The Legacy of Kameren Maria van Pallaes

Kameren Maria van Pallaes
At the corner of Lange Nieuwstraat and Agnietenstraat two rows of terraced houses join together. Although both are similarly constructed of brick, there are small differences to be seen, as there were just over 50 years between the construction of the two. The first, built in 1597 on Lange Nieuwstraat, were the Beyerskameren, which I wrote about earlier this week. The second set, built in 1651 on Agnietenstraat, are known as the Kameren van Maria van Pallaes.

The rows of houses are similar in more than just style. The Pallaes kameren were also built specifically to provide housing for the poor. Consisting of 12 homes, they were originally designed to be a home for a couple, two men, or two women.

The land on which the Pallaes kameren were built was originally part of the Agnietenklooster (Agnes Convent), which gives its name to the street. Parcels of land were set aside by the convent for the construction of buildings that would serve a charitable purpose.

Maria van Pallaes (1587–1664) was the wealthy widow of Hendrick van Schroyesteijn. Although the couple had six children, by 1650, only one daughter remained and she had joined a convent and was thus unable to inherit. Left with no relatives who could legally inherit her fortune, van Pallaes wasn’t willing to have the fortune simply turned over to the municipality upon her death. Wanting to do more with the money, she set to work to improve the lives of the poor, including the building of the row of houses on Agnietenstraat. She also set up the Maria van Pallaes Foundation, which continued to build additional homes in other areas for the poor. As well as the homes, there were donations of food, money, and fuel to the residents.

Hendrick Bloemaert Uitdeling aan de armen door Maria van Pallaes 1657
This painting by Hendrik Bloemaert — an important member of the Utrecht Caravaggisti — depicts Maria van Pallaes flanked by her children in front of the Agnietenstraat homes, distributing food to the poor. Painted in 1567 — in large part a memorial to the children who has passed as — it originally hung in the refectory at the end of the row of houses. It now finds its home in the the Centraal Museum. Interestingly, the Centraal Museum is located just a short distance down the same street in what used to be the Agnes Convent.
Kameren Maria van Pallaes
The 12 homes share a front and back wall that runs the length of the row. Interior walls divide the row into the 12 homes, measuring approximately 4.5 × 7 meters each. Each home has a door and window in both front and back. There is also a dormer window for the upstairs loft/attic space.

The interior designs vary slightly, with some of the homes featuring a spiral staircase that leads up to the attic area. The division of rooms varies somewhat. Shutters can be found on all of the front windows and there is a window above each door, providing additional light. On the lintel above every front door is the construction date of 1651, as well as the family coat of arms of Maria van Pallaes and her husband.
Kameren Maria van Pallaes
At the end of the row of houses is a larger building that looks onto the Nieuwegracht. The refectiekamer (refectory) most likely started off as a dining room for the residents. There was a basement-level kitchen, with the dining space on the ground floor. The building itself is roughly square shaped, with a triangle section added on for the entrance on the Nieuwegracht.
Kameren Maria van PallaesThe entrance remains similar to its original design, although rather than one set of central steps leading up to the door, there was originally a set on each side that met at a landing in front of the door. The decoration around the door has remained the same, however. Flanking the door on each side is a window covered by wrought iron. On the windowsills behind the ironwork are small sculptures.

However, it is the plaque above the door that is most striking. It commemorates Maria van Pallaes’ building of the homes out of her love for God. The classically inspired plaque is flanked by Ionic columns and cornucopia, perhaps to signify bounty for those less fortunate and to hope for continued fortunes. Above is a shield with draped garlands within a classical curved pediment.
Kameren Maria van Pallaes

Thanks to the Maria van Pallaes Foundation, the homes continued to house the poor even after her death. However, the refectory did not remain part of the homes for long. By 1677, the refectory was changed into a residence.

Fortunately, the homes remained under the ownership of the Foundation until 1910, when mismanagement eventually saw the buildings turned over to the municipality. For more than 200 years, they provided a home for the city’s poor and elderly. Sadly, they began to fall into disrepair and by 1962, they were declared uninhabitable. However, restorations were carried out and by 1979, the leasehold was transferred to the Utrecht Monuments Fund, which continues today. The homes are once again filled with life and now make up a lovely neighborhood.
Kameren Maria van Pallaes
Utrecht: The Houses within the Canals
Het Utrechts Monumenten Fonds

Lucky Number Seven

Zeven Steegjes
I don’t remember how I first came across De Zeven Steegjes (The Seven Alleys), but somehow I always missed going to see them, even when I had plans to go see them. I know I’d hoped to see them in past years while at the kerstmarkt on Twijnstraat, since they’re nearby, but I guess I always got distracted by the gluhwein and the live nativity donkeys and sheep. Early this past November, however, I did finally get to see them, although purely by luck! I was just wandering around and found myself in an area I hadn’t visited before, when lo and behold, there they were!

I’m sure by now you’re wondering why I’m blathering on about alleys, so I’ll try to get to the point. These alleys were the result of a housing shortage in the 1800s, particularly housing for the poor. By the mid 1800s, the Catholic Poverty Organization began building simple homes for Roman Catholic children and families who were dependent upon charity. Eventually, with pressure from the government to provide more housing, 100 homes were built. With demands that there be no blind alleys and that the streets be straight to allow the wind to blow through (perhaps to avoid any stagnancy that might lead to a cholera outbreak), the result was the zeven steegjes.

Een Steegje

The buildings were simple to the extreme, containing no kitchen or toilets, but they were still fairly modern for their time. In 1952, approximately 100 years after they were built, they were sold by the Roman Catholic church and purchased by the city of Utrecht. Families still lived there, but because of the lack of kitchens and toilets, there was always talk of demolishing the buildings. In 1972, some basic renovations were done, but it wasn’t until 1992 that comprehensive renovations took place.


There are now 166 homes spread out down Korte Rozendaal, Lange Rozendaal, Kockstraat, Brouwerstraat, Boogstraat, Moutstraat, Suikerstraat and Fockstraat. The homes and streets have retained some of their working-class neighborhood feel, yet they’re also attractive and charming streets just a few steps from the Catharijnesingel, part of the canal that rings the old city center of Utrecht. There’s a strong sense of community, encouraged by a traditional three-day block party held at the end of August each year. The party celebrates both the neighborhood, where many of the buildings are now considered municipal monuments, as well as the birthday of the (former) Queen Wilhelmina. In fact, I think it may have been a mention of the annual party that first brought de zeven steegjes to my attention.


Mix and Match

This is a grab bag of a posting; random things that have crossed my mind but most aren’t enough for a whole post to themselves. So, in no particular order …
House Made of Boat
Kiwidutch has an interesting post up about house boats (woonboten) in Amsterdam, so I thought I’d post a photo of one of the house boats near us here in Utrecht. They’re not as common here as in Amsterdam, but there are a couple of them around.

Irish Pub
Today is St. Patrick’s Day. Not being Irish, it’s not a big deal to me, but I figured it was worth a posting on Trippist, since we’ve got two Irish pubs here in town. Hopefully, they don’t turn their beer green, though. That’s always seemed like an abomination to me. I knew I had taken a photo of Mick O’Connells in the past, but it turns out I hadn’t uploaded it to Flickr, so I spent a lot of time digging through my photo files to find it. I could have sworn I’d also taken a photo of O’Leary’s Pub at some point, but damned if I can find it. So, since I spent so much time finding this photo, I figured I’d share it here, too. Happy St. Patrick’s Day to any of you with Irish connections.

Finally, if you have any interest in the Netherlands, you really should read the blog Amy in NL. She always comes up with really fascinating topics. One of the most recent ones is on the Dutch connection with Japan, a surprisingly old connection. It turns out the Japanese word for coffee is derived from the Dutch word koffe as a result of this long-standing connection. She also includes some links to relief sites to help after the horrible disaster that continues to unfold.

I would also like to recommend that you stop by the Handmade Europe shop on Etsy right now, since they have a Europe for Charity shop set up with all proceeds going to Japan via Architecture for Humanity.