldest documentary evidence of the Zunft zur Waag, now kept at the Waag guild archives in the public record office, is a scroll bearing the council seal dated the same year (3 August 1303) with details of the construction of the building on Münsterhof. In 1315, the house was acquired by Master Peter Schmid, a doctor-cum-apothecary from Brienz in Upper Valais. Schmid then donated the building to the Saint Mary Magdalene altar in the Grossmünster church. We know that this Peter Schmid was the personal physician of the abbess of the Fraumünster church. Therefore there may be a link between his secondary profession as an apothecary and the apothecary's scales which are featured in the crest of the building (the word Waage meaning apothecary's scales). In 1385, Johannes von Rotenburg, chaplain of the Saint Mary Magdalene altar, sold the house for 108 guilders to Ulrich Lüthold of the linen weavers' guild. In 1436, the house was known as the "Weber Trinkstube zur Waag" or the "weavers' tavern in the Waag". In 1440, the wool weavers merged with the linen workers to form a single guild. The Waag is one of the seven old guilds that still owns its own guild house today.

The building was repaired in 1543 but the guild soon realized that it needed more space and purchased the adjacent house on the eastern side of the building, known as "Zum geilen Mönch" ("The Bawdy Monk") in 1630 for 800 guilders. The two original buildings were demolished in 1636, paving the way for the construction of today's beautiful Waag guild house at Münsterhof 8 at a cost of precisely 15 518 pounds, 10 shillings and 1 heller in the years 1636/7. "My most gracious lords of Zurich" made a generous donation of 1233 pounds to the construction of the building. Most of the stone masonry work was executed by Hans Heinrich Stadler. The Zunftstube (guild room) on the third floor was decorated with 14 stained glass windows, donated by the local dignitaries and guild masters, and a stove painted by Hans Heinrich Pfau from Winterthur. The guild house is predominantly Renaissance in style with some Gothic influence, particularly evident in the window rows. In 1726 a potter from Elgg installed a magnificent oven in the Zunftstube.

Following the demise of the old Swiss Confederation in 1798 and the end of the guild regiment, the guild took the decision to sell the Zunfthaus zur Waag on Münsterhof on 2 June 1801 and the building passed into private hands. However, the guild's decision to sell their house had included a right of repurchase and it was not long before the building returned to its guild owners at a price of some 19 000 guilders in 1828.

The building’s history

In 1315, the building was acquired by Peter Schmid, a doctor-cum-apothecary from the Valais. Schmid probably gave it the name "Zur Waag" (the word Waage meaning apothecary's scales). The first record of this name dates back to 1357. In 1385, the building was purchased by 22 linen weavers and handed it over to their guild in 1393. The linen weavers' guild, which merged with the wool weavers into a single guild in 1440, took over the ownership of the building in 1405. The guild began to call its guild house "Zur Waag" in 1440.

In 1630 the guild purchased the adjacent building to the east known as "Zum geilen Mönch" ("The Bawdy Monk"). Both buildings were demolished in 1636 and replaced by the present Zunfthaus zur Waag, erected on the same site in the years 1636/7.

The building was renovated in 1778 when nearly all the interiors of the rooms were refurbished in walnut. In 1801, the guild sold the building with a right of repurchase to a group of guildsmen, thus avoiding forced expropriation by the French troops. The building was returned to the ownership of the guild in 1828. The staircases were renovated in 1862 and the parquet floor was re-laid in 1873 and 1878. A refurbishment project planned for 1895 was postponed. The building's facade was fully renovated in 1899 and 1909. The coats-of-arms were added to the guildhall in 1921-23. An extensive renovation of the entrance hall, the stairwell and the restaurant was carried out in 1935.

Description of the building

The facade of the Zunfthaus zur Waag stands out in that it is much wider than the mainly tall and narrow facades of the adjacent buildings and completely dominates the architectural profile of the square.

The apex of the arched portal features an ornate Baroque cartouche depicting the year of execution, MDCXXXVI (1636). The carved front door and the door arch are flanked by wide Tuscan pilasters (projecting wall columns). The broken pediment houses the ovular cartouche with the crest of the building and the guild's coat-of-arms: a set of golden scales tilted to the right, set against a blue background and embellished with decorative scrollwork. The leaves of the door are in wood carving. The ground-floor timber work is supported by a pair of Tuscan sandstone pillars.

The front side of the second upper floor is shared by the Zunftstube and the Waagstübli. The cosy Waagstübli has two windows looking out unto Münsterhof. The large guild hall on the third floor extends across the entire width of the facade. Its stain-glass paintings in the skylights are particular noteworthy, as is the oil portrait of the poet and painter Johann Martin Usteri (1763-1827), composer of the famous song Freut euch des Lebens. The portrait was executed by Heinrich Bodmer in 1874. Usteri was one of the Waag guild's twelve delegates to the Greater Guild Council, as well as town councillor and guild scribe. The first gable floor (known as "Heizbürdeliraum" in German) was formally used to store firewood. The roof is a saddle type with a reclining truss.