Universiteit Leiden

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Locations then and now

With its iconic buildings, Leiden University has a strong presence throughout the city. The university has left its mark clearly on museum collections in the city.

The Academy Building situated on the Rapenburg is the oldest Leiden University building. The institution has owned the building since 1581 and it is in use for ceremonies such as graduations, inaugural lectures and PhD defences. The building was constructed in 1516 and was originally a church of the Dominician or ‘White’ nuns. The Academy Building has been renovated several times over the course of the years.

The ‘Sweat Room’ is perhaps the most famous small chamber in the building. Once they have received their diploma, students can immortalise their names by adding their signature to the thousands already on the walls of the chamber. In much earlier times, this was the room where students anxiously awaited the results of their final exam; this is what gives it its name.

The Academy Building accommodates the permanent exhibition of the Academic Historical Museum. The exhibition is only open to the public on Heritage Day (“Open Monumentendag”). 

Hortus Botanicus

The oldest botanical garden in the Netherlands and Western Europe is situated just behind the Academy Building. It was here that the first Hortus Botanicus was laid out in 1590. Today, the entrance of the Hortus is designed to resemble that very first garden: the Clusius garden.

The first part of the garden is the oldest part of the Hortus and is named after Carolus Clusius, the botanist who had the garden laid out in the 16th century. The Clusius garden gives visitors an impression of the Hortus in the year 1600.

Shortly after the university was founded, a herb garden was laid out for the use of medical students. However, ot was not until Clusius arrived did the university acquired a real Hortus Botanicus. Not only are the gardens situated on an ancient site, there are many ancient trees in the gardens as well. A laburnum close to the entrance is listed in an inventory dating from 1601.

Professor Herman Boerhaave breathed new life into medicine in this former hospital. The Boerhaave Museum has a collection of over 35000 artefacts about the history of science and medicine. The permanent collections include a number of world-class artefacts, such as Antoni van Leeuwenhoek’s microscopes and Christiaan Huygens’ inventions. 

One of the permanent exhibitions in the Boerhaave Museum is a reconstruction of the famous Leiden University anatomical theatre. Public anatomy classes were taught in this former theatre in the 16th and 17th centuries. Several temporary exhibitions form the link between historical artefacts and current themes.

Leiden Observatory

Another famous university building is situated on the banks of the Witte Singel canal: the Old Observatory. This prominent building with its zinc domes was built in 1861 and renovated in 2009. The construction of the building heralded the start of  a flourishing period of astronomy in Leiden. Famous directors of the Observatory include Willem de Sitter and Jan Hendrik Oort.

Since the 1970s, Leiden astronomers have been housed at the Wassenaarseweg. A visitor’s centre has been set up in the Old Observatory; the building also accommodates the Faculty of Law.


The Sieboldhuis is not a university building, but it does represent the special bond between Leiden University and Japan. Thanks to German physician Von Siebold, Leiden was able to develop and become a centre of expertise  on Asian history and culture. Today, his former home serves as a museum to Japan. The museum is home to a wonderful collection of artefacts that Von Siebold gathered during his stay in Deshima, the Dutch trade settlement in Japan.

Von Siebold also brought with him to Leiden a large collection of plants. Some of the original plants can still be found in the Hortus Botanicus. He left his book collection to the University Library and his ethnographic collection is housed in the National Museum of Ethnicity.

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