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is now a medium size town with about
100.000 inhabitants in the west of the Netherlands.
New office buildings near the railway station are signs of Leiden's
participation in economic growth and activity. In the immediate
neighbourhood there are great opportunities for recreation: the wide
sandy beaches and the dunes along the North Sea (during the summer
months, the fashionable seaside resorts of Noordwijk and Katwijk aan Zee
sparkle with life), lakes for sailing, rowing and windsurfing, and in
spring the richly coloured tulip fields.
is the oldest university in The Netherlands. In 1574, Prince William of
Orange took the first step towards establishing the university, as a
reward for the city's brave resistance to the Spanish besiegers. The
university was founded on February 8, 1575. Throughout the centuries
many great scholars and scientists have brought fame and respect to
Leiden University. Ever since 1575 life in Leiden has been influenced to
a great extent by the relatively large number of students who live and
study in this historic town.
Leiden is famous for its history. Most
notable is the
brave defence by its inhabitants
during a siege by the Spanish army When all their frontal
attacks failed to take the town, the Spaniards decided to starve it into
submission. The decimated citizens of Leiden, however, refused to
surrender. On the third of October 1574, after months of hunger, illness
and starvation, Leiden was finally released by the Dutch rebel army,
bringing food supplies over the flooded polders. The third of October (
Leidens Ontzet ) is still a day that is celebrated by the inhabitants of
Leiden by eating the same food that was supplied on the third of October
1574: herring, white bread, and hutspot.
is well known as the City of
Refugees. The sojourn
of the Pilgrim Fathers in Leiden has contributed to the city's
reputation. In the first decades of the seventeenth century Queen
Elisabeth I and her successor, King James I of England, persecuted the
English Calvinists, especially those that wanted to separate from the
Anglican Church of which the King was the head. These Calvinists were
called Separatists. By fleeing to Holland they hoped to benefit from the
relative religious freedom there. Between 1620 and 1629 some of these
refugees emigrated to North America, the so-called Pilgrims. In the U.S.
the Pilgrims are seen as the 'Founding Fathers' of that country. Some
American presidents were direct descendants of the Pilgrims.
knew a booming period in the
which made it the second largest town in Holland, after Amsterdam.
It was in this century that Leiden's most famous son born :
Rembrandt van Rijn,
the famous painter. He studied and lived here until the age of 26, when
he moved to Amsterdam.
The beautiful town centre
with its canals ( grachten and singels ) is still dominated by various
monuments and Seventeenth Century mansions and facades. Famous buildings
are the Lakenhal, Burcht (an old fortress which still stands in the
middle of Leiden offering a fascinating view), Gravensteen (a former
judicial building complete with old dungeons, now housing part of the
Faculty of Law), Pieterskerk (Leidens largest church), Hooglandse kerk,
Academiegebouw and two old town gates. The town also has many old
almshouses (hofjes), at one time founded for poor people, now largely
occupied by students.
Leiden has a variety of
like the National Museum of Antiquities, the Ethnology Museum and the
Municipal Lakenhal Museum with paintings by Jan Steen, Gerard Dou, Lucas
van Leyden and Rembrandt van Rijn. The Boerhaave Museum, which is the
National Museum of the History of Science and Medicine, deserves special
attention. It was recently rehoused in the former Caecilia Hospital,
where Herman Boerhaave gave his famous bedside teaching. The museum has
in its collection the early microscope of Van Leeuwenhoek, clocks of
Christiaan Huygens and the helium refrigeration equipment of Kamerlingh
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