Amito Haarhuis about the Museum of the Year 2019

3 June 2019

‘This is one of the most important scientific and medical history collections in the world.’ That is what The Times wrote about Rijksmuseum Boerhaave, one of Leiden’s national museums. And I couldn’t agree more. My name is Amito Haarhuis and I am the Director of this beautiful treasure house on science and medicine in the historical heart of Leiden. It is a pleasure to give you a short introduction to our museum.

What is our museum about?

The renovated and newly designed museum offers young and old a peek into the fascinating world of science. The collections of Rijksmuseum Boerhaave reflect five centuries of the history of science in the Netherlands and includes the microscopes of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, the first pendulum clock by Christiaan Huygens, the oldest heliocentric planetarium in the world, anatomical preparations and objects relating to Dutch Nobel Prize laureates.

The monumental building

Approaching the building from the street, it is not immediately obvious that Rijksmuseum Boerhaave is located in a magnificent monument with a rich history. Originally built as St Caecilia’s Convent in 1440, the building next sheltered the city’s plague victims and the mentally afflicted. The building then went on to become the first academic hospital in Northern Europe as St Caecilia’s Hospital. Some three hundred years ago, Herman Boerhaave instructed his students here at his patients’ bedside.

Herman Boerhaave

Herman Boerhaave was born 350 years ago and became one of the leading scientists in Europe. He was an allrounder: a skilled physician, anatomist, botanist, chemist, humanist and researcher. Herman Boerhaave had a great reputation as a teacher at the University of Leiden and for a long time held three of the five chairs in its Faculty of Medicine. He also was Rector of the University of Leiden and Director of the Hortus botanicus.

European Museum of the Year 2019

At Rijksmuseum Boerhaave you get to discover more about the most important inventions from the history of science in the Netherlands. Which scientists were behind them and what is the impact of their discoveries on our lives? The new museum won the prestigious European Museum of the Year Award 2019. The museum route takes you through several themes. Let me briefly introduce them to you.

Anatomical Theatre

This is the only anatomical theatre in the Netherlands. It is a replica of Leiden University’s Anatomical Theatre built in 1594. A fascinating and engaging multimedia show is an interesting introduction on our museum and takes you through five centuries of science history.

anatomisch theater rijksmuseum boerhaave 1

Golden Age

Here everything revolves around new notions of heaven and earth and the overwhelming explosion of knowledge that took place in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century. You will come across top pieces such as the world’s oldest heliocentric planetarium, maps by Blaeu, nature drawings by Maria Sibylla Merian and of course Antoni van Leeuwenhoek’s microscope.

Sickness & Health

Learn more about innovations in medicine: from bloodletting to blood transfusions and from amputations to complex transplants. Marvel at the very first artificial kidney and iron lung. Follow the developments in childbirth. And join us in thinking about the dilemmas facing the world of medicine tomorrow.

Great Collections

Scientists compiled marvellous collections in the eighteenth century. Relish exquisite plants and animals from far-away countries and magnificent projections from rare and valuable books. Here you will see how the predecessors of Google and Wikipedia went about their business.

gouden eeuw rijksmuseum boerhaave fotot mike bink

Water, Electricity & Data

Water plays an important role in our history. According to an old Dutch saying: ‘God created the world, but the Dutch created the Netherlands.’ Here you step into the world of engineering and let historical objects and instructive interactive games guide you on your way. How do we pump polders dry? What can you do with electrical current? How ultrafast is the quantum computer?

Big Questions

Einstein’s search, that of Dutch Nobel Prize Winners of the past and pioneering scientists of the present lead to new discoveries about our brain, our place in the universe and the workings of our DNA. Curiosity knows no boundaries and today’s answers yield tomorrow’s questions.

Temporary Exhibitions

We currently have an exhibition on Herman Boerhaave and the Golden Age of science. Around 1700, the Netherlands was one of the richest countries in Europe. This wealth contributed to a golden age of science, in which a scholar like Boerhaave could develop his talents. Our other temporary exhibition is on the entire collection of handwritten letters by Albert Einstein. Including his fountain pen that he used when writing his general theory of relativity and gravity. And the telegram that the Leiden professor Hendrik Lorentz sent to Einstein in 1919, when the observations of the solar eclipse by the British astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington proved that Einstein was right.

Fun for kids

The museum received the Kids Proof Award 2019, and not without reason. The museum includes many interactive exhibits. And there is more. Visit our Treasure Island Boerhaave and join us on a journey of discovery in the Golden Age. Come and play in our open-air water playground Waterland in spring and summer. And we offer fun workshops during school holidays.


Your visit

Do come and visit us at the Lange St. Agnietenstraat 10 (this is right behind the shopping street, Haarlemmerstraat) . The new parking garage at the Lammermarkt is only 400 meters away. In general, all information in the museum is in Dutch and English and in the weekends we offer tours in English, if you wish. Please let us know in advance, so that we can plan a tour guide for you. We will be more than happy to receive you.

We look forward to welcoming you,

Amito Haarhuis, Director Rijksmuseum Boerhaave
Lange St. Agnietenstraat 10