Imagine over six centuries of women-only space. Then go see it at the Begijnhof in Amsterdam. This quiet courtyard in the busy city center was first settled by Beguines, pious, single and Catholic women who wanted to do good works but didn’t want to enter a convent. Women have been living here since 1346. It was literally a “woman’s island” as the courtyard used to be surrounded by a canal. Over the centuries, single women, including many widows, continued to live in the Begijnhof, committing themselves to lives of Christian poverty, simplicity and prayer. They spun wool, made lace, taught and cared for the sick and poor. The last Beguine died in 1971 but the Begijnhof still houses single women, mostly Catholic seniors and students.
Now imagine a library built with modern technology and architectural sensibilities. Opened in 2007, the nine-story “tower of knowledge” as it’s called is the Netherlands’ largest library. It’s bright and modern and full of free internet terminals and an entire floor that appeared, as we floated by on escalators, to be devoted to CDs and DVDs. The cafe on the top floor has the best views in the city.
And is favored by pigeons too.