Universiteit Leiden

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Leiden University was the first university to be established in the Netherlands. William of Orange gave Leiden Academia Lugduno Batava in 1575, it is said in recognition of the city’s courageous resistance against the seige by the Spanish invaders.

Bastion of freedom

Our motto is praesidium libertatis – bastion of freedom. One famous example of this commitment to freedom is the speech delivered by Professor Rudolph Cleveringa in 1940, in which he protested against the threatened dismissal of his Jewish colleagues. Leiden University celebrates this courageous act every year in the form of the Cleveringa lecture in Leiden and Cleveringa meetings held throughout the world. It is freedom that unites us even today.  

Books on the history of Leiden University

The rich history of the University is documented in the series of books Groepsportret met Dame (Group Portrait with a Lady) by Willem Otterspeer, Professor of University History. For each century of the University’s history, Otterspeer explains how the University was founded, how it became established in Leiden and how it has developed as an integral part of society. His book entitled The bastion of liberty is a condensed history of the University. 

Film on Four Centuries of Freedom


In the four-part film Four Centuries of Freedom Emeritus Professor Willem Otterspeer presents the highlights in Leiden University's history.

The films are inspired by the brief history that Otterspeer wrote about the University to commemorate its 440th anniversary: Good, Gratifying and Renowned. In the films Otterspeer takes the viewer to special locations in Leiden, including the Academy Building, the Pieterskerk, the University Library, the Hortus Botanicus, Minerva and museums such as Boerhaave National Museum for the History of Science and Medicine and the National Museum of Ethnology.

Scaliger, Jan van Hout, Boerhaave, Thorbecke, Kamerlingh Onnes, Einstein, Huizinga, Cleveringa: many famous scholars appear in the films. What tied them to Leiden University and what links us as a university after all those centuries?


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University Library

The University Library offers access to a great number of archives and studies that are indispenable to anyone who wants to learn more about Leiden University's history.

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