/ The Amsterdam Guide
Amsterdam — By Marianne on July 16, 2010 at 11:30 pm
Filed under: hotel, restaurant, top-feature, tour

Slow Down in Medieval Amersfoort

After a few days in hectic Amsterdam, you may like to slow down in a quieter place. Amersfoort is a medium-sized, typically Dutch city and your perfect escape from Amsterdam’s tourist scene. The city has preserved its medieval character and is a showcase of historic sights. Wander along idyllic canals, through cobbled streets and serene hofjes.

Amersfoort is a compact city and you can see all sights in one day. If you want to visit Amersfoort’s topnotch museums, two days would be perfect. Hop on a train from Amsterdam Centraal Station, the trip takes only thirty minutes. Experience life in a Dutch city.

HIGHLIGHTS

* Muurhuizen or wall houses – colourful and architecturally interesting houses built on the medieval city wall
* Havik – a street lined with quaint canal houses, smaller than the houses in Amsterdam but more picturesque.
* Flehite Museum – a glimpse of Amersfoort’s medieval past
* City Gates – three sturdy gates dating back to the Middle Ages.

WHAT TO SEE

MUURHUIZEN or wall houses are typical of Amersfoort. These houses were built on the demolished city wall. When the city expanded, this wall was torn down and the bricks were used to build the wall houses. Alterations, rebuilding and extensions resulted in a colourful row of dwellings dating from medieval times onward, and all with different architectural features. After the Second World War, most of the wall houses were in bad condition. Gradually, they have been restored, and these days they fetch astronomical prices. The record price stands at 2 million euros.

Tinnenburg House

Muurhuizen is also the name of the street. At number 1, you will see a step-gabled house.The vaulted basement contains the kitchen and larder. The first floor has two big rooms with large windows. Now look up at the second floor, completely different in style. It contains one large room with tiny medieval windows on three sides.

At number 5: Nieuwenburgh House. The memorial tablet above the front door tells that the building dates back to 1645 and shows what the houses once looked like. I found it interesting to see that the general impression is still the same.

Number 25: Tinnenburg House, built in the 15th century, borders the moat. Facing the street is a second Gothic-style entrance door. It was discovered during restoration works. This shows that the building used to be two separate houses.

Town Clerk's House

At number 109: The Town Clerk’s House is a jumble of architectural styles with a Renaissance-era entrance door. It got its name from a town clerk who lived here in the late 18th century.

HOFJE ARMEN DE POTH is a courtyard of almshouses. You are welcome to walk around this quiet spot and visit the St Rochus Chapel. The area dates back to the 14th century, but most of the houses are of a later date. In the Middle Ages, the Brothers of the Holy Spirit cared for the sick, provided shelter for the homeless, and fed the needy. They distributed bread once a week, and continued to do so for five hundred years, until 1957.

During plague epidemics, the Brothers nursed and buried victims. The sick were not allowed to enter the city, and that is why Hofje Armen de Poth is outside the city walls. This remains the case today. To get to Hofje Armen de Poth, you pass through one of the old city gates. These days, the city sprawls beyond the gate, but in the Middle Ages, the land was rural.

The plague victims were buried in the churchyard next to St. Rochus Chapel. Dating from the 15th century, the chapel is the oldest building in Hofje Armen de Poth. Today, Hofje Armen de Poth comprises fory-nine houses for old-age pensioners of moderate means. Until 1957, they contributed only five euro cents per week in rent. This amount of money was given back to them as a Christmas gift. These days, they pay a more reasonable rent, but they all get rent allowances because their incomes are below average.

Havik

HAVIK is the name of a street, my favourite because the houses look typically Dutch with their shuttered windows and step gables. In the Middle Ages, Havik was the artisan and merchant quarter. It was also Amerfoort’s inland harbour, a very important part of the city because most transport went by water.

The Beer Brewers’ Guild House is at Havik 35. Here apprentices trained to become masters. Amersfoort was renowned for its beer and many breweries exported beer to Amsterdam. After fermentation beer was germ free and safer to drink than water. The only brewery left is De Drie Ringen at Kleine Spui 18. After listening to the brewing master explaining the brewing process, savour Amersfoort Blond, a light-coloured, tasty beer.

The house right of the Brewers’ House dates to 1618. Before becoming a house, it was an entrance to a covered alleyway. The alleyway was given front and back walls, a roof, and became a proper house.

De Witte Huisjes

De Witte Huisjes, the white houses, near the bridge used to be called The Little Church Pub. Church singers would spend an hour or so here to avoid listening to the Sunday sermon.

MEDIEVAL CITY GATES; Koppelpoort, Kamperbinnenpoort and Monnikendampoort.

Amersfoort originated as a ford across the River Eem. This river enters the city at Monnikendam Gate and leaves it at Koppel Gate, a land-and-water gate.  Originally, the gate consisted of one water gate flanked by two land gates, but one of the land gates has disappeared.

The water gate regulated the city’s water level and was also a defence gate. When closed, the city could not be accessed by water. If attackers wanted to ram the gate doors, seething-hot oil was poured over them from the little wooden extension above the gate. People on foot or on horse entered the city through the land gate.

Land and Water Gate

Next to the land gate is a wool mill where woolen cloth was produced. The manufacturing process required lots of water and urine. That is why these mills were always close to rivers. It was probably easy to collect labourers urine. They drank litres of beer produced in Amersfoort

Kamperbinnenpoort looks old, but not much of the original gate remains. Still, it is impressive.

Monnikendam Water Gate is more authentic than the other gates. It was restored in 1947, and medieval materials were used wherever possible. Rye flour was mixed with mortar for the masonry, but vandals came during the night and caused damage. Local youths were suspected as the culprits, but after some investigation, it appeared that birds were pecking away at the rye-and-mortar mixture.

WHAT MUSEUMS TO VISIT

Mondriaan Museum

MONDRIAAN MUSEUM is the house where Piet Mondriaan was born in 1872. He is mainly known for his colourful abstract paintings. His most famous is Composition in Red, Yellow and Blue–black horizontal and vertical lines intermingle with red, yellow and blue squares. Mondriaan’s father was a teacher and insisted that his son take several drawing courses so that he could earn his living as an art teacher, if his artistic work was not received well.

Mondriaan Museum is small, so you can see everything at leisure. The permanent exhibition gives an overview of Mondriaan’s life and work. My favourite exhibit is the room featuring a replica of Mondriaan’s Paris studio. His most famous work is Victory Boogie-Woogie, inspired by his belief of victory in the Second World War. The work remained unfinished, as he died on 1st February 1944. In 1998, the Dutch government bought the work for 80 million guilders (40 million euros), which caused controversy among Dutch taxpayers. (map)

Flehite Museum

FLEHITE MUSEUM is located in three wall houses, built in the early 16th century on the foundations of the old city wall. But appearances are deceptive, because the facades are not old at all. They date back to the late 19th century. This museum is a very good place to start a tour of Amersfoort, because the exhibition of artefacts gives a picture of Amersfoort from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. I especially liked the scale-model replica of the inner city, which clearly shows what medieval buildings have survived and how much of the city’s medieval character has been retained.

On the second floor, you will find toys, silver artefacts, and china. The exhibits show what ordinary life was like for ordinary people in Amersfoort. The top floor will take you back to prehistoric times. I found this part less interesting, as it had no clear connection with Amersfoort.

Across the road is another part of the museum, MANNENZAAL ST PIETERS, St Pieter’s Hospice Men’s Ward. St. Pieter’s Hospice was founded in the 14th century and provided food and limited health care for the population except for children, lunatics, and lepers. It was customary to sleep in a half-sitting upright position because it was thought that people would become insane when blood streamed to the head. This was not good for the elderly who lived in St. Pieter’s Hospice. Sitting up meant that two people fitted into one bed.

Looking after the sick was lucrative business for the governors of the hospice. Citizens who could afford to pay four guilders joined the fellowship and share the profit. Being a governor involved little work, because the sick and needy were left to their own devices. The governors met on a regular basis. During these meetings, there was an abundance of food and drink. Later on, this practice was discontinued because too many people joined the fellowship and the costs for these elaborate meals became too high. In the 16th century, a new extension was built: the men’s ward, which still exists today. From this time onwards, the hospice cared mostly for the elderly and became an old people’s home, but only for those who could afford the annual fee for their upkeep.

In the mid 19th century, sharing of beds was discontinued and each pensioner now had a bed of his or her own. They also had their own chamber pot, table, chair, washbasin, and chest to store their clothes. In the middle of the men’s ward was a larger table and a shaving chair with a reclining headrest. Uniforms were also provided. The pensioners adhered to strict rules. Misbehaviour or drunkeness was punished by house arrest, which meant that the wrongdoers could not leave the ward for one or two weeks.

The women’s ward was pulled down at the beginning of the 20th century. The men’s ward has been restored and is a perfect replica of what it once looked like. (map)

WHERE TO STAY

Built in 1620, Hotel Logies de Tabaksplant was the home of a rich tobacco planter, who used the attic of his house to dry tobacco. The Hotel is housed in several historic building in the medieval city centre.

The hotel has lots of character and right in the city centre. The rooms are 21st century style, nothing medieval about them. Prices range from € 65- € 115.

WHAT: Logies Tabaksplant
WHERE: Coninckstraat 15, Amersfoort (map)

WHERE TO EAT

In den Grooten Slock is Amersfoort’s the oldest pub in Amersfoort. The building dates back to the 17th century and has retained its medieval character. Even if you are not hungry or thirsty, this café deserves your visit. In summer the outside terrace is the perfect place to enjoy a Heineken or a salad composed of goat cheese, sprinkled with pine nuts and sweetened with honey.

WHAT: Grand Café In den Grooten Slok
WHERE: Zevenhuizen 1a, Amersfoort (map)

QUICK FACTS

WHAT: Proeflokaal De Drie Ringen
WHERE: Kleine Spui 18, Amersfoort
OPENING HOURS: Friday, Saturday and Sunday 13:00 – 19:00

WHAT: Mondriaan Museum
WHERE: Korte Gracht 11, Amersfoort
OPENING HOURS: Mon – Fri 11:00 – 17:00, Sat and Sun 12:00 – 17:00
ADMISSION FEE: €5

WHAT: Museum Flehite
WHERE: Westsingel 50
OPENING HOURS: Tue – Fri 10:00 – 17:00, Sat and Sun 12:00 – 17:00
ADMISSION FEE: €7

WHAT: Men’s Ward
WHERE: across the road from Flehite
OPENING HOURS: July and August Tue – Fri 11:00 – 13:00 and 14:00 – 16:30, Sat and Sun 13:00 – 16:30
ADMISSION FEE: €4

photo credits: personal collection

Related places:
  1. A
    Mondriaanhuis
    Kortegracht 11, 3811KG Amersfoort, Nederland
    View Details and Book
  2. B
    Museum Flehite
    Westsingel 50, 3811BB Amersfoort, Nederland
    View Details and Book
  3. C
    Logies de Tabaksplant
    Coninckstraat 15, Amersfoort, 3811 WD, nl
    View Details and Book
Tags: hotel, restaurant, top-feature, tour


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