Historical Leiden, Leiden
Leiden's Gravensteen is a very old building, built entirely from stone and dating from the 1300s . It was originally used partly as a dwelling place for the Counts of Leiden and partly as their private prison.
Executions were carried out on the little square in front of the Gravensteen from 1463, when the building became the property of the city. In the earlier centuries the grassy square had a small moat but now it is entirely cobblestoned.
The building continued to serve its function through the centuries, with enlargements and changes over the years. The last execution was in 1853 (one Janus Blom, executed for the murder of a girl). the gallery you can see in the photos was built in the 1700s and used by judges to watch the executions.
By the end of the 1800s the Gravensteen was no longer used as a prison. In the 1950s it was used as book storage and was eventually taken over by the University of Leiden. It is part of the Faculty of Law as well as housing administrative offices the the student newspaper.
My photos are all taken from the rear of the building, showing its oldest parts.
The building which was once Leiden's 'cloth-hall', where all cloth made in the city was inspected, was built in 1640. It now houses the Museum De Lakenhal, a museum of the city and of fine art with works by Rembrandt and other master painters.
The architect Arent van 'Gravesande designed the cloth-hall, and its exterior is worth a close look. There are inset panels showing, in detail, various stages in cloth-making and the whole frontage is topped by sculptures of two slightly-bemused sheep.
The building was turned into the municipal museum in 1874. The inspection and meeting-rooms (where disputes were settled) of the building's original function have been left as they were.
The museum is closed on Mondays. Entrance is 7.50euro. you can find all the relevant information in English on the museum website below.
Leiden has a compact and very walkable historical centre with much architectural interest.
It's well worth spending a couple of hours just wandering around. You'll find many of the oldest buildings near the huge, Gothic Pietreskerk, now deconsecrated and used for events and conferences. It dating from the 1100s and thus is the historical heart of the original Medieval city. Its interior is, in common with many Dutch churches (and thanks to the Iconoclasm) fairly plain. You can see inside Pieterskerk from 1.30pm to 4pm, although I missed doing so.
Enjoy the huge variation in gables...they are indicative not only of the time the house was built but also of the wealth of the owner. The more elaborate the gable and house exterior, the more wealth and power the owner demonstrated.
Keep a look out for the 'namestones' (gevelstenen) on the oldest buildings. These carvings identified the buildings and their owners in times when the vast majority of the population was illiterate. Despite their Dutch name they are rarely found on the gables of buildings. You're far more likely to see them placed in the wall somewhere near the main entrance (which makes sense).
This rather magnificently imposing building is the former Lutheran orphanage, built in 1583. As you can guess from the size of the building it was designed to house hundreds of children who came from all over the Netherlands and cities as far afield as Achen and Liege.
Boys and girls were given basic schooling up to the age of twelve. The boys were then taught trade skills whilst the girls were trained in domestic tasks such as cooking and needlework. Pic #3 shows statues of a boy and a girl above the main gate, these are affectionately known locally as "Kaatje and Kootje".
It remained an orphanage until 1961 by which time the building no longer suited modern ideas and is now home to the Childrens House charity and the Municipal Archaeology Centre.
Leiden's castle was originally constructed in the 11th century as a keep on top of a raised earthen mound (motte) and was intended as a place of safety both from attack and during flooding. However as the city grew around it its defensive position became redundant and it was too small to provide refuge the whole population during flooding.
The Burcht was acquired by the city in 1651 for use as a public water tower, feeding into the city squares and is now a public park.
By all accounts the view from the restored ramparts is well worth the climb up the steps but it had started to rain again and so I passed on that one.
Leiden's Renaissance Town Hall was built around 1600 by the Harlem architect and stonemason, appropriately Lieven de Key. It was devastated by fire in 1929 but fortunately the original facade was saved and because the fire also destroyed many of the adjacent buildings this allowed the Town Hall Square to be constructed during the subsequent rebuilding (pic #3).
On either side of the front door are two metal buttons, originally notches, which define the "Rhenish Rod" - a measure used in bulb cultivation. This is 12 feet (144 inches) or after metrication 3.767358 metres.
Leiden is the city where the famous Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn was born on July 15, 1606. His parents managed the De Rijn windmill at the Galgewater and they live in a house at the Weddesteeg. He was the nineth child of miller Harmen Gerritsz and his wife Neeltje van Zuytbrouck, daughter of a baker.
Rembrandt went to the Latin school at Leiden and was enlisted at the Leiden University in 1620. But Rembrandt was interested in painting and from 1619 he was learning that at the Leiden painter Jacob van Swanenburgh.
In 1625 Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam.
Nowadays the Weddesteeg alley is transformed. The old birth place house is replaced and opposite the house a small Rembrandt square has been constructed.
De Burcht is a fortification on top of a man-made hill. These higher grounds were made by the settlers who started a settlement at the Rhine river in the tenth century.
A Century later the hill was 9 meters over the surrounding buildings and the first castle became the residence of Ada van Holland.
In the 13th century the fortification was rebuild, but became superfluous as the city grew more and more and new outer canals and defence works were made.
In 1651 the Burcht became the property of the city counsel and first served as a water tower.
Nowadyas the Burcht is a public part with a lovely onto the old center of Leiden.
The Hooglandse Kerkgracht is one of Leiden's most attractive wider streets. The original canal was filled up in 1607 in a time that Leiden was facing better economic times.
In 2004 all the centre parking spots were transformed in to a nice walking space, creating a beautiful wide street.
The Heilige Geest- of Armen- Wees- en Kinderhuis (The Holy Ghost or Orphanage and Poor Children home) is a National Monument.
Original the building dating from 1404 was a womans hospital and in 1583 was transformed into an Orphanage.
The later rear part dates from 1656. A fire in 1768 destroyed the building partly. The extension to the Oude Rijn canal was completed in 1774 and renovated in 1882. The gate at the canal dates from 1607.
The orphanage was in service till 1961.
Since May 2010 the Leiden Archeological Center is housed in a part of the building. In the other part the Defence for Children is housed.
From time to time there are exhibitions.
The Graan-Magazyn Voor den Armen (Grain Warehouse for the Poor) is a National monument. It was build in 1754 next to the Huiszittenhuis, a building where free food was given to the poor people.
Even today part of the building is in use by social organistations.
The City Hall of Leiden nowadays has two faces. The oldest part of the building is the outer wall at the Breestraat. The newest part of 1932 is located at the side of the Vismarkt. The new City Hall had to be build after the city fire of February 12, 1929. The whole area was redesigned and room was made for a City Hall square. At the entrance of the building are two irons knobs, defining the distance of 1 Rijnlandse roede, one of the oldest Dutch distance measuring units.
De Koornbrug bridge is probably the best-known bridge at Leiden. It was build in 1642 and it was the location where wheat was traded. Trading at the bridges and quays was common at Leiden as most merchandise was transported over the canals to the center of the town. Leiden lacked squares as a trading places. In the 17th century the bridge was renewed and 200 years later the bridge was covered to protect the merchandise.
In 2007 the bridge was renovated due to rotten wooden parts.
The construction is a National Monument.
De Waag of Leiden was the building were goods were weighted and fair trade was guaranteed by certified weights controlled by the local authorities.
The building dates from 1657 and was designed by Pieter Post. The stone building replaced an earlier woorden Waag that was in service for some 200 years.
Merchandise was mainly transported by ship and hosted by a crane at the quay.
De Waag is a National Monument.
Do not limit your Leiden exploration to the major streets and canals.
The smaller streets contain many hidden gems and than there are the many inner courts that are open to the public, but you have to open doors that look private.