Leiden – the city where the first Dutch tulip blossomed
Leiden is the city where our worldfamous painter Rembrandt van Rijn was born, where the oldest university of the Netherlands is located and where the very first Dutch tulip blossomed.
But above all, Leiden is a beautiful city with streets, lanes and little squares where it feels like time stood still for some centuries.
Traditionally Leiden is famous as a student city. Not so strange if you know that in 1575 the first university of Holland was established in this city. It was named Leiden University and it was founded by Willem van Oranje. He is the ancestor of our royal Dutch family. Our present king, his mother and his grandmother (our former queens) all have studied at Leiden University.
The university is located at the Rapenburg. This street is considered the most beautiful street of Leiden. Some people even consider it the most beautiful street of Holland. Whether this is true or not is a matter of taste. However, fact is that the royal students all lived at the Rapenburg street during their study. At this street many old distinguised monumental buildings can be found. Besides Leiden University, the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (Dutch National Museum of Antiquities), the Japanmuseum Sieboldhuis and the Hortus Botanicus are located in this street as well.
The Hortus Botanicus is founded in 1590. Leiden University wanted a garden at their university, in order for their medical students to be able to study medicinal plants. In 1594 Carolus Clusius became professor at the university and director of the botanical garden. It was Clusius who would play a very important role in spreading the tulip over Europe.
First Dutch tulip blossomed in Leiden
Clusius received some tulipbulbs from the Austrian ambassador of the Ottoman Empire. He planted the bulbs in the botanical garden. A few months later the first tulip of Holland/Western Europe blossomed in the hortus botanicus of Leiden. The tulip became a highly desired and costly object among collectors and traders. It even led to the Tulip mania, where you could buy a canal house in Amsterdam for the price of one tulip bulb (!). The mania reached its peak in 1637, after which the tulip bulb market collapsed. Nowadays the tulip is our national pride and one of our main export goods.
Rembrandt van Rijn
Rembrandt van Rijn, one of our most famous painters, almost studied at the University Leiden. His parents signed him up at the age of 14. However, since Rembrandt told his parents he would rather become a painter instead of becoming a student, it remained by signing up.
On July 15, 1606 Rembrandt was born in Leiden. He grew up in this city and painted his earliest work here. Around 1625 Rembrandt opened a studio where he worked together with other painters. From 1627 he accepted pupils. In 1631 he left Leiden and started working and living in Amsterdam.
The birth house of Rembrandt – in the Weddesteeg – does not exist anymore. Only a panel on one of the houses, marks the place where Rembrandt’s birth house used to be located. The tourist office of Leiden has put together a special Rembrandt walk, in which all the authentic Rembrandt locations can be visited. You can get the hiking route at the official tourist office of the city (see link below), which is located near the trainstation.
Leiden is a city with many museums, monuments and sightseeing. For dinosaur lovers it is worth to mention that since the September 10, 2016 the skeleton of a real Tyrannosaurus Rex is permanently exhibited in museum Naturalis. This is the first T-rex to be admired outside the USA and is in the top 3 of most complete T-rex skeletons ever found.
Another attraction absolutely worth mentioning is De Burght, which is a round green hill surrounded by a fortification wall. It is located on a hill in the centre of Leiden and gives a spectacular view over the city.
At the tourist office you can get any information on sightseeings, monuments and museums, as well as hiking routes. However, besides the many monuments, museums and other attractions, I almost forget to mention that Leiden also is a bustling city with very nice shops and many terraces, bars and pubs. Leiden has so much to offer, a one day visit will not be enough.