History

The university city of Leiden has a history that goes back to the moment when the Romans built a castle on the southern bank of the River Rhine. In eleventh century, it was granted city rights by the Count of Holland and since then a flourishing cloth trade and industry brought wealth to the city and nourished local artists like Rembrandt van Rhijn, Jan Steen and Gerrit Dou.

During the Dutch War of Independence, Leiden was under siege by the Spanish army several times. The last siege was broken in 1574 when the ‘Watergeuzen’ liberated the city by inundating the surrounding farmland. This historical moment is still celebrated every year on the Third of October. William “the Silent” of Orange, the Dutch Pater Patriae, rewarded the courage of the people of Leiden by establishing Leiden University as the first university of the Low Countries. Between 1609 and 1620, the Pilgrim Fathers, who founded the United States of America, lived in Leiden and prepared for their travels to the New World.

In 1807, disaster struck: a boat full of gunpowder exploded in the city centre, destroying several blocks of houses. After King Louis, brother of Napoleon, visited and rumble was cleared, it was decided to landscape a park on the now empty site. The ‘Van der Werf-park’ was named after the hero of the Siege of Leiden, Lord Mayor Pieter Adriaansz. van der Werff, who rather wanted the citizens of Leiden to eat his arm, than to surrender out of hunger. On the other canal bank, a laboratory of the Leiden University was built and during large renovations in 2004 the foundations of the sixteenth century houses were rediscovered.

On the 12th of February 1929, a huge fire raged through the seventeenth century city hall. Because the outdoor temperature was far below freezing, the fire department was unable to do anything and only the façade remained. In the 1930s a new city hall was erected behind the old façade in the style of the Amsterdam School.

Leiden boasts several excellent monuments, museums, cosy pubs and restaurants. It is a very pleasant city to stroll around in and is well located: fifteen minutes by train from Amsterdam Airport and ten minutes from the seat of government and the city of international law, the Hague. Amsterdam, with its beautiful UNESCO-listed canals and many museums is a thirty minute train ride away.

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