Hidden in the busy Amsterdam city center, there’s a peaceful place called Begijnhof. This is not the kind of place you will bump into while strolling around. To get there you must know the way. Take a detour at Kalverstraat (the main shopping street), and take the Begijnensteeg street escaping the crowds. At the end of Begijnensteeg street, there’s a gate and a big wooden door. Don’t be shy! Open the door and enter the Begijnhof.
Built in the 1300s, the medieval courtyard and its charming houses were home to the Beguines, a Catholic order of single or widowed women. These women were not nuns. They did not take vows, and were free to leave to get married if they wanted to. The Beguines lived a simple live taking care of the elderly, the sick, and the poor.
Among the houses there’s a clandestine church. And again, to find the church you must know where to look because on the outside it looks just like a regular house. The Beguines original church, located in the center of the courtyard, was confiscated by the Calvinists in 1578 and named English Church. It continues to be Protestant until this day. In 1671, the Beguines were allowed to build their own chapel, the Begijnhof Kapel. Although the chapel was authorized by Protestant authorities, it should be hidden. The exteriors could not look like a church, as was demanded by the city government. This church should be kept secret.
Clandestine churches were common in Amsterdam in those times. After the Calvinist Protestant takeover of the Netherlands in 1578, Catholic churches were banned. However, as the years passed, the Amsterdam governors looked the other way for a few churches as long as they could not be recognized as such from the outside.
Here you will also find the oldest wooden house in Amsterdam, dating from about 1528. It’s one of the two wooden houses still existing in the center of Amsterdam (the other one being Zeedijk 1). Following destructive fires in the 16th century, wooden houses were banned.
After visiting it you may exit by the other gate which leads to the Spui street. Open the wooden door and you will be in Amsterdam busy streets once again.