The History of Leiden


At the end of the 15th century, thanks to the international textile industry (mainly wool), Leiden was the biggest city of the Low Countries.

In the year 1572, Leiden joined the Dutch resistance against the Spanish occupation, only to be besieged by the Spaniards shortly after. According to legend, the former major Van der Werf offered his arm to the hungry population which entranced themselves within the curt walls. The Spaniards did not succeed in fully conquering Leiden, but it wasn’t until the 3rd of October 1574 when Leiden was completely liberated of the Spanish forces.

The 3rd of October became an annual liberation festival. A big part of this festival is the eating of herring, white bread and (originating surprisingly from Spain) mashed stew.

For their heroic opposition the University was donated to Leiden. This was the first University of the Northern Netherlands. It went on to become one of the most prominent universities of Europe. What followed were periods of both prosperity and adversity. After 1815 the scales tipped in prosperity’s favor; the resulting beautiful buildings and architecture from this period can still be found in Leiden. At the dawn of the 1980’s the polluting industries disappeared to make place for modern high-tech companies such as the Leiden Bio Science Park.

In beautiful downtown Leiden, with its monuments and museums, old alleys, almshouses, canals, mills and girths there is a lot to be discovered. Numerous artists, writers and scientists throughout the centuries were inspired by the city of Leiden and her surroundings. Next to Rembrandt, who was born in Leiden, Jan Steen, Jan Lievens, Gerrit Dou and many others from this era were all inspired by Leiden.

After the 17th century other great artists came forth from Leiden such as Theo van Doesburg, who in 1917 founded the Art Movement “De Stijl” in his studio at the Galgewater. Leiden, with its city greens, canals and the 17th century streets, offers her visitors a versatile retrospect in its history, art and culture.