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Visiting Leiden University, Leiden, The Netherlands, and its Hortus Botanicus: memories of Carl Linnaeus

Updated on March 24, 2013
Flag of The Netherlands
Flag of The Netherlands | Source
Academy Building (Academiegebouw), main building of the University of the city of Leiden, The Netherlands
Academy Building (Academiegebouw), main building of the University of the city of Leiden, The Netherlands | Source
The Wintertuin (winter garden), the entrance building of the Hortus botanicus in Leiden, The Netherlands
The Wintertuin (winter garden), the entrance building of the Hortus botanicus in Leiden, The Netherlands | Source
Carolus Linnaeus, by Per Krafft
Carolus Linnaeus, by Per Krafft | Source

Scholarly maturity and distinction

The Hortus Botanicus is The Netherlands' oldest botanical garden, founded in 1590 for the benefit of students of medicine at Leiden University (Dutch: Universiteit Leiden ).

Carolus Clusius (1526-1609) did much to develop the Hortus Botanicus from small beginnings. In an initially confined area, Clusius collected over 1000 plants, some of them via the Dutch East India Company (Dutch: Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie )(1).

In my visit to the Hortus , I was very interested to discover commemoration of one of the most famous people associated with it: the Swedish naturalist Linnaeus (Carl von Linné, 1707-1778).

The large Orangery, where also the University's Observatory was developed, dates from the 18th century.

Among particular features of the Hortus are a special collection of huge orchids, and a Japanese garden. The visitor address of the Hortus Botanicus is Rapenburg 73, in Leiden.

The Academy Building (Dutch: Academiegebouw ) is the main building of the University, and is situated at Rapenburg 67 - 73; Situated in this structure, which dates from 1516, is the Academic-Historical Museum (Dutch: Academisch Historisch Museum ). The building is a former Dominican monastery. The word 'Rapenburg' in the address refers to the most well-known canal in Leiden, which the Academy Building overlooks.

Among famous, early 17th century scholars associated with Leiden University are included: jurist Hugo Grotius (1583-1645); theologians Franciscus Gomarus (1563-1641), Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) and Gerardus Vossius (1577-1649); Classicist and Leiden University Librarian Daniel Heinsius (1580-1655), plus many other outstanding figures.

More recently, Nobel Prizewinners associated with Leiden University have included: Hendrik Lorenz and Peter Zeeman (shared, Physics, 1902); Kamerlingh Omnes (Physics, 1913); Willem Einthoven (Medicine, 1924); Albert Einstein (Physics, 1921) and Enrico Fermi (Physics, 1938) also spent periods at Leiden University.

Historian Johan Huizinga is honoured by an annual lecture at Leiden named for him (on a personal note, I was first engrossed by Huizinga's writings well over 30 years ago.)

Leiden University Library is the oldest in The Netherlands. The University itself was founded in 1575 by William the Silent (Dutch: Willem de Zwijger ). It may thus be apparent that in many ways Leiden University has been at the forefront of Dutch, and, indeed, international, scholarly life.


(1) This is in archaic Dutch spelling, but used here for the sake of historical consistency.

Also worth seeing

In Leiden itself, the City Hall is a fine, Renaissance-style building. Leiden's castle is Medieval. The city has associations with the Pilgrims of the Mayflower.

The Hague (distance: 18 kilometres); among its fine buildings are the Peace Palace and the Binnenhof.


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. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. 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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