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Leiden ( )(in English and archaic Dutch also Leyden) is a city and municipality in the province of South Hollandmarker in the Netherlandsmarker and has 118,000 inhabitants. It forms a single urban area with Oegstgeestmarker, Leiderdorpmarker, Voorschotenmarker, Valkenburg, Rijnsburgmarker and Katwijkmarker, with 254,000 inhabitants. It is located on the Old Rhine, close to the cities of The Haguemarker and Haarlemmarker. The recreational area of the Kaag Lakes (Kagerplassenmarker) lies just to the northeast of Leiden.

Its geographical coordinates are (in decimals: 52.16N, 4.49E). RD coordinates (94, 464).

A university town since 1575, Leiden houses: Leiden is twinned with Oxfordmarker, the location of Englandmarker's oldest universitymarker.


Although it is true that Leiden is an old city, its claimed connection with Roman Lugdunum Batavorum is spurious; Roman Lugdunum is actually near the close-by modern town of Katwijkmarker, whereas the Roman settlement near modern Leiden was called Matilo. However, there was a Roman fortress in Leiden in the 4th century.
Windmill museum in Leiden.

Leiden formed on an artificial hill at the confluence of the rivers Oude and Nieuwe Rijn (Old and New Rhine). In the oldest reference to this, from circa 860, the settlement was called Leithon. The landlord of Leiden, situated in a stronghold on the hill, was initially subject to the Bishop of Utrecht but around 1100 the burgraves became subject to the county of Holland. This county got its name in 1101 from a domain near the stronghold: Holtland or Holland.

Leiden was sacked in 1047 by Emperor Henry III. Early 13th century, Ada, Countess of Holland took refuge here when she was fighting in a civil war against her uncle, William I, Count of Holland. He besieged the stronghold and captured Ada.

Leiden received city rights in 1266. In 1389, its population had grown to about 4000 persons.

Siege of 1420

In 1420, during the Hook and Cod wars, Duke John of Bavaria along with his army marched from Goudamarker in the direction of Leiden in order to conquer the city since Leiden did not pay the new Count of Holland Jacqueline, Countess of Hainaut, his niece and only daughter of Count William VI of Holland. The army was well equipped and had some guns.

Burgrave Filips of Wassenaar and the other local Hoekse noblemen assumed that the duke would besiege Leiden first and send small units out to conquer the surrounding citadels. But John of Bavaria chose to attack the citadels first.

He rolled the cannons with his army but one too heavy went per ship. By firing at the walls and gates with iron balls the citadels fell one by one. Within a week John of Bavaria conquered the castles of Poelgeest, Ter Does, Hoichmade, de Zijl, ter Waerd, Warmond and de Paddenpoel.

On 24 June the army appeared before the walls of Leiden. On 17 August 1420, after a two-month siege the city surrendered to John of Bavaria. The burgrave Filips of Wassenaar was stripped of his offices and rights and lived out his last years in captivity.

16th and 18th centuries

17th century houses along the Herengracht.
Leiden flourished in the 16th and 17th century. At the close of the 15th century the weaving establishments (mainly broadcloth) of Leiden were very important, and after the expulsion of the Spaniards Leiden cloth, Leiden baize and Leiden camlet were familiar terms. In the same period, Leiden developed an important printing and publishing industry. The influential printer Christoffel Plantijn lived there at one time. One of his pupils was Lodewijk Elzevir (1547–1617), who established the largest bookshop and printing works in Leiden, a business continued by his descendants through 1712 and the name subsequently adopted (in a variant spelling) by contemporary publisher Elsevier.

In 1572, the city sided with the Dutch revolt against Spanishmarker rule and played an important role in the Eighty Years' War. Besieged from May until October 1574 by the Spanish, Leiden was relieved by the cutting of the dikes, thus enabling ships to carry provisions to the inhabitants of the flooded town. As a reward for the heroic defence of the previous year, the University of Leiden was founded by William I of Orange in 1575. Yearly on 3 October, the end of the siege is still celebrated in Leiden. Tradition tells that the citizens were offered the choice between a university and a certain exemption from taxes and chose the university.

Leiden is also known as the place where the Pilgrims (as well as some of the first settlers of New Amsterdam) lived (and operated a printing press) for a time in the early 17th century before their departure to Massachusetts and New Amsterdam in the New World.

In the 17th century, Leiden prospered, in part because of the impetus to the textile industry by refugees from Flanders. While the city had lost about a third of its 15,000 citizens during the siege of 1574, it quickly recovered to 45,000 inhabitants in 1622, and may have come near to 70,000 circa 1670. During the Dutch Golden Era, Leiden was the second largest city of Holland, after Amsterdam.

From the late 17th century onwards Leiden slumped, mainly because of decline of the cloth industries. In the beginning of the 19th century the baize manufacture was altogether given up, although industry remained central to Leiden economy. This decline is painted vividly by the fall in population. The population of Leiden had sunk to 30,000 between 1796 and 1811, and in 1904 was 56,044.

From 17th to early 19th century, Leiden was the publishing place of one of the most important contemporary journals, Nouvelles Extraordinaires de Divers Endroits, known also as Gazette de Leyde.

19th and 20th century

On 12 January 1807, a catastrophe struck the city when a boat loaded with 17,400 kg of gunpowder blew up in the middle of Leiden. 151 persons were killed, over 2000 were injured and some 220 homes were destroyed. King Louis Bonaparte personally visited the city to provide assistance to the victims. Although located in the center of the city, the area destroyed remained empty for many years. In 1886 the space was turned into a public park.

In 1842, the railroad from Leiden to Haarlem was inaugurated and one year later the railway to Den Haagmarker was completed, resulting in some improvements to the social and economic situation. But the number of citizens was still not much above 50000 in 1900. Not until 1896 did Leiden begin to expand beyond its 17th century moats. After 1920, new industries were established in the city, such as the canning and metal industries.

During World War II, Leiden was hit hard by Allied bombardments. The areas surrounding the railway station and Marewijk were almost completely destroyed.

Leiden today

Leiden's west gate, the Morspoort
Leiden's east gate, the Zijlpoort
Today Leiden forms an important part of Dutch history. The end of the Spanish siege in 1574 is celebrated on 3 October by an annual parade, a day off, a fair and eating the traditional food of herring and white bread and hutspot. However, the most important piece of Dutch history contributed by Leiden was the Constitution of the Netherlands. Johan Rudolf Thorbecke (1798–1872) wrote the Dutch Constitution in April 1848 in his house at Garenmarkt 9 in Leiden.

Leiden has important functions as a shopping and trade center for communities around the city. The University of Leiden is famous for its many developments including the famous Leyden jar, a capacitor made from a glass jar, invented in Leiden by Pieter van Musschenbroek in 1746. (It was actually first invented by Ewald Georg von Kleist in Germany the year before, but the name "Leyden jar" stuck.) Another development was in cryogenics: Heike Kamerlingh Onnes (1913 Nobel prize winner in physics) liquefied helium for the first time (1908) and later managed to reach a temperature of less than one degree above the absolute minimum. Albert Einstein also spent some time at Leiden University during his early to middle career.

The city also houses the Eurotransplant, the international organization responsible for the mediation and allocation of organ donation procedures in Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Slovenia.

Rivers, canals and parks

The two branches of the Old Rhine, which enter Leiden on the east, unite in the centre of the town. The town is further intersected by numerous small canals with tree-bordered quays. On the west side of the town, the Hortus Botanicusmarker and other gardens extend along the old Singel, or outer canal. The Van der Werf Park is named after the mayor Pieter Adriaansz van der Werf, who defended the town against the Spaniards in 1574. The town was beleaguered for months and many died from famine. According to legend van der Werf was accused by a frantic crowd of secretly hiding food reserves. He denied this vehemently and to prove his sincerity offered to cut off his arm to serve as food for those who nearly died from famine. This made people back off, ashamed of their mistrust. The open space for the park was formed by the accidental explosion of a ship loaded with gunpowder in 1807, which destroyed hundreds of houses, including that of the Elsevier family of printers.

Buildings of interest

Because of the economic decline from the 17th to the early 20th century, much of the 16th and 17th century town centre is still intact. It's reportedly the second largest 17th century town centre in the Netherlands, the largest being Amsterdam's town centre.


At the strategically important junction of the two arms of the Old Rhine stands the old castle De Burcht, a circular tower built on an earthen mound. The mound probably was a refuge against high water before a small wooden fortress was built on top of it in the 11th century. The citadel is a so-called motte-and-bailey castle. Of Leiden's old city gates only two are left, the Zijlpoort and the Morspoort, both dating from the end of the 17th century. Apart from one small watch tower on the Singel nothing is left of the town's city walls. Another former fortification is the Gravensteen. Built as a fortress in the 13th century it has since served as house, library and prison. Presently it is one of the University's buildings.


Hooglandse kerk, Leiden
The chief of Leiden's numerous churches are the Hooglandsche Kerk (or the church of St Pancras, built in the 15th century and containing a monument to Pieter Adriaansz van der Werf) and the Pieterskerkmarker (church of St Peter (1315) with monuments to Scaliger, Boerhaave and other famous scholars. From a historical perspective the Marekerk is interesting too. Arent van 's Gravesande designed the church in 1639. Other fine examples of his work in Leiden are in the Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhalmarker (the municipal museum of fine arts), and the Bibliotheca Thysiana. The growing town needed another church and the Marekerk was the first church to be built in Leiden (and in Holland) after the Reformation. It is an example of Dutch Classicism. In the drawings by Van 's Gravesande the pulpit is the centrepiece of the church. The pulpit is modelled after the one in the Nieuwe Kerk at Haarlemmarker (designed by Jacob van Campen). The building was first used in 1650, and is still in use. Marekerk

University buildings

The town centre contains many buildings that are in use by the University of Leiden. The Academy Building is housed in a former 16th century convent. Among the institutions connected with the university are the national institution for East Indian languages, ethnology and geography; the botanical gardensmarker, founded in 1587; the observatorymarker (1860); the museum of antiquities (Rijksmuseum van Oudhedenmarker); and the ethnographical museum, of which P. F. von Siebold's Japanesemarker collections was the nucleus (Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkundemarker). The Bibliotheca Thysiana occupies an old Renaissance building of the year 1655. It is especially rich in legal works and vernacular chronicles. Noteworthy are also the many special collections at Leiden University Librarymarker among which those of the Society of Dutch Literature (1766) and the collection of casts and engravings. In recent years the university has built the Bio Science Park at the city's outskirts to accommodate the Science departments.

Other buildings

Some other interesting buildings are the town hall (Stadhuis), a 16th century building that was badly damaged by a fire in 1929 but has its Renaissance facade designed by Lieven de Key still standing; the Gemeenslandshuis van Rynland (1596, restored in 1878); the weigh house (Waag), built by Pieter Post; the former court-house (Gerecht); a corn-grinding windmill, now home to a museum (Molen de Valk) (1743); the old gymnasium (Latijnse School) (1599) and the city carpenter's yard and wharf (Stadstimmerwerf) (1612), both built by Lieven de Key (c. 1560–1627). Another building of interest is the "pesthuis", which was built at that time just outside the city for curing patients suffering the bubonic plague. However, after it was built the feared disease did not occur in the Netherlands anymore so it was never used for its original purpose, it now serves as the entrance of Naturalismarker, one of the largest natural history museums in the world. Oudt Leyden, the so called oldest pancake house (pannekoekenhuis in Dutch) in the world is home to its famous large pancakes and Delftmarker crockery, it's also known for serving the likes of Winston Churchill and the Dalai Lama.

Public transport

Bus lines

  • Connexxion Region West:
    • Bus stops and lines in Leiden: (links to schedules by stop and line)
    • Bus lines with schedules by line in the region


To plan a train journey follow the link

Leiden is on the planned route of the RijnGouweLijn, the Netherland's first Light rail project. Within Leiden its route would have been: Leiden Lammenschans - Korevaarstraat - Breestraat - stop Haarlemmerstraat - Stationsplein - Joop Walenkamptunnel - Albinusdreef (LUMCmarker) - Sandfortdreef - Zernikedreef (Hogeschool) - (Einsteinweg) - Ehrenfestweg - (Plesmanlaan) - Transferium A44. This route, however, has been rejected by Leiden citizens in a referendum.

Famous inhabitants

See also People from Leiden
The following is a selection of important Leidenaren throughout history:

Town twinning

Leiden's twin towns are:


  • The coat of arms of Leiden is two red keys, crossed in an X-shape on a white background. These keys are those to the gates of heaven held by St.Peter, for whom a large church in the city center is named.
  • For a time Leiden held the title "The Coldest Place on Earth": in a laboratory, because of the developments in cryogenics that have happened there. Heike Kamerlingh Onnes (1913 Nobel prize winner in physics) liquefied helium for the first time (1908), and later managed to reach a temperature of less than one degree above Absolute zero.
  • The Norwegian cheese "nøkkelost" ("key cheese") is named after the keys in coat of arms of Leyden, as it is a variation of Leyden cheese.
  • Owing to the connection London's Docklands and Rotherhithe have with the Pilgrim fathers and through them to Leiden, there are several places named after Leiden, among them being Leydon Close, a housing district very near to where the Mayflower set sail for the New World.
  • The following places and things are named after this city:

See also


  1. http://www.livius.org/ga-gh/germania/lugdunum.html
  2. http://www.newyorkfamilyhistory.org/modules.php?name=Sections&op=printpage&artid=40
  3. http://pages.prodigy.net/parrish/MapGroundZero.html
  4. http://www.pilgrimhall.org/pilpress.htm
  5. http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/ah/1999/2/1999_2_102.shtml
  6. http://www.connexxion.nl/website/uwregio.asp?action=goto_regio&regioid=34&id=35
  7. http://www.aidem-media.com/projects/conneXXion2/index.php?step=1&plaats=leiden&d%5Bd%5D=20&d%5Bm%5D=11&d%5By%5D=2003
  8. http://www.connexxion.nl/website/dienstregeling.asp?command=reisinfo_dienstregeling&overid=55&overidmem=54&regioid=34&id=35
  9. http://www.ns.nl
  10. http://mmaweekly.com/absolutenm/templates/topten.asp?articleid=14&zoneid=15

External links

Museums and libraries


Adjacent municipalities


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