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History of Leiden

Leiden historical map

Leiden historical map

The city of Leiden, located in South Holland, Netherlands is steeped in a rich history. For one, it is and has been a university city for well over 400 years. In fact, the oldest university in all of the Netherlands is indeed located in Leiden and aptly named what else? Leiden University. As with much of Europe, Leiden has seen its share of takeovers and wars throughout the centuries.

For one, in the 11th century, Roman emperor Henry III sacked Leiden. The city was also the scene of civil war strife in the beginning of the 13th century between Ada, Countess of Holland and her uncle, William I, who was the Count of Holland. William I eventually prevailed.

Although granted cityhood in 1266, Leiden still saw its share of catastrophic events throughout the centuries, most notably during what became known as the Siege of 1420. For a time not only Leiden, but the entire country was under Spanish rule.

The end of the 15th century saw Leiden flourish in many ways. Weaving establishments along with publishing and printing concerns boomed. And during this time Leiden took sides with the Dutch revolt seeking to get out from under Spanish rule. Due to the crucial role they played in the Eighty Years’ War, they were rewarded by William I of Orange with the University of Leiden, the first in all the Netherlands.

What many people are also amazed to discover is that Leiden is where the Pilgrims lived in the early 1600’s before making their legendary journey to Massachusetts and New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island. For a time during what was known as the Dutch Golden Era, only Amsterdam itself was bigger than Leiden city wise.

Even with all this good fortune that was bestowed upon Leiden, it was not without tragedy. In 1807, a boat loaded with over 17,000 kilograms of gunpowder exploded right in the middle of the city. This resulted in 151 deaths, more than 2000 injuries and over 200 homes destroyed. In 1886 the site of the explosion, after years of nothing being built on it was turned into a park for the public.

Leiden has prospered in many ways since then and is a city rich in culture as well as history. Every year on October 3 a very popular festival takes place which commemorates the end of Spanish rule in 1574. Yes indeed, Leiden is a university city through and through, but there is also a whole lot more to it as well.