Universiteit Leiden

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Summer tours of the Academy Building: 'I can still see my own signature!'

Are you curious about the Great Auditorium, the Robe Room or the famous Sweat Room? If so, between 25 July and 17 August you can have a free summer tour of the Academy Building during the recess. We joined a tour given by student Nick Janssen.

The tours of the Academy Building are certainly popular. Of the 36 tours planned between 25 July and 17 August, 34 are already fully booked. 'This is my second tour,' says Nick Janssen, today's tour guide.  He is a student of History and has just obtained his first-year diploma. 'When I heard guides were wanted, I put my name down straight away.  I'm going to be giving four tours in total.' 

The tour starts in front of the Academy Building

Popular with Leiden residents

Nick starts with a question: 'Why are you here?' The answers are varied, but there is one common reason: almost everyone in the group lives in Leiden and wants to know more about the history of the building and the university.  Many of them studied in Leiden themselves, or have children who are now studying here.  

It's easy to tell that many of the people on the tour are Leiden people themselves, because of the enthusiastic comments they make during the tour. 'This used to be a convent,' one of the participants calls out as Nick is talking about the history of the building. 'But the nuns weren't welcome any more after the Relief of Leiden.' And a bit later, in the great Auditorium, one Leiden resident gives some extra context to the wall hanging in the hall, pointing out the different Leiden churches that are depicted.  

Interesting snippets

But Nick also has some very interesting snippets in his repertoire. He points to the indentations to the right of the entrance to the Academy Building. 'If you look carefully, you can see lines in the wall. It's the outline of a bird stretching out its wings. The bird is a symbol for the students.' Later, in the Senate Chamber, Nick tells us that the portraits of professors often contain references to the person's specialist field. When Nick asks the group which of the professors is an archaeologist, they need to take a closer look. But after a couple of minutes, someone spots a digger in the portrait of Corrie Bakels, emeritus professor of paleoeconomics.

'The best place to put your signature is on the central column. Signatures remain visible for longer there because you can't get so close to them.'

Sweat Room

Of all the stops made during the tour, the Sweat Room is by far the most popular. It is a well-known room for the visitors because many of them signed their own names on the walls at some point in the past when they graduated. 'I've found mine!' one of the participants calls out. 'I graduated in 1986 and had a photo made of my signature. Do you see those dark letters there? They're on my photo.' 

Nick has a tip for the members of the group who have children who have yet to graduate. 'The best place to put your signature is on the central column. Signatures remain visible for longer there because it's not so easy to reach. But with a bit of extra effort, you can reach it with the ladder.'  Nick's tip was much appreciated, as was the rest of the tour. He was given a big round of applause at the end.  

Would you like to take a look inside the Academy Building? Tickets are still available. The tours are free. 

Text: Sabine Waasdorp
Images: Simone Both

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