Leiden is no coincidence
The story of Leiden is a continuum of development; one thing has led to the emergence and growth of another. The foundation of the university to safeguard academic freedom, the hospitable reception of religious and economic refugees, investing in attracting top level scientists as well as stimulating art and culture, these have all led to the emergence of knowledge centres like Leiden Bio Science Park and the world class collections in Leiden’s four national museums. The prosperity of the Golden Age resulted in art, canals and a monumental city centre that is uniquely historic and beautiful.
By the end of the 15th century Leiden was the largest city in the county of Holland. This was largely due to the international cloth-making industry. The economic tide began to turn with the advent of the 16th century, however. The reformation led to mass prosecution of Protestants. In 1572 Leiden joined the Dutch resistance against Spain's oppression. The city was occupied by the Spanish.
The people of Leiden succumbed to disease and starvation and the Spanish nearly conquered the city. However, they successfully drove the troops out on 3 October 1574. The great liberation, known as Leidens Ontzet or the Relief of Leyden, is still lavishly celebrated today. This huge party is not the only result of the Spanish occupation; the city also allegedly was given the university as a reward for its heroic resistance.
In 1575, Leiden had the distinction of becoming the first city in the northern Netherlands to have a university. Leiden University became one of the leading universities in Europe and the tremendous degree of freedom of conscience stimulated the school's growth. Leiden University also founded the Hortus botanicus as a medicinal herb garden. It was the start of the Medical department, from
which the LUMC eventually emerged. This medical research centre and its spin-offs have, in turn, brought forth the Bio Science Park.
The Relief of Leiden
The Relief marked the beginning of a new Golden Age. In 1577 tens of thousands of Dutch people from the south flocked to Leiden on account of their Calvinist faith. These were experienced textile workers and business people who helped revive the failing wool industry in Leiden with new products, techniques, capital and labour.
Leiden was the second largest city in the Republic after Amsterdam. The population quadrupled despite major plague epidemics. The city was expanded in 1611, 1644 and again in 1659 and the network of canals was laid out in its current incarnation. At the height of the boom around 1670 the city was densely populated by some 60,000 people.
Nowadays, the restored historic city centre is an especially pleasant place to live. With all of its monuments, museums, ancient alleyways, canals and moats, Leiden also continues to attract an increasing number of tourists and day visitors who appreciate the city's charms.