Nestled in a quiet corner of Amsterdam lies a courtyard and neighborhood that is a striking and defined as any of the city’s famed districts. This otherworldly place is an enclosed courtyard in Amsterdam whose origins date from the early 14th century. It includes several interesting religious buildings and provides a calm attraction just a block from the busy attractions of Spui Square.
The Begijnhof has roots in the years before 1400. It served as a common living area for single women who dedicated themselves to lives of good works, yet who did not wish to become nuns in a convent. The area as it now stands has been restored and updated as expansions and fires over the centuries continued to shape the area. The modern courtyard dates from the 17th and 18th centuries. Although for a tourist looking to see an original structure look for the “Houten Huys” which has been fully restored and dates from the 15th century. It is labeled as structure 34 on local maps and it is the oldest house in the city of Amsterdam. It has plaques mounted on its outside walls with Bible quotes.
Historically the Benguinage is a neutral zone, because when Protestantism was introduced Catholics could not own property for 200 years, yet the inhabitants of this enclave were left alone and maintained full rights. There is a splendid gothic church which today adorns the courtyard as the centerpiece. The church has changed hands over the years, but endures beautifully. It is called the English Church and is Scottish Presbyterian.
The Miracle Chapel was the replacement Church for the Catholic inhabitants living in this area. It is marked by number 29 and it has impressive stained glass and décor. The last beguine member passed away in 1971, but the area is still occupied only by women. It is now run by a foundation which allows for the tradition to continue all the while providing for those in need.
For tours of the area, the most common are walking tours since the houses are still occupied. There are some ground floor displays of furnishings and memorial plaques which tell the story of this religious and historic city attraction.