Just off Amsterdam's main shopping alley there is the Begijnhof, a secluded court of almshouses with a quiet inner garden and the English Reformed Church in their midst. Dating from the 14th century, the Begijnhof used to be the house of devout lay-women who did religious work for the adjacent nunnery, mostly in education
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and nursing. Most of the houses were renovated during the 17th and 18th century and only one of the original medieval wooden houses remains. True to tradition the Begijnhof still houses the elderly poor, and this island of tranquility is certainly worth a visit.
The Begijnhof is an enclosed courtyard dating from the early 14th century. The Begijnhof, which is cut off from Amsterdam's traffic noise, still retains a sanctified atmosphere. The Begijnhof was originally built as a sanctuary for the Begijntjes, a Catholic sisterhood who lived like nuns, although they took no monastic vows.
Today the Begijnhof is among the most well-liked attractions in Amsterdam. This enclosed courtyard is not only beautiful, but also enjoys a wonderful location away from the noise of the city center. This site dates back to the early 1300s. There were dwellings here even before that, but nothing has survived of them. Originally the Begijnhof was home to the Begijntjes, a Catholic nunnery.
The Begijnhof maintain the atmosphere of sanctity and devout spirituality. It is a multifaceted with beautiful dwellings overlooking a well-maintained lush garden. The oldest house still standing in Amsterdam is also part of this complex. This is Houten Huys, completed around 1420. It houses a striking collection of wall plaques with Biblical themes. The English Church is located at the southern side of the square. Its original Middle Age tower is still standing. This building dates from the 1400s.
The Begijnhof Chapel is the newer part of the complex. This concealed church was built in 1680. It contains many historical Catholic mementos. The origins of the complex are wreathed in mist. It is believed that a house called the Beghynhuys was occupied by the Beguines here in 1346. In 1389 the courtyard was mentioned in a letter.
Nowadays the complex also houses the English Reformed Church. It lies within the Singel, a major canal at the center of Amsterdam. The complex is one meter below the rest of the historical center, being located at medieval street level. Initially the complex was completely surrounded by water, and the only entrance to it was at the so-called Beguines' Alley. The back facades were locked in by water. Today it is accessed via the Spui entrance, which was built in the 19th century.
The Begijnhof differs from other aristocratic courts in Amsterdam in that it was not setup through private donations. The dwellings neighboring the courtyard are tall, classic Amsterdam-style townhouses. This testifies to the court's private nature. The addresses of the houses here bear the name of the court itself, a fact making the Begijnhof absolutely unique. Till date single women live here and visitors are advised to keep quiet.
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