History of the Building
When Barent Helleman, a wealthy merchant, died on 18 October 1680 he left his entire fortune to the Deanery. The Deanery decided to devote the 90,000 guilders to a home for old women. Until then, elderly women generally had to rely on private institutions: expensive and inefficient. The city donated a plot of land and construction started. Architect Hans Jansz van Petersom probably provided the design. Sixteen months later, Amstelhof was ready. The home provided shelter for 400 women. To be eligible for a place a person had to be at least 50, a member of the church for no less than ten years and a resident of the city of 15 years’ standing.
The building’s characteristic classical facade extends along the River Amstel for 102 metres: the city’s longest facade in 1683. Its proportions are exquisite; its design is simple and symmetrical. The central grand entrance is fake. A raised door with stairs leading to it was considered essential for a building with standing. Immediately behind this is the church hall, which would hardly have made an appropriate entrance. Inscribed above the door is the original dedication: Diaconie Oude Vrouwen Huys anno 1681 (Deanery Home for Old Women AD 1681). The name Amstelhof was first given in 1953.
At the centre of the home’s symmetrical lay-out lies a huge courtyard. The two wings each contain their own courtyards onto which the women’s rooms opened: the chambrettes. At the front was the church hall, which doubled as a refectory. At the corners on the Amstel side were the boardrooms where the governors and governesses met.
Beneath the huge faux door on the Amstel side lies Ossenpoort: ox gate. This was the tradesman’s entrance. It was through this door that food used to be delivered in pots and barrels, as well as livestock. Animals - including oxen - would be brought into the courtyard to be slaughtered there. Today, this is the Hermitage Amsterdam entrance.
The church hall was the main room of the complex. This is where religious services were held and also where residents ate their meals. The women would sit here at long tables on designated seats three times a day. In fact, until the twentieth century this room was one of largest in the city, second only to the Burgher Hall at the Town Hall on Dam Square. Many civic functions were therefore held here, including receptions for dignitaries. Members of the Dutch royal family were received at Amstelhof and Sir Winston Churchill lunched here in 1946.