Recently, I had the pleasure of spending three days in beautiful Leiden. Cities such as Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam are known world-wide but it is the smaller cities such as Delft, Gouda and Leiden that have really captured my heart.
What a gorgeous city full of so much history! Due to it’s location on the Old Rhine river, by the end of the 15th century, Leiden was the largest city in the county of the Netherlands. The city then made the decision to side with the Dutch revolt against the Spanish and played a very important role in the 80 Years’ War. The Spanish invaded the city and the people of Leiden succumbed to disease and starvation. However, they were able to successfully drive the Spanish troops out on 3 October 1574 by cutting the dikes, enabling more Dutch ships to come in, carrying extra provisions. The great liberation, known as Leiden’s Ontzet or the Relief of Leiden is still celebrated today. Every year on 3 October, Leiden becomes one big city-wide party.
This huge annual party since 1574 is not the only result of their win over the Spanish; legend has it, the city was also given the university as a reward for it’s heroic resistance. The university of Leiden, founded by Willem van Oranje, is the oldest university in the Netherlands (Einstein was a regular professor!). This university remains to be one of the top leading universities in Europe. The Hortus Botanicus, the oldest botanical gardens in the Netherlands, is situated next to the University of Leiden. This is where the first tulip bulbs in the Netherlands bloomed (in 1593)!
The Burcht van Leiden is an old fort in Leiden constructed on top of a hill in the 11th century, used to protect the city. It is located at the spot where two parts of the Rhine come together, the Oude Rijn and the Nieuwe Rijn. The structure is now open to the public and offers an amazing view over the city.
Leiden is also the birthplace of Rembrandt, and the city is very proud of this fact.
When you visit Leiden, you will also notice the motif of two red keys all over the city on many buildings and walls etc. Leiden is therefore fondly known as the City of Keys. This dates back to 1293 when official city documents had a wax city seal on them, depicting Saint Peter carrying a key. A well-known church in Leiden today carries his name, the Pieterskerk. It is a magnificent church to visit and the University of Leiden graduation ceremonies are also held here each year.
Right near the entrance to this church (also known as the church of the Pilgrim Fathers), a sweet little hofje (almshouse) is located which was founded in 1655 for widows or the poor to live in. It is still used for this purpose today. Up until 1625, John Robinson lived here (the pastor of the “Pilgrim Fathers” who became one of the early leaders of the English Separatists is regarded (along with Robert Browne) as one of the founders of the Congregational Church).
Strangely enough, Leiden is one of the very few cities in the Netherlands that doesn’t actually have a town square. But this doesn’t affect it’s charm at all. Every cobble stoned street, every church and picturesque canal is enchanting (the fact that the sun was shining for my entire visit may have helped a little). This coupled with the fact that the nightlife is fueled by a 23,000-strong student population, makes Leiden a city to add to your bucket list.