Leiden is a city and municipality in the northwest of the Dutch province of South Holland. The Oude Rijn flows through Leiden before it flows into the sea a little further on.

Thanks to the cloth industry, Leiden was one of the largest cities in the Northern Netherlands from the late Middle Ages to the 17th century. Today, with 123,655 inhabitants (August 1, 2020) by population, it is the fourth largest municipality in South Holland, after Rotterdam, The Hague and Zoetermeer. Leiden is the center of an agglomeration and urban region including Katwijk.

Leiden is known as a student city; it has the oldest university in the Netherlands. In addition, it is a tourist attraction, thanks to nationally known museums and the old town with canals, monumental buildings and courtyards. The nickname is the Key City, referring to the keys in the city's coat of arms.


The name Leithon first appears in the goods list of the St. Martin Church in Utrecht, which was drawn up between 777 and 866. The old spelling was Leyden. A popular but incorrect explanation for the name Leiden is that it is derived from the Roman settlement Lugdunum Batavorum. In reality, that settlement was not near Leiden, but near Katwijk. This explanation dates back to 1500, when a renewed interest in Roman times arose in the Renaissance.

Later linguistic research revealed that the name is derived from an Old Dutch strong noun leitha that became part of Middle Dutch as a result of attrition of inflexion. Nowadays we are used to making a sharp distinction between natural and dug watercourses - the latter we commonly call canals. In reality, the difference is gradual. As far back as the Middle Ages, a great deal of tinkering and tinkering was done on the course of rivers, for example by cutting bends to facilitate drainage or navigation. A summary term for such partly or completely dug or dug watercourses is the word lede, which originally has the same root as the plural unfinished tense of 'suffering', in the sense of 'going' as in (water) corridor. We find this 'party' in many place names: Leerdam ('dam in the party'), Haarlemmerliede ('party in the direction of Haarlem'), Schipluiden ('party navigating with ships') and, for example, Westerlee ('western party party').

Bent in dative pluralis one obtains from leitha then leithon, and the meaning thus becomes at the (dative) + waters (plural). This meaning is in keeping with the situation of old Leiden, which was not located on a single river or watering, but on the left bank of the Rhine, opposite where the Mare flows into the Rhine, which flows from east to west, while the Mare de waterway to the North.

Coat of arms and flag
The Leiden coat of arms consists of a white or silver shield with two crossed red keys. The coat of arms refers to Saint Peter, the patron saint of the city and namesake of the main church, the Pieterskerk. Peter is said to have received the keys of heaven from Jesus and is thus in the view of the Roman Catholic Church the founder of the papacy, that is to say that, after the ascension of Jesus, he was his vicar (not: substitute) on Earth, as well as subsequent popes. That is why keys comparable to those of Leiden appear in the coat of arms of the Vatican.

The official coat of arms of Leiden was established by Royal Decree of January 25, 1950. It shows a fighting red lion on a fortress wall with the Latin motto "Haec libertatis ergo" (This for the sake of freedom), which refers to the time of the Dutch resistance against the Spaniards in the sixteenth century. The lion's left claw rests on a silver shield with two crossed red keys. In his right claw is a raised silver sword with gold hilt.

The flag of Leiden, with a ratio of 3: 2, consists of three equal horizontal stripes in the colors red-white-red. On the side of the flagpole is a white circle containing the two crossed red keys from the coat of arms. The flag was adopted by the city council in 1949.

The city originated as a dike village on the south side opposite an artificial hill at the confluence of the Old and New Rhine. The oldest mention of this, around 860, mentions the then village of Leithon. The castle located on this hill initially housed a feudalist of the bishop of Utrecht, but around 1100 the castle came into the hands of the count of Holland. The favorably located settlement received confirmation of the earlier granted city rights in 1266 and with its flourishing cloth industry developed into one of the largest cities in the county of Holland. In 1389, when the population had grown to about 4000, the city had to be expanded with the district between Rapenburg (previously the southern edge of the city) and the Witte Singel.

During the Hoekse and Kabeljauwse disputes Leiden was besieged several times, the city was conquered in 1420 by Duke John of Bavaria and in 1481 by Emperor Maximilian. On March 1, 1512, the more than 100 meters high tower of the Pieterskerk collapsed in a storm. The tower, one of the tallest in the Netherlands, was never rebuilt.

Despite all these troubles, Leiden had grown by 1514 into by far the largest city in Holland, with about 14,000 inhabitants. Subsequently, stagnation occurred due to, among other things, competition from the rural industry, which supplied cheaper textiles than the Leiden guilds.


In 1572 the city sided with the anti-Spanish revolt. The Spanish Governor Requesens besieged the city in 1574. About a third of the 15,000 inhabitants lost their lives during the siege. After the siege was repulsed - the relief of Leiden on 3 October 1574 - the city was given the first university in the Netherlands in 1575 with Leiden University. The statement given in many sources that Stadholder William of Orange thus expressed his gratitude to the people of Leiden is somewhat questionable. Willem had a political / administrative reason for the establishment of a university: the need for well-educated faithful. The university's motto is Praesidium Libertatis, which means 'stronghold of freedom'.

In the 17th century the city flourished again, thanks to the impetus that refugees from the Southern Netherlands gave to the cloth industry with their knowledge of techniques for making lighter cloth. In 1622 the city had grown to 45,000 inhabitants and by 1670 it even reached a number of nearly 70,000. In the Golden Age, Leiden was the second largest city in the Netherlands after Amsterdam. Population growth made the construction of new canals and canals necessary. The current center of Leiden, recognizable by its single pattern, was completed in 1659.

In the 18th century the textile industry fell into decline, due to protectionist measures in France and wages, which had to be relatively high in the province of Holland due to the cost of living. The result was a steady decline in the population of Leiden, which had fallen to 30,000 at the end of the 18th century and would reach a low of 27,000 around 1815.

On January 12, 1807, the Leiden gunpowder disaster took place, in which about 150 civilians were killed. King Louis Napoleon personally visited the city to coordinate aid to the victims. The Van der Werfpark and the Kamerlingh Onnes Laboratory were later built on the site of the "ruin" caused by the explosion.

In 1842 the railway to Haarlem, very important for Leiden, was put into use. In 1866 the city was hit by the last major epidemic (cholera). This led to the start of the construction of the new Academic Hospital in 1868. In 1883 not only Leiden, but also the rest of the Netherlands, was startled by the news of the arrest of Maria Swanenburg, nicknamed Goeie Mie, a poison mixer who had killed at least 27 victims in a few years. Partly thanks to the railroad, the desolate socio-economic situation had improved in the 19th century, but the population had still not risen far above 50,000 by 1900. It was not until 1896 that Leiden began to expand beyond the 17th-century canals.

During the Second World War, Leiden was severely hit by Allied bombing. The area surrounding the station and the Marewijk (nowadays the area around the Schuttersveld and Schipholweg) were almost completely razed to the ground. The historic center was spared.

Leiden today presents itself primarily as a center of scientific knowledge and new technology. In addition, tourism also plays an increasingly important role in this historic fortified city.

Leiden has its own canon. The Leiden Canon tells the history of Leiden on the basis of 35 important historical topics.



Leiden has more than 1,250 national monuments, 1,550 municipal monuments, 4,550 iconic buildings and 2 archaeological monuments. The center within the canals is the second largest historic city center in the Netherlands and also designated as a protected cityscape. Since 2011, Leiden has also had a second protected cityscape: the southern shell.

The historical center is formed by the Burcht van Leiden, a motte-and-bailey castle at the confluence of two arms of the Rhine. There is an extensive canal belt around the Burcht, with a total of 88 bridges within the canal. The Leidse Loper is a walk along 24 historical sights in the center of Leiden.

Two of the most important civil buildings are located on Breestraat: the Town Hall, adorned by the widest Renaissance facade in the Netherlands, and the Gemeenlandshuis van Rijnland, which for a long time housed the Rijnland water board. Still other buildings bear witness to the industrial and commercial history of the city, such as the Waag, the Koornbrug and a few dozen monumental weavers' houses. One weaver's house can be viewed from the inside as a museum. The university has also left a visible mark on the city center over the centuries. Noteworthy are the Academy Building at the Rapenburg, with behind it the Hortus Botanicus and the visitor center of the Old Observatory, and the Kamerlingh Onnes Building of the Faculty of Law at the Steenschuur.

The two largest churches are the Pieterskerk, the largest church building in Leiden, and the Hooglandse Kerk, the largest church in Leiden still in use. The Marekerk (1649) is located on the Lange Mare. The design of this church (1639) follows that of a domed church; an octagonal central building with benches around the pulpit. Although this church is now the oldest church in Holland built for Protestant worship, that honor actually goes to the domed church of Willemstad (1607), which at that time belonged to the county of Holland. The church was designed by Arent van 's-Gravesande. There are also the Heilige Lodewijkkerk, the first Catholic church in Leiden built after the Reformation, and the Hartebrugkerk, also known as the Coeli church by the people of Leiden, a catholic water management church in neoclassical style.

Within and outside the center, Leiden has nine windmills, 35 courtyards and two city gates: the Morspoort on the northwest side and the Zijlpoort on the northeast side of the city center. The Doelenpoort is located within the canal belt and served as the gateway to the training grounds of the Leidse Schutterij. There are a number of war memorials in the city.

The approximately 6.5 km long outer canal belt of Leiden (the canal pattern) is still completely intact. The former walls and bulwarks now mainly serve as green areas. There are parks, old cemeteries and the Witte Singel runs around the hortus botanicus and the Observatory. The Zijlsingel is characterized by the Meelfabriek complex which, together with the former "Lichtfabriek" on the Langegracht, is one of the few remaining major monuments of the city's industrial past.

Leiden is home to a number of important museums:
Royal Museum of Antiquities
Museum of Ethnology
Rijksmuseum Boerhaave (history of science)
Municipal Museum De Lakenhal (visual art and history)
Hortus botanicus Leiden, the oldest botanical garden in the Netherlands
SieboldHuis, the first worldwide Japan collection
Textile Research Center
Leiden American Pilgrim Museum

Film, music, theater and art
With the Trianon on the Breestraat and Lido on the Steenstraat, Leiden has two cinemas where the larger film productions are screened. There is also a movie house: Het Kijkhuis on the Vrouwenkerksteeg. The Leiden Film Festival is organized every year at the end of October.

The Stadsgehoorzaal on Breestraat is the main concert hall. Since 2009, it has been expanded with a new hall on Aalmarkt.

The largest theater location is the Leidse Schouwburg on the Oude Vest from 1705, the oldest theater in the Netherlands. Other locations for theater, dance and visual arts are the Imperium Theater and the Scheltema Complex.

In Leiden, various statues, sculptures and objects have been placed in public space, such as the Liberation Monument. As part of the "Dicht op de Muur" project, the TEGEN-BEELD foundation has depicted 101 poems on just as many Leiden walls. It concerns various poems in many languages, which pay attention to the international character of the city. An important event in the field of performing arts is the Leids Cabaret Festival, which has been organized since 1978.


Well-known, Leiden-born artists include DJs Armin van Buuren and Joost van Bellen, cabaret performer Jochem Myjer, Zangeres Zonder Naam and Catapult / Rubber Robbie. Leiden also has a number of music bands such as Xenomorph, Leidse Sleutelgaten, Sneu! and the children's choir De Leidse Sleuteltjes.

Leiden has several major music bands, including Kunst en Genoegen (K&G), which has won several world championships.

As a book city, Leiden has a number of important libraries:
Bibliotheca Thysiana, since 1655
Leiden University Library, the oldest University Library in the Netherlands
the Libraries Leiden & Leiderdorp, the public library



Leiden is located in the north of the province of South Holland, about 45 km southwest of Amsterdam and about 18 km northeast of The Hague.

The Oude Rijn flows through Leiden. The Nieuwe Rijn splits off on the outskirts of the city to reunite with the Oude Rijn in the city center. The Rijn-Schie Canal and the Zijl also branch off from Leiden towards the south and north respectively. Clockwise from the north, Leiden successively borders the municipalities of Teylingen, Leiderdorp, Zoeterwoude, Leidschendam-Voorburg, Voorschoten, Wassenaar, Katwijk and Oegstgeest. Via Teylingen, Leiden borders on the Bollenstreek.

Until 1896, the Singel formed the city border. In four annexations (1896, 1920, 1966 and 1981), Leiden took over land from the surrounding municipalities Oegstgeest, Leiderdorp, Zoeterwoude, Voorschoten / Wassenaar and Warmond. In 1981 the city was 12 times the size of 85 years earlier.


Water and green
Especially in the city center, water is an important part of the street scene. In addition to the Old and New Rhine, which form the center line, the city has various canals and canals. The most famous canal is the Rapenburg. Outside the center, besides the Rhine, rivers, canals and former canal canals such as the Zijl, the Haarlemmertrekvaart and the Trekvliet, connect the city with large water and recreation areas just outside the city such as Vlietland, the Kagerplassen and the Valkenburgse Meer.

The canals also form an important green area for the city, where various parks such as the Plantsoen, Ankerpark, Huigpark and the Hortus Botanicus have been constructed on the site of the former city walls. Outside the city center, the Leidse Hout has a large city park and smaller neighborhood and neighborhood parks such as Bos van Bosman and Park Merenwijk with a petting zoo.

Cronesteyn polder park is located on the southeast side of the city, on the site of former Castle Cronesteyn. This park consists of various cultural landscapes and it has a heron forest. There is also a visitor center and a mini campsite. The city is connected to the Green Heart through this park.

Agglomeration and urban region
The connected urban area of ​​Leiden (including Oegstgeest, Voorschoten, Leiderdorp and Zoeterwoude) has 210,363 inhabitants. The urban agglomeration defined by Statistics Netherlands also includes Katwijk, with which the Leiden agglomeration has 270,879 inhabitants. The urban region of Leiden (CBS) also includes Teylingen and Noordwijk, with which the entire urban area of ​​Leiden has a total of 348,868 inhabitants. With 5,646 inhabitants per square kilometer, the city of Leiden has been the most densely populated municipality in the Netherlands since 2014, after The Hague.

Regional classification
Leiden is represented in at least 18 regional collaborations, each of which has a different composition.