In the heart of Amsterdam, amongst the hustle and bustle of this grand city, lies a tranquil oasis called Begijnhof.
Begijnhof is an enclosed courtyard, surrounded by historical buildings, which can trace its history back to the 14th century. It is the oldest courtyard left in Amsterdam and was once a type of convent for a Catholic sect of women called the Begijntjes. The Beguine sisters did not take holy orders to become official nuns but often lived a very similar lifestyle. They devoted their lives to helping and educating the poor.
The level of the courtyard is lower than the surrounding neighbourhood. This was the level during medieval times when the courtyard was built and it has remained this way whereas the surrounding area has been built up over the years. The area in the middle is well kept with immaculate lawns and there is an interesting water pump located here as well as a statue of the Begijn.
All of the buildings surrounding the courtyard are fine examples of Amsterdam architecture which have been well preserved and are of great historical significance.
Amsterdam's oldest house, Het Houten Huis, also referred to as the Wooden House, is located here, with records showing it was built around 1420.
The English Church (Engelse Kerk), at the southern end, was constructed in the early part of the 15th century. It still has its original medieval tower though most of the building has been renovated and restored over time. Although the Church originally belonged to the Beguine sisters, it was taken from them in 1578 and given over to the Protestant church.
Later they were able to build another church called the Begijnhof Chapel, which dates from the late 17th century. Due to the suppression of the Catholic Church at the time, it had to be concealed from the street and religious services were forced to be conducted very discretely.
There is no cost to enter the courtyard but, as the buildings are mostly privately owned and occupied, the visitors are requested to respect the privacy of the residents. Both churches are fully operational and services are held regularly.
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