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LEIDEN Tourist Information
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Leiden 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. 

Leiden University 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.

Leiden 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.

Leiden knew a booming period in the Seventeenth Century, 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
well-known museums, 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 Onnes.

 

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