Almshouses - a hidden oasis of peace and quiet
Almshouses (or inner courtyards) are collections of small apartments (usually 12 or 13 in number) around a central courtyard featuring a well-tended garden, often with a single gateway to the outside world, tucked away behind the street facades and canals of Amsterdam's inner city.
Most of them were built in the 17th century as a kind of charity and protection. Wealthy Amsterdammers built them to shelter elderly widows, for free, in the last years of their life. Nowadays they are inhabited mostly by students and artists but still remain a serene oasis frozen in time. Still, you are free to enter and look at the gardens and entryways, as long as you don't break the peace.
Especially the Jordaan has a high concentration of hofjes. A fine example of one of these courtyards, and one of the largest of Amsterdam, is the Karthuizerhof in the Jordaan. It was built in 1650, and listed on the inside of the gate are the names of charitable donors who made it possible for the city to build the house.
The most famous of all courtyards in Amsterdam is the Begijnhof and dates back to the 15th century. This courtyard was originally inhabited by Begijntjes (Beguines), religious women who didn't want to enter a convent.
You'll find more almshouses in the low countries of Belgium and the Netherlands, starting in the tumultuous mid-1600s, a time of religious upheaval, the Spanish Inquisition, and plague.
Take a walking tour along the inner courtyards of the Jordaan.
Van Brienenhofje courtyard from 1797 was only opened to Catholics who were living at the limit of poverty. Prinsengracht 85-133
Discover Amsterdam's Almshouses
City walkcourtyards of the Jordaan
HistoryA short history of Amsterdam
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