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The City Leidse Hofjes

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Leiden almshouses

There are 35 groups of almshouses in the city centre of Leiden. One for one, these almshouse complexes are idyllic places, where the noise of the town is shut out and where it is as if time has stood still.

Almshouses are run by charitable foundations, intended to accommodate the elderly poor. The Dutch word for almshouse or group of almshouses is "hof", which literally means court or courtyard, and they are so-called because they were built as a collection of small houses around a communal -inner yard or garden.

There is often only one entrance and exit, which, via a passage or a hallway, opens onto the public road. There was usually a caretaker who was responsible for opening and closing times (so at a fixed time the gates closed and no one further was admitted) and who also provided various services for the residents and the governors. The foundation's governing body usually comprised of the founder's relatives, but later many almshouses came under the control of institutions caring for the poor and needy.

There was often a separate meeting room for the governing body, the Governor's room. In certain places, this room is extraordinarily richly furnished as is the case in the Meermans-burg almshouses. The Governors sometimes ruled with an iron hand and bound the residents with all sorts of regulations, dictating numerous conditions. It was considered a great fortune that the residents were able to live free of charge and also that they received benefits in the form of bread, meat, beer, shirts and shoes; it was therefore only to be expected that they behaved most respectfully and thankfully. Life in the almshouses was usually as a rule the very picture of peace and respectability.

Almshouses were usually founded by rich elderly people. No doubt they hoped that after their deaths, the prayers of the residents would enable them to gain a place in heaven.

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