Leiden University was founded in 1581 in a monastery as the first university in the Netherlands. Due to the ever-growing number of faculties, many buildings were given a university function and some faculties were built on behalf of the university. A number of members of the Royal House have lived and studied at Leiden University. King Willem Alexander studied history and lived at Rapenburg 116 and Queen Beatrix studied Law and Sociology in Leiden and lived at Rapenburg 45.
The City Hall Leiden is on Breestraat, the main street of Leiden and it has a beautiful Renaissance facade. To the left of the platform is the Roepstoel (calling chair), where the end of the Spanish siege was announced in 1574. Leiden was besieged by the Spanish troops for 129 days. A poem of exactly 129 letters on a gable stone tells the story. Close to the town hall is De Waag, a beautiful building from the 17th century. The Boterhal is located at the rear side. The Koornbrug overlooks the water. This bridge was built to keep the ships with grain dry during rain.
Leiden we could include in the itinerary on our way to the Hague and Delft.
The Hortus Botanicus Leiden of the university has an orangery, tropical and subtropical plants and a laburnum from 1601. The lily leaves of the Victoria Amazonica are very special. It is the oldest botanical garden in the Netherlands, founded in 1590 mainly to research medicinal plants. The garden was founded by Clusius, who introduced the tulip to the Netherlands. Not all greenhouses are open to the public because a university garden is where scientific research is done. The statue near the Hortus is of Mayor van der Werff, who gave his life instead of surrendering Leiden to the Spaniards. Every year on October 3, the victory is festively celebrated with herring and white bread.
Leiden was already the center of the cloth industry in the 14th century. The Cloth Hall from 1640 was an inspection hall for Leiden textiles. Wool from England was processed, dyed and exported. Museum the Cloth Hall Leiden also provides information about the city’s history. Well-known artists have captured the city, such as Rembrandt, Lucas van Leyden and Jan Steen. The most important work is a former altarpiece from the Pieterskerk, ‘The Last Judgment’, a triptych by Lucas van Leyden (1526).
The main Leiden museums are: Museum Naturalis is about the evolution of animals, plants and all other life. The collection is one of the largest in the world with 42 million objects. To see are 14.6 million insects, 125 thousand fish, 60 thousand reptiles and amphibians, 380 thousand birds, and 50 thousand mammals. The most impressive is the skeleton of the Tyrannosaurus rex. The Archeology Museum is the Dutch national archeology museum. Collections from Ancient Egypt and Greece. But also Dutch excavations from pre-history to the Middle Ages. Molen de Valk, dating from 1743, is a Mill Museum. The seven-storey mill was built in just 3 months. Grain was milled until 1925. The miller’s tools from the last three centuries are on display. The Pijpenkabinet has a collection of 7500 pipes and provides information about the manufacture of clay pipes. It is located in the beautiful Meermansbrug courtyard. Leiden American Pilgrim Museum. Leiden was a city of freethinkers and hundreds of persecuted believers moved to Leiden. John Robinson was one of their leaders. As long as they practiced their religion in silence, almost every group, even Catholics, could settle in Leiden. From Leiden, via Delfshaven and Southhampton, they left for the new country of America in 1620 to start a new life there. Presidents Bush and Barack Obama are descendants of this group. Rembrandt van Rijn grew up in Leiden. The Young Rembrandt Studio is now a museum and is housed in the studio of Jacob van Swanenburgh, his most important teacher. The artist spent te rest of his life in rich Amsterdam where were more opportunities. Corpus is a museum full with medical facts and human anatomy. You learn about the body parts, how they work and how they stay healthy. From toe to brain.
Leiden had a number of strongholds with city gates and was completely surrounded by a defensive wall. The Burcht fortress Leiden was a defensive structure. The 17th century gate is decorated with the arms of several mayors. The typical round castle was built where two arms of the Oude Rijn meet. The Burcht also gave protection against the flooding of the Rhine. De Gravensteen was also part of the fortress and is a picturesque complex from the 13th-16th centuries, which was used as a court of justice and prison. Leiden criminals were hanged and exhibited at the gallows water, on the Oude Rijn.
The Pieterskerk Leiden from 1121 is the oldest church in Leiden. It is named after the apostle Peter, the patron saint of the city. Jesus said to Saint Peter, ‘I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven’. Leiden is called ‘key city’ and keys are the city’s coat of arms. Once the place where the American Pilgrim Fathers went for prayer. It is a large church and many university professors are buried there. The most famous graves are those of the painter Jan Steen and the scientist Herman Boerhave. The Hooglandse Kerk is also very worth seeing. It is a late Gothic cruciform basilica with an impressive interior. The church also functioned to provide the people of Leiden with water. The large roof of the church collected a lot of rainwater, which was stored in reservoirs.