Leiden is a city which lies at sea level elevation with
a population of around 120,000 inhabitants in the province of South Holland.
It is situated on the Oude Rijn (Old Rhine) river, a 52km (32¼ miles) branch
of the Rhine, and is located 16km (10 miles) north-east of Den Haag and 36km
(22¼ miles) south-west of Amsterdam. The city lies at what has traditionally
been an important junction where waterways and roads cross and will enchant
all who visit. The city is famous for its almshouses, university, museums and
glorious history. The spirit of the Golden Age lives on here, a place where
artist Rembrandt (1606-1669) was born and inspired so many other influential
painters. But even after this era, Leiden continued to attract scientists,
artists and industry. The canals, the historical buildings, the alleyways, the
treasuries of knowledge, culture and science in Leiden are definitely worth a
the end of the 15th century, Leiden was the largest city in the county of
Holland. This was largely due to the international cloth-making industry.
However, the economic tide began to turn with the advent of the 16th century.
The reformation led to mass prosecution of Protestants and in 1572, Leiden
joined the Dutch resistance against Spain's oppression. The people of Leiden
succumbed to disease and starvation and the Spanish nearly conquered the city.
However, they successfully drove the troops out on 3rd October 1574. The great
liberation, known as Leidens Ontzet (Relief of Leiden), is still lavishly
celebrated today. This huge party is not the only result of the Spanish
occupation but also that the city was allegedly given the university as a
reward for its heroic resistance.
Leiden's west gate, was constructed in 1669
and was originally used as a prison
The Relief marked the beginning of a new
Golden Age. In 1577, tens of thousands of Dutch people from the south flocked
to Leiden on account of their Calvinist faith. These were experienced textile
workers and business people who helped revive the failing wool industry in
Leiden with new products, techniques, capital and labour and Leiden became the
second largest city after Amsterdam. Despite major plague epidemics, the
population quadrupled resulting in the city being expanded in 1611, 1644 and
again in 1659, when the network of canals was laid out in its current
incarnation. At the height of the boom around 1670, the city was densely
populated by some 60,000 people. After Amsterdam, Leiden is the city with the
most canals with the city’s historic centre having more than 28km (17¼ miles)
of canals and waterways. To cross all these waterways, you obviously need
bridges, and Leiden has no less than 88!
The city’s wool industry was steadily
declining in the 18th century with work drying up and people moving elsewhere.
This downturn caused by the failing wool industry led to unrest and the
ongoing war waged by Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) only aggravated the
situation. The final straw came when Leiden was struck by catastrophic
disaster. On 12th January 1807, a ship loaded with 17,400kg (38,360lb) of
gunpowder exploded in the middle of Leiden, killing 151 persons. Over 2000
others were injured and some 220 homes were destroyed. King Louis Bonaparte
(1778-1846) personally visited the city to provide assistance to the victims.
Although located in the centre of the city, the area destroyed remained empty
for many years, with the space eventually turned into a public park in 1886.
After 1815, the city began to show signs of recovery once more when Leiden's
industry began to diversify during the second half of the century with
emerging new sectors such as metal, printing and canning. Leiden underwent a
dramatic transformation during the last 30 years of the 20th century. In the
1960s, it was a rundown industrial city with the university as its main claim
to fame. By the early 1980s, the industries had disappeared, and unemployment
was rampant. However, the city managed to again bounce back by tapping into