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Visiting Leiden Castle, Leiden, The Netherlands: between the history of the city and national historiography

Updated on February 25, 2013
Flag of The Netherlands
Flag of The Netherlands | Source
Leiden Castle, from the rear.
Leiden Castle, from the rear. | Source
Marriage of Ada, Countess of Holland and Louis II, Count of Loon
Marriage of Ada, Countess of Holland and Louis II, Count of Loon | Source
William the Silent
William the Silent | Source
Map location of Leiden, South Holland, The Netherlands
Map location of Leiden, South Holland, The Netherlands | Source

Stones, bricks and symbolism

Leiden Castle (Dutch: Leidse Burcht) lies at the heart of the old city of Leiden (1), The Netherlands. Located at the confluence of two branches of the Rhine (Dutch: Rijn) river, the Castle is built on an ancient, artificial mound.

Already in the Middle Ages the Castle, which is basically a keep atop the substantial, artificial mound, had undergone sieges. It is reckoned to have its origins in about 1100; in 1203 and again in 1420, the stronghold was besieged.

Much has been written linking prominent historical personalities with the Castle at Leiden. Its mistress, Ada, Countess of Holland (1188-1223), was imprisoned there in 1203. Dutch patriotic writers have also written about the associations of William the Silent (Dutch: Willem de Zwijger) (1533-1584) in relation to the Castle, although in fact by the 14th century the structure had already become largely obsolete in strict, military terms. When the city of Leiden was besieged in 1574 and 1575, with William the Silent playing a leading rĂ´le in its defence, the Castle was actually not preponderant in this successful resistance to Spanish forces, although its record of having undergone sieges previously gave the Castle somewhat of a symbolic status, as did William the Silent also.

The idea of a besieged, Medieval countess, and a Castle being supposedly symbolic of resistance to Spanish rule are certainly appealing from the perspective of popular historiography, whatever the precise facts may actually have been.

The Castle was originally built in stone, although following an early, destructive attack, its stone walls had already been supplemented by brick in Medieval times. Significant, further building work was carried out in the 17th century.

Today, the Castle's mound is well greened; a public park surrounds the structures. Access to the Castle is through more than one ornate gate.

Leiden in located in the South Holland (Dutch: Zuid-Holland) province of The Netherlands. Leiden Castle is situated at Burgsteeg 14, Leiden.

February 25, 2013


(1) Sometimes written 'Leyden' in English.

Also worth seeing

In Leiden itself, the Academiegebouw is the main building of the renowned University, the Hortus Botanicus of which is also famous; the ornate, Renaissance-style City Hall dates from the 16th century.

Amsterdam (distance: 45 kilometres); visitor attractions include the Nieuwe Kerk, the Royal Palance and Dam Square, the Rijksmuseum, and many others.


How to get there: Airlines flying to Amsterdam Airport from New York include Delta Airlines and KLM. The Dutch railroad company NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen) maintains rail services from Amsterdam to Leiden. There is car rental availability at Amsterdam airport. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please be advised that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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