Leeuwarden, Netherlands


Leeuwarden (Stadsfries and Stellingwerfs: Liwwadden or Leewadden; Frisian: Ljouwert Bildts: Luwt) is a city in the north of the Netherlands and the capital of the province of Friesland, the capital of the municipality of Leeuwarden with the same name and one of the oldest cities in the Northern Netherlands.

Important sectors in the city are financial and business services, government and the non-profit sector. The city is the largest of the Frisian eleven cities. In 2020 the city had 93,485 inhabitants. The town also includes the hamlet of Vierhuis and a part of the hamlet of Groote Bontekoe. Various other places have also been included in Leeuwarden, such as the former village of Huizum and the former hamlet of Schilkampen. In the agglomeration, the city has 151,812 inhabitants (as of 2020).




Leeuwarden's history dates back to Roman times. At that time people already lived on the spot where the Oldehove now stands. Leeuwarden originated on mounds that were raised on an inlet of the Middelzee that silted up and was reclaimed in the 13th century. The rivers Ee, Vliet and Potmarge flowed into the sea at these mounds.

The name Leeuwarden first appears in a deed of donation from the 8th century. In this document from the Abbey of Fulda one speaks of villa Lintarwde.

The inhabitants of the mound were engaged in agriculture, fishing and shipping. Leeuwarden was conveniently located by the sea and maintained trade contacts with other trading places such as L├╝beck and with the Baltic Sea countries. Three settlements arose on the mounds: Oldehove, Nijehove and Hoek.

Oldehove, which was traditionally a courtyard of Corvey Abbey in Germany, already had a church dedicated to St. Vitus in the mid-twelfth century. In deeds from the fourteenth century, the St. Vitus Church of Oldehove is mentioned under the name Liiewardensis.

The oldest parish church in Leeuwarden was located in Oldehove. That is why Oud-Leeuwarden was also called Nijehove, because of the newer church. Oud-Leeuwarden, or Nijehove, was already referred to as a city in a German trade deed in 1285.

Hoek was the smallest of these settlements and was partly owned by the noble Cammingha family. They had a stins here and had also founded a church there. Six documents have been preserved about the creation of the city of Leeuwarden, two of which concern the association of Leeuwarden that took place on January 21, 1435. Nine years earlier there was already an official decision to merge. Before Oud-Leeuwarden was merged with Oldehove and Hoek, it already had city canals.

Between 1200 and 1300 the Middelzee silted up and trade declined due to the lack of a port. The emphasis of trade was then placed more on the nearby region. In 1392, the surrounding grietenijen (municipalities) granted the magistrate of the city high jurisdiction.


City rights

In 1435, the same year that Oldehove, Nijehove and Hoek were merged into one city, Leeuwarden, Leeuwarden received city rights.

The fifteenth century was dominated by the struggle between Schieringers and Vetkopers. In general, the cities and the countryside rallied behind the Schieringers. Leeuwarden was the stronghold of the Vetkopers. The party struggle led to the construction of new defenses. The internally divided Friesland was subdued around 1500 by Albrecht van Saksen.

In 1523 the prominent rebel leader and pirate Wijerd Jelckama and the last surviving members of the Arumer Zwarte Hoop (also known as Gelderland Frisians) were beheaded in Leeuwarden. The death of Jelckama, who was the nephew of Grote Pier, marked an end in a long period of Frisian uprisings since 1515.

After the subjugation by Albrecht van Saksen, Leeuwarden became the seat of the Hof van Friesland, which dealt with administration and justice. In 1571 this college was given its own accommodation, the Chancellery. At the same time ecclesiastical authority was also established in Leeuwarden. The St. Vitus Church became the seat of the Dean and the most important church in Friesland. All lords and stadholders were inaugurated in this church. In 1559 Leeuwarden was elevated to the seat of the bishop of the newly founded diocese of Leeuwarden. Cunerus Petri, the only bishop, was briefly imprisoned during the Calvinist takeover of power and then left Friesland for good. The St. Vitus Church was demolished in the years 1595 and 1596 due to extensive dilapidation.



The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were a golden age for Leeuwarden. Leeuwarden gained prestige because for centuries it became the residence of the Nassaus who became stadtholder of the northern provinces from 1584, until they left the city in 1747. The Nassaus lived in the Stadhouderlijk Hof with their court, now the building functions as a hotel. In these centuries the city also flourished. The number of inhabitants increased from 5,000 around the year 1500 to 16,000 in 1650. This was partly because Leeuwarden in the Republic was relatively easy to reach. At the time there were ferry services to Groningen, via the Dokkumer Ee and the Stroobosser Trekvaart and Amsterdam via Harlingen across the Zuiderzee. With places that were closer, much trade was done by means of narrow sailing ships. At the time, tow barges that were pulled ashore by horses left from Leeuwarden to Harlingen, Bolsward, Sneek and Dokkum four times a day.


Golden Age

The Golden Age was also a time when the nobility arose in Leeuwarden. The Eewal, Grote Kerkstraat, Nieuwestad, Tweebaksmarkt and the Weaze were the most elegant streets in Leeuwarden at the time. Rich noble families such as Van Martena, Van Aylva, Van Camstra and Van Burmania lived here. Leeuwarden was then one of the ten most important cities in the Netherlands. Beautiful buildings such as the Chancellery (where justice was held), the Stadhouderlijk Hof and the Waag (as the center of trade) bear witness to this.

The prosperous Leeuwarden had to be protected against enemies. To this end, the city was provided with a moat and walls all around. These defenses were later, when they became redundant, demolished or turned into a park. Except for those of the Nieuwestad, Voorstreek, the Gardens, the Weaze and the northern part of the Schavernek, the canals in the city center have all been filled in. The canals that have been filled in include those of Eewal, Tweebaksmarkt, Nieuweburen, Grote Kerkstraat, the Vliet and De Oude Herengracht (Zaailand). In the nineteenth century the first neighborhoods arose outside the city canal.

Jews moved to Leeuwarden from the first half of the 17th century. The number of Jews in Leeuwarden grew to about 1,200 in the 19th century. A Jewish congregation was officially established in 1754 and the first synagogue was built in 1755. Later a new building was built on the same site, Synagogue Leeuwarden. In 1980 a third synagogue was inaugurated because the second turned out to be too large for the small Jewish community that still exists in Leeuwarden.


19th and 20th century

In the nineteenth century, the city's connections were improved. In 1827 the empire started building roads from Leeuwarden to Overijssel and to Groningen, Harlingen, Sneek and Lemmer. In addition, the old barge canals were deepened and improved. In 1863 the rail connection between Leeuwarden and Harlingen was built. Soon after, the lines with Zwolle, Groningen and Sneek were established.

Part of the municipality of Leeuwarderadeel was annexed in 1944, resulting in an additional 16,000 inhabitants in Leeuwarden. In 1951, on Kneppelfreed (Club Friday), Leeuwarden was the scene of the 'battle of the Zaailand', a historical benchmark in the Frisian language struggle.