About Leiden



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Leiden finds its roots way back into Roman times, it being one of the places from which the Limes (the Roman Rhine border) was defended with a cohort of soldiers in Camp Matilo.


During the 10th century, defense (for safe trade) moved itself to another location, strategically set between two arms of the Rhine. A motte was build, and its defense ring over the years developed from wood to stone. It became the first and foremost building in the far surroundings of Leiden and still exist to this very day. It now goes under the name of De Burcht and it is directly visible from the ISSA office.


Feudal law

Under feudal laws and the reign of Emperor Charlemagne (Germany) and his heirs, Leiden was christened and developed into a region governed by counts. From this era remains the impressive Gravesteen, another landmark that still is intact today. Subsequently Leiden built two grand cathedrals: De Hooglandse Kerk and the Pieter's Kerk.


Spanish Occupation

In the 15th century, the Low Countries (including Belgium) were partly invaded by Spain. Spain had first reclaimed its land from the Moors and soon after conquered much of Europe (and in due course, the Americas). The Low Countries were taken over as far as Breda.


Things changed drastically for Leiden when in 1573, prince William of Orange, steward of the Low Countries on behalf of King Philips II of Spain, rebelled against his king. Among other rebelling nobles and cities, Leiden joined the fray. They first spoke out in favor of the Reformation. Subsequently they faced the Spanish invasion of King Philips II, who tried to (re)submit Leiden and other rebelling cities to Spanish and catholic reign. Leiden was taken under siege by Spanish troops and cut of off vital life support for two months in 1573 and again in 1574 for nearly three months.


Near Submission

The city came close to submission, sacrificing 2/3rd of its people to starvation and cholera. But on the the 3rd of October 1574, a rebel army of mercenaries broke open all surrounding dikes. The entire Leiden area flooded and the Spanish fled. The mercenaries rowed in on low-keel barks and set the city free, feeding the survivors herring and white bread. Until this day, the 3rd of October is a local holiday, celebrated with exuberant festivities.

For their heroic defense, Leiden was rewarded the first university of the nation by
prince William of Orange. Since 1590, the university campus harbors the splendid Hortus Botanicus with a huge variation of exotic plants and trees. Also, a steady stream of famous scholars followed along its timeline. From Herman Boerhaave, who founded the Hortus Botanicus to philosophers René Descartes and Baruch Spinoza who found refuge here. There was Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek, inventor of the microscope, and of course Albert Einstein, who was key lector in Leiden for several years.


Golden Age

Winning back the Low Countries from occupant Spain, marked the beginning of the Golden Age in the Republic. During the 16th century, Leiden developed into one of its foremost cities, outgrowing Haarlem and Delft, and keeping up well with Amsterdam. This was largely due to its strategic position on the Rhine and its internationally acclaimed wool-making skills (Laken, a brand of fine jersey). The city notably made its mark by contributing great painters to its band of national fame, masters such as Rembrandt and Lucas van Leyden, who lived only pencil strokes away from their great contemporaries Vermeer (Delft) and Rubens (Antwerp).



In the 18th century Leiden's economic position suddenly declined. First it was the rise of a lesser quality French cloth that intervened. Next, it was the upcoming of cotton as primary fabric for clothes, and its cheap, slave driven, production in the Americas. Both changes cut deeply into the wool-business revenues.


On a national level, the country endured costly wars with England and was soon after invaded and reigned by Napoleon, who designated the Republic of the Netherlands to a vassal-kingdom and a source of revenue by taxes. After Napoleon’s defeat in the early 19th century, the nation was first restored to a Republic, but soon after became a Kingdom, reigned by the heirs of prince William of Orange.



Halfway through the 19th century the industrial revolution kicked off, and Leiden again took profit of its unique position alongside the Rhine. Many factories arose, from potteries to industrialized, fine whool factories, now again able to compete. Steadily, prosperity blossomed once more. But its position was not fully restored until the 1990s.


Current day

Leiden is now the city of entrepreneurs and creativity. But the greatest impulse was brought by establishing the international ‘Leiden Bio-Science Park,’ the ‘Silicon Valley’ of bio-medical developments and innovation. The city is looking at a bright future.


By inhabitants and visitors alike, Leiden is deeply appreciated for its historical center, which comprises the university buildings, unique and national landmarks, almshouses and over ten internationally acclaimed museums. All depicting the city’s notable history. The city has a low rate of unemployment and its people are the highest educated people in the Netherlands. No surprise then, that amongst Leiden scholars, there are no less then sixteen Nobel Prize winners.


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Shopping in the old center of Leiden

Leiden is excellent for shopping. Most of the shops are located in the area surrounding the 'Haarlemmerstraat', 'Breestraat', 'Lange Mare' and 'Nieuwe Rijn'. Here you’ll find both boutiques, jewelry and gift shops and the usual chains and affordable fashion houses. Do not forget to rest yourself on one of the many terraces alongside the Rhine for coffee, apple pie or a refreshment. This is what the Dutch themselves would do!


Do you like evening shopping? Thursday evening most shops are open until 9 PM, and on the last Sunday of the month the shops are open for more shopping opportunities. Some shops are open every Sunday, and opening hours extend in December. On Wednesdays and Saturdays there is a nice market on the Nieuwe Rijn.


Are you looking for a special shop or boutique? Do ask us for more information, we will do our best to help you find what you are looking for.


General opening hours:

Monday morning variable, in general open until 18.00.
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 9.00 - 18.00.
Thursday 9.00 - 21.00.
Sunday 12.00 – 17.00.

Practical info tab weight: 

News on the Keynote Speakers will follow soon!