Groningen almshouses used to provide free accommodation to the poor, to widows and to the sick. Today, private persons live in these oases of quiet in the city centre. Some of them are open to the public for a moment of contemplation. Some trees in the flowery gardens are old enough to have witnessed the former inhabitants.
Almshouses are communal courtyards surrounded by various small houses, and are not typically Groningen. The large number still found in Groningen however, certainly is. You have to look carefully, because it is all too easy to walk past the access gate without noticing it. The walls ensure that life in the almshouses is much quieter than outside. The same goes for the walled Prinsentuin, another tranquil place in the centre. Be sure to visit the oldest hospice in Groningen: the Pelstergasthuis, the church tower of which has the oldest bell in the city.
On Sundays, the mentally ill in the St. Geertruidsgasthuis were reminded that they did not get ‘owt for nowt’. City residents would go to the ‘madhouse circus’ to peek through the bars and see the mentally ill in exchange for a few cents. Both courtyards of the hospice near the Martini Church are open to the public. Want to see more? Go to the VVV (Tourist Information Office) to obtain a city walk that includes almost all of the Groningen almshouses.