One of the most beautiful corners of Amsterdam which I like to return to every so often (especially when I have visitors new to the city) is the Begijnhof. It is an oasis of peace and tranquility, only a stone’s throw from the tram-ridden main street called the Rokin, but light years away from the noise and bustle of the city.
Begijnhof means “Beguines Court.” What, you ask, are “beguines” They were religious women similar to nuns, living a modest life of prayer and good deeds, but unlike nuns, they had not taken vows. The tradition originated in the low countries in the early 12th century.
While nuns lived in convents, the beguines, starting in the 13th century, lived in begijnhof, small dwellings grouped around a courtyard. One such inner court was founded in Amsterdam in the late 14th century and survives to this day. It is open to visitors and free.
The plaque at the entrance says that the last beguine, Sister Antonia, passed away on may 23, 1971 at the age of 84.
But that is not to say the Begijnhof is now empty. To the contrary, despite it appearing deserted save for the tourists, it is an active residential block and people live there! Although there are no more beguines, the tradition has been carried on that only women are allowed to live in the Begijnhof. There are 105 female residents.