Friday, July 12, 2013

Hofjes of Haarlem

The secret gardens of Haarlem, or hofjes can be found in various secluded courtyards around the historic centre of the city. These almshouses, normally obscure from public view, are unique to the Netherlands and have been in existed since the Middle Ages.

A Hofje is a walled-in group of small houses with a central courtyard. Each group has a communal water pump and a vegetable and flower garden, secured by a gate. The hofjes were privately funded and were often the results of generous bequests by wealthy men or women, donated in their own name, rather than from any religious group. Many hofjes were founded for the same faith as their founder. The minimum age requirement for admission was fifty, which in the  seventeenth century was considered old age.

Most hofjes were meant for elderly women, as there were more impoverished females than males. The females were mostly favoured as they were better at housekeeping and upkeep of the property.

In my walk through some of the neighbourhood hofjes, I found well maintained gardens and flowers all well hidden behind a high wall and a closed garden door.

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