Leiden – As soon as I arrived in the city I knew that I had been bewitched under her spell. Her charm and characteristics got me as soon as I departed the train. Just a short walk into the main town and you are swarmed by bikes (no surprise there, you’re in Holland) and the onset of laughter and cheers of the students occupying the streets.
Leiden is not just a student city, it is so much more with it’s history, beautiful architecture, calm canals and bouncing bikes. Leiden is located in the south of Holland and is home to one of the oldest Universities in the Netherlands. The university dates back to 1575, it also houses the botanical garden which was founded in 1590. This is where the tulip was first introduced to Western Europe (post coming soon). Leiden is right in on the action, with easy transport links linking the city to the hub – The Hague.
The History of Leiden,
Leiden is situated on the Rhine, the waters from the river enter the city in two branches, later uniting near it’s centre and flows through the town. Leiden began as a settlement on the left back on the Rhine. The Gravensteen (Count’s stone house), Pieterskerkhof (St. Peter’s Churchyard) and Burcht (Citadel) reflect that period of history. During the 13th and 14th century the city was enlarged four times due to this important market town evolving into a textile industry.
The next 200 years was a period of insecurity, hunger and pestilence for Leiden. The once popular textile industry declined and eventually closed all together.
In 1573/1574 the Spanish siege meant that the city had to hold out against the Spanish forces. During the ‘Dutch Revolt’, the population declined from 15,000 to 12,000. After the siege, Leiden was granted the first University in Holland. When the cities economy began to grow again, the town took action to attract skilled labourers to rebuild the textile industry. Most of these people arrived from Flanders and other countries- usually refugees from religious persecution. From the continued effort the industry thrived again and due to the increase in population further expansions were required in the 17th century.
In the 17th century Leiden became the second largest city in Holland. Although there was growth and prosperity in the city, the working conditions were very poor. The canals were polluted and residents became malnourished causing the onset of disease. During the first half of the 17th century the plaque swamped Leiden and around 36,000 people died. Almshouses, orphanages and hospitals were founded by private individuals.
In 1670 the textile industry declined again, despite the short lived revival from the arrival of French industrialists and their production of goods. Other cities managed to produce goods more economically and under better conditions. This meant that the population in Leiden dropped from 70,000 in 1670 to 28,000 in 1800.
In the 19th and 20th centrury, Leiden’s market culture grew. It became a favourable location for markets with local farming and fishing products. During the Saturday markets each product had their own place in Leiden. The cheese market would be located near the Waag (Weigh house), butter on the Boterbeurs (Butter market), Corn on the Korenbeursbrug (corn market bridge) and the fish on the vismarkt (fish market. Unfortunately overtime the market lost it’s importance, mainly due to the development of the dairy industry.
Living conditions in Leiden continued to be unsatisfactory throughout the 19th century, however towards the end of the century there were some improvement due to the development of new industries. The city’s present population is 120,000. Leiden is now a hub of shopping, education and still a trade centre for the farming communities.
This is the history of Leiden, the Netherlands.
The 17th century buildings ooze character onto the cobbles of Leiden.
As I watch the assortment of characters disembarking their bikes, I wonder whether bikes resemble their owner – just like dogs. Scruffy looking bikes past my eye line, some dressed with seat covers and others falling to pieces. Leiden isn’t just renowned for it’s bikes and canals and not just it’s University, but also for being the home of painter Rembrandt. Rembrandt was a Dutch draughtsman, printer and a painter. A humble millers son with a passion and talent for painting, he became renowned for his skill of using light and shadow in his art. The Rembrandt House Museum is unfortunately in Amsterdam, but it is only a train ride away.
All of the buildings in Leiden are impressive. But one of the most prestigious buildings in Leiden is the University. The University hosted it’s regular professor Albert Einstein, as well as being the place where the pilgrims raised money to lease the leaky Mayflower. – The Leaky Mayflower was an English ship that transported the first English Puritans (Pilgrims) from Plymouth, England to the New World. This iconic account was a story of death and survival.
There is an abundance of things to do in Leiden. There are a plentiful amount of shops, museums and restaurants located down almost every street. Although a city popular among students. Leiden is a beautiful city that should be on the top of your list when visiting the Netherlands. You can’t help but feel bewitched by the tall buildings and the buzz of Leiden’s streets. Some of the top attractions in Leiden are; the Botanical gardens, Molen de Put (The windmill – you’ve come to Holland, you have to look at a windmill) and one of the many museums. – Every street you turn, another museum is present.
Leiden offers it’s visitors affordable entertainment, great transport links and an abundance of coffee. There is so much history to be enjoyed in this alluring city, it’s ideal for a day visit or a weekend away. But if you want to fit plenty in, I recommend a longer visit then 24 hours. If you have a chance to look around the University I would suggest it, as well as the botanical gardens – where students get in free.
Have you visited Leiden?
what do you love about this city?
Stay tuned: A city guide of Leiden coming soon!