History of Leiden
Leiden’s history stretches back a long way; long before our calendar started, people had settled on the banks of the Rhine. By 1200 the settlement had grown to such a size that the Count of Holland gave the people city rights, heralding the birth of the city of Leiden. At the end of the fifteenth century, Leiden was the biggest city in the county of Holland, mainly due to the international cloth industry for which the city was famous. The prosperity enjoyed by Leiden in this period is reflected in such imposing buildings as the Hooglandse Kerk and the Pieterskerk.
The Relief of Leiden
In the sixteenth century, the economic tide turned. It was the era of the Reformation, when Protestant movements were fiercely persecuted. In 1572, Leiden joined the Dutch revolt (led by the Prince of Orange) against the Spanish invaders, and the city was beseiged by the Spanish. The citizens fell prey to disease and hunger, and Leiden almost fell into the hands of the Spanish, but on 3 October 1574 the Spanish invaders fled and the troops of the Prince of Orange entered the city. They distributed food to the starving citizens: half a loaf of bread with cheese and herring for every person. This liberation, the Relief of Leiden, is still celebrated every year, right up to the present day, with a gigantic local party. As a reward for the city’s resistance during the Spanish occupation, William of Orange founded Leiden University on 8 February 1575.
The keys to Leiden
Leiden is the City of Keys; the motif of keys can be seen all over the city. This dates back to 1293 when a city seal depicting Saint Peter featured on official documents of the ‘stadt Leyde’. In his hand the apostle carries a key. The combination of Saint Peter and a key is a well-known symbol taken from the Bible (Matthew, 16, v. 19), when Jesus says to Peter: ‘I will give you the keys to the City of Heaven.’ As early as 1121 the Counts of Holland had a chapel built, dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul. This is the present Pieterskerk.
Rembrandt van Rijn
Rembrandt van Rijn was born on 15 July 1606 in the Weddesteeg in Leiden, where he lived for the first 26 years of his life. These were important years for him. He studied classics at the Latin school, then decided to become a painter. Having trained under Jacob Isaacsz Swanenburg, Rembrandt set himself up in Leiden as an independent artist. Many of his masterpieces were painted in his Leiden studio. A painting from his Leiden period can be seen in the Museum De Lakenhal.