Hidden Stories of Amsterdam

Pssst…you looking for women? Single ladies? I know, I know… in Amsterdam that might seem like an effortless exercise, but I’m talking about a host of classy lasses that aren’t bathing in red light, don’t get paid for sex and live in the kind of primo real-estate that would make even turtles a little jealous. You’re welcome to test your luck with any one of the 105 misses; just don’t be surprised if the Begijntjes don’t ask you to stay over.

Behind Spui Plein is a ‘secret’ door that, even for people who know where to look, is easy to miss. The door opens into a short, sloping tunnel down into one of Amsterdam’s oldest and only medieval inner courts. At a stone’s throw from Amsterdam’s busiest street, the Kalverstraat, the Begijnhof is surprisingly quiet and unexpectedly tranquil.

The 14th century beguinage was built as a collection of buildings that house religious women seeking to serve god without taking monastic vows. These pre-feminists of sorts would abstain while living in the Begijnhof, but they could depart for marriage at any time.

The courtyard, sunk a metre below the rest of the city at medieval street level, is immaculately kept, as are the doormat-sized gardens in front of the 47 houses. Aside from the beautiful Amsterdam facades and relative seclusion that give the courtyard a luxurious feel, the sanctuary also contains a church, a hidden church and one of Amsterdam’s oldest (1528) and only remaining wooden domiciles.

After the Alteration the Begijntjes were forced to give up their Catholic chapel to the Presbyterians, who renamed it the English Church. Two houses across from the main church were secretly converted into a ‘clandestine chapel’ in 1671. The meticulously preserved ‘Houten Huys’ (wooden house) at no. 34 is one of only two remaining houses in Amsterdam with a wooden fa├žade (the other is at Zeedijk 1). 

Nowadays the Begijnhof is full of professional single ladies. And even though the last real Beguines died in the 1970s, the tradition of abstinence lives on – sort of. The secular residents are completely free, but men and children are prohibited – which is not to say there isn’t the occasional man sneaking off at six in the morning. The peaceful oasis is now a piece of prime real estate that has a waiting list of seven to eight years.

Gutter Ghost

Cornelia Arens was a devout inhabitant of the Begijnhof. After her parents converted to Protestantism she felt she had to make up for their sins. Upon her death she asked to be buried in the gutter of the courtyard, a request that was denied after they laid the woman to rest in the church. Legend holds that her coffin was found lying in the ditch the next morning. After this mysterious incident repeated itself another three nights they decided to honour Cornelia’s wishes and bury her in the ditch. A commemorative stone can be found in the street next to the English Church on the site of her grave. 

Guest Post by Tim Hilhorst


  1. Won't miss house no. 34 the next time I am there.
    I never fail to notice that hook in front of every house all over Europe.

  2. Nice to know about this interesting story.

  3. We usually presume Amsterdam to be all about red light, but it is much much more than that! Thanks for bringing out a bit of the classy and interesting Amsterdam. :)


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