Hofje

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The Hofje van Bakenes, a hofje in Haarlem dating from 1395.

A hofje is a Dutch word for a courtyard with almshouses around it. They have existed since the Middle Ages.

A hofje provided housing for elderly people (mostly women). They were privately funded, and served as a form of social security. In the Netherlands there are still a number of hofjes in use.

Hofjes are usually built in a U-shape with a yard or garden in the middle, and a gate as entrance. The shape of hofjes was most likely inspired by the (older) Begijnenhofjes -- groups of small houses inhabited exclusively by religious women.

A distinction is usually made between the Begijnenhofjes and 'regular' hofjes. The former were used only by (Catholic) women, who were supporting themselves. They were a sort of cloister. The latter were more charitable institutions.

To be eligible to live in a hofje one had to meet four criteria:

  • Sex: almost all hofjes were founded for women, as they could be relied on to keep a household running
  • Religion: many hofjes were founded for people of the same faith as the founder (some hofjes were founded by church communities)
  • Age: from the 17th century a minimum age was often used. Fifty years was common, and this was an old age in those years
  • Social-economic background: hofjes were targeted for poorer people

In the 18th century there were hofjes founded for commercial purposes; the inhabitants would pay rent.

The "Hofje van Mevrouw Van Aerden" in Leerdam is open to visitors as a museum.

Cities with many hofjes in the Netherlands include:

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