A Begijnhof, or Beguinage is a collection of buildings used and occupied by Beguines from the 13th century onwards.
Beguines were a catholic order of women who dressed and lived like nuns but who never took formal vows. Legend has it that there were not enough decent men around at the time and so they decided to live a life that allowed them to live together within the spirit of their religion but without having to be shackled by it.
Beguinages started life in the Low Countries and have all now been put on Unesco's World Heritage List.
Antwerp's first Begijnhof was founded in 1240 outside the city walls but was destroyed in the 16th century. A few years later in 1545 a plot of land was bought inside the city walls and re-construction began. This plot is behind a large wall in Rodenstraat. You enter through a wooden doorway that leads into a cobbled street where a central courtyard garden is overlooked by 16th century buildings. Over the years many of the buildings have been restored and new ones added but there's still a special atmosphere here.
These days, now that the order has died out, the 45 apartments, which are owned by the Catholic church and officially rentable to anyone, are in fact occupied by around 100 residents, most of whom are elderly women.
This oasis of peace and solitude is missed by a lot of people who visit Antwerp which is a shame because walking the quaint cobbled alleyways around the central garden is a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the city outside these walls.
A short walk from the old center (20 mins ), at the Rodestraat, near Ossenmarkt (Ox Market) the city's beguinage offers an oasis of quiet in an otherwise bustling city. Although small in surface compared to its counterpart in Bruges for instance, it has a wonderful atmosphere none the less. The first view one gets is that of a garden ( which is accessible for residents only ) and the cobbled "streets" surrounding it. In the back is the beguinage church. In one of the side streets is a thatcher's workshop and one house has a rather peculiar detail, a little statuette of the Virgin Mary in a little niche up in the chimney. A small guide and handdrawn postcards are available at the the entrance from the caretaker.
A very lovely place in the center and yet undiscovered by the mass of tourists
More info will be added later
Beguinage of Antwerp.
Pls visit the travelogues!