They are a militant lot, the elderly ladies who live in the Begijnhof - a little oasis of calm in the middle of the busy city. And they want to keep it that way. In fact, they had become so fed up of the tourist intrusions that they wanted to shut off the hof from the rest of the world. The city council disagreed. It is, after all, a public right of way.
The best time to visit the Begijnhof (Beguinage) is early in the morning. Dating back to 1346, the Begijnhof was originaly built as a sanctury for women and girls who wanted to avoid being forced to marry and lead a convent life without being nuns - the Begijntjes. Today it is like a film set - a grassy square with a white-washed church, surrounded by pretty houses.
Spui (wooden door to the left of the Esprit café)
Although most of the houses in the courtyard date from the 16th century, the Begijnhof includes Amsterdam's oldest house, the wooden fronted building at number 34, which is now open to the public. Originally dating from around 1475, the house was fully renovated in 1956 and is one of the only two wooden fronted houses left in the city, following a devasting fire in the 16th century. In 1521 the building of wooden houses was banned.
The square also has two churches. In the middle stands the English reformed church built in 1607 which is the final destination for the Holy Way procession. Opposite is the entrance to a secret Catholic church built after the reformation in 1671. The church, built out of two houses, is very wide and used to house the relics of the Miracle of Amsterdam. The Catholic church is usually open, the English church locked.
The blank wall between number 34 and 35 is covered with biblical gable stones(which were used rather than house numbers) from long-since demolished houses, but some still remain on houses in the square. On number 19 is a plaque depicting the flight from Egypt, and on number 23, John the Baptist.
Although the last Begijntje died in 1971, the square is still inhabited by single elderly women.