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Foto: Wouter van der Wolk (UvA)

Oudemanhuispoort: from law center to walk-through building

Sija van den Beukel,
8 november 2022 - 13:51

For more than four centuries, the Oudemanhuispoort (OMHP) has been loved and despised. Who all has lived in the OMHP? And will the building once again become part of the beating heart of the UvA?

Whoever now enters the Oudemanhuispoort through the passageway with the second-hand booksellers - the Gate - between the Oudezijds Achterburgwal and the Kloveniersburgal, through the courtyard with the bust of Minerva, experiences a somewhat desolate sight. A maze of teaching spaces, low-ceilinged hallways and study areas with few windows that is clearly in need of renovation.


It has not always been this way. In the early seventeenth century, the Old Men and Women's Hospital was "one of the jewels in the city's crown," write historian Jurjen Vis in his book De Poort, the Oudemanhuispoort and its users 1602-2002. Visitors at the time noted that the building was too beautiful for its purpose: a retirement home.



Eligible for the retirement home were "gatekeepers of Amsterdam As early as the thirteenth century, Amsterdam distinguished between residents and gatekeepers. Gatekeepers had more rights and privileges than residents.from 50 years and older, who moreover had to be childless, free of debts and unmarried." The OMHP was not for the poorest, according to the packing list that residents had to bring. Among other things, they had to have a good bed, three blankets, two pillows, six sheets, six pillowcases, six good shirts and two extra guilders. That amount was meant for burial.


The house was meant for the destitute, the impoverished "middle class," who had not recognizably fallen into poverty. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, the destitute also slowly gave way to residents who brought a purchase price.


Address: Oudemanhuispoort

Built in 1602.

The Oudemanhuispoort is a national monument.

Belonging to the UvA since 1880.

The Oudemanhuispoort is used by the Faculty of Humanities and support services of the UvA. The B wing has been converted into temporary student rooms. The law faculty moved from the OMHP to the Roeterseiland campus in 2017, after nearly 140 years.

“Put on the dike”

Things were often strict in the home until the mid-seventeenth century. Unlike a convent, residents were allowed to leave the establishment after breakfast, as long as they were back inside at eleven for lunch and at six in the evening for dinner. They also had to be inside before closing time at eight in the evening, an hour earlier in winter. Anyone who flouted the rules was "put on the dike" for six weeks, according to the oldest regulations. This meant that residents were not welcome at meals. Drunkenness was punishable by a six-week banishment from the house.


Old women

The name Oudemanhuispoort is actually strange when you consider that in the mid-eighteenth century, there were almost twice as many women as men living in the OMHP, namely 115 women and 51 men. Even in 1809, the ratio remained the same with 75 women and 32 men. The differences can be explained by the higher life expectancy of women and the fact that men often married a second or even third time later in life. There were also women on the board: four regents and three regentesses.

Impressions from student magazines around 1915 made it clear that the OMHP was too small and insubstantial.

Emergency hospital

When cholera epidemics reached Europe in the first half of the nineteenth century, the Oudemanhuis served as an emergency hospital. The house was physically well shielded and was close to the Binnengasthuis. There was no need to worry about the residents; there were only a handful. Since 1810 the numbers had dwindled and by the end of 1831 only about 30 elderly people were still living there.


After an interlude in which the OMHP housed the Royal Academy of Art (1836-1870) and the Museum van der Hoop (1855-1885), the forerunner of the Rijksmuseum, the building fell into the hands of the University of Amsterdam in 1880. The OMHP then formed the centerpiece of the university, which then consisted of a number of smaller buildings in the city center.


(Continue reading below the image.)

Foto: Bram Belloni
Hal of the Oudemanhuispoort.

Too small and insubstantial

From that time on, the university continued to grow. By 1920, the number of law students in the OMHP had doubled since the year 1900, from 118 to 227, and the literature students from 51 to 258. Impressions from student magazines around 1915 made it clear that the OMHP was too small and insubstantial. Nor would its origins as an old man's house fit the nature of the university, whereas in the eighteenth century, by contrast, the building was considered too distinguished and posh for a charitable institution. Beginning in the 1920s, the mood shifted and more attention and pride in the beauty of the Gateway began to emerge.


By the 1950s, the UvA had hit its limits: the university was "bursting out of the gate.” From then on, the university began to spread across the city, to Roeterseiland campus, and later, in the 1970s, to Watergraafsmeer. Once the heart of the university, since the relocation of the law school in 2017, the Oudemanhuispoort has become more of an overflow building used by everything and everyone.



Several times in its history, the OMHP has undergone drastic renovations. Once again, there are plans to renovate the complex, according to the UvA's 2023 draft budget. During the renovation of the OMHP, there will be a shortage of teaching spaces. Working group rooms can be accommodated by extending use of the UB Singel. But the availability of the five lecture halls in the OMHP will become a bottleneck during the renovation.


Architectenbureu Frits van Dongen won the competition for the restoration and expansion of the Oudemanhuispoort. Van Dongen stopped with his architectural firm at the end of 2021. Architecten Cie has taken over the assignment and continues to work with Van Dongen's design going back to the building structure in 1757. Thus, the OMHP should represent both the history and the future of the UvA, and once again become the academic center of the heart of Amsterdam.


This is the first part of our two-part series on the Oudenmanhuispoort. On Thursday you can read our story with bookseller Frans Roggen.