Haec Libertatis Ergo - “For the sake of liberty” proudly stands under the coat of arms of the city of Leiden since the Eighty Years' War of independence against Spain (1568-1648).
In the first difficult part of that long struggle, that in fact created this country, Leiden played a heroic part. Besieged, starved, but never surrendered.
Of course, all this happened a long, long time ago. But even so, the liberation on October 3, 1574, AND the food supplies that came with it, are still remembered each year. With a popular feast, and by eating the same kind of stew as was found on that day in an hastily abandoned enemy position. So says the story.
Here's a link to a recipe of that Leiden stew.
For sure, if you're interested in history and culture, Leiden is one of the best places to visit in Holland.
In Roman times the river Rhine was the border of the Empire, and that river still flows through Leiden. Or better, two old branches of the Rhine meet here ; this country is a delta ! So there was a Roman fort. Not in today's centre, but a bit upstream.
A visit to the fabulous RMO, the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities, will tell you all about that, and much more.
Many more fine museums and historical places to visit in Leiden.
See official Leiden tourist office : visitleiden.nl.
One of my favourite spots is the 1000-year old "motte", sort of a predecessor of a castle. Like this one on the tapestry of Bayeux (around 1077).
Especially interesting for Americans is the link Leiden has with the story of the Pilgrims, who lived here before sailing to the other side of the ocean. I can recommend the cosy Pilgrim Museum.
Another country that has a special historical relation with Leiden is Japan. Partly because of Leiden university, the oldest in the country. Wonderful Japanese art and artefacts in this town, like in the museum SieboldHuis.
A famous native of Leiden is Rembrandt van Rijn. He was born, raised, and started working as a painter here. Before leaving for the place where the big money was : Amsterdam. See also page Old Church - Rembrandt and Saskia.
The picture below, with the bridge over the Rhine and the windmill, that's just around the corner from where Rembrandt was born. His father was a miller on a windmill like this one. It does not exist anymore, but the mill was located on the left side of this bridge, opposite the present windmill.
You can compare with the map below, of 1652. The river flowing through the town. On the left, at the city ramparts, there's a similar narrow bridge with windmills on either side. On the lower side of the bridge, that's the windmill of Rembrandt's father. His house of birth is long gone, demolished in 1835 as Rembrandt was absolutely not valued then. But the view must have been a bit similar in his days.
A train ride from Amsterdam to Leiden is about half hour. Schiphol Airport to Leiden 20 minutes. Check Train timetables. From Leiden Central Station it's a short walk into the old town.
More pictures of Leiden on page Leiden Photo.
If you would like to discover unexpected places in Leiden, and hear more on the history of the Netherlands, how about a private history walk ?