The Groot Begijnhof is a historical quarter in the south of Leuven, Belgium, that was once a community for unmarried and semi-religious women. It is one of the largest remaining beguinages in the Low Countries, with about 300 apartments in almost 100 houses. It covers an area of about 3 hectares and has a dozen streets, squares, gardens and parks. The beguinage is divided by the river Dijle, which forms two canals and an island inside the complex. Three bridges connect the different parts of the beguinage.
The beguinage was founded in the early 13th century, and the oldest written documents date back from 1232. A Latin inscription on the church mentions 1234 as the founding date. The beguinage had its first golden age in the 13th century, and faced difficult times during the religious conflicts in the 16th century. One of its priests was Adriaan Florensz Boeyens, who later became Pope Adrian VI. The beguinage had a second flourishing period in the 17th century, when it reached its peak of 360 beguines. The number of beguines declined afterwards, until the invasion of the anti-religious French Revolutionaries.
The Groot Begijnhof was restored in the 20th century and is now owned by the University of Leuven. It is used as a campus for housing academics, especially foreign guests and professors. The beguinage is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998, as part of the Flemish Béguinages.
The Groot Begijnhof is open to visitors every day from sunrise to sunset. There is no ticket price or entrance fee, but donations are welcome. Visitors can walk around the streets and gardens, admire the architecture and atmosphere of the place, and visit the church and some of the convents. There are also guided tours available for groups, which can be booked in advance through the website of Visit Leuven.
To get to the Groot Begijnhof from the city center, visitors can take bus number 2 or 616 and get off at Sint-Kwintensberg stop. Alternatively, they can walk for about 15 minutes from the Grote Markt or Oude Markt squares. The main entrance gate of the beguinage is located at Schapenstraat 34.
Some tips for visiting the Groot Begijnhof are:
- Respect the silence and privacy of the residents and do not enter their houses or gardens without permission.
- Do not litter or damage any property or plants.
- Do not feed or touch any animals that may be roaming around.
- Do not take pictures inside the church or convents without permission.
- Enjoy the peaceful and serene atmosphere of this historical site.