Starting the day with Poffertjes (mini Dutch pancakes) dusted with icing sugar, I rejoined the N208 and made my way into Sassenheim. The town used to be part of the bulb industry but since WWII it has steered itself towards light industry and residential construction. Most bulb barns have been demolished and bulb lands have disappeared.
The nearby attraction was the ruins of Castle Teylingen, a 13th century stronghold that guarded the north-south route. Currently under state care, the castle was renovated in the 1900s. An interesting castle, it has a concentric outer wall surrounded by a moat. The castle tower built against the wall has a curved rectangular shape four storeys high. Today only the hull remains.
I continued south through several municipalities till I arrived in Leiden, a university city that boasts having the oldest university (c1575AD) and the oldest Botanical Gardens (c1594AD) in the Netherlands. Originally named Leithon, the town began as a settlement around 860 AD. By the 16th century it was a bustling town with flourishing printing, publishing and weaving industries.
A peculiar bit of history was the issue of siege notes during the Spanish invasion in the 1570s. Siege coins were made during this time to support the Dutch cause and they were struck from coin dies onto square silver planchets (metal disks). When Leiden was besieged by the Spanish in 1574, they ran out of silver to produce more coins. Not to be deterred, new “coins” were minted on paper torn out of prayer books. It is believed that this is the first time in Europe that paper notes were issued as currency. An ongoing debate continues whether the currency should be classified as coins because they used coin dies or notes because they used paper. A matter best left to the specialists.
The siege lasted six months from May to October with the Spanish hoping they could starve the town into submission. With no access to food, many suffered illnesses, hunger and starvation but refused to surrender. On 3 October 1574, as the besieged people began to waver, the Dutch cut the dykes flooding the low-lying city but it also provided passage to ships that were carrying food provisions.
Freeing the city, the Spaniards fled in haste leaving behind pots of stew consisting of carrots, parsnips, meat and onions which the Leideners ate. Calling it Hutspot, meaning stew, it became a symbol of their victory and 3 October was declared a public holiday. Commemorating Dutch victory with a festival the city grinds to a halt for two days. On the eve of the public holiday hutspot is served in the city centre and on the morning of the holiday herring and white bread is served at the Weigh House.
For the brave defense of their city the Leideners were rewarded by William I of Orange with their own university. Leiden University opened its doors in February 1575 and currently lists 16 Nobel Prize laureates in areas of physics, chemistry and medicine.
Leiden is also rich in art culture beginning with locally born Dutch painters: Lucas van Leyden (b.1494), Jan van Goyen (b.1596), Rembrandt (b.1606) and Jan Steen (b.1626). The art movement known as De Stijl (The Style) also known as Neoplasticism was founded in Leiden (c.1917) of which Dutch artist Piet Mondrian was a member. Mondrian’s work is easily recognisable with its geometric abstraction often in solid blocks of primary colours.
Famous master painter Rembrandt was born and educated in Leiden. Rembrandt was a draughtsman, painter and printmaker, and his artistic contributions were during the Dutch Golden Age, an era of “great wealth and cultural achievement”. His body of works is extensive with more than 300 paintings, primarily portraits, having been catalogued.
Rembrandt was not known for still life paintings, unlike many 17thC Dutch masters who painted lavishly detailed floral arrangements that inevitably included tulips. However, he did immortalise the famed tulip when in 1634 he painted his wife Saskia as Flora (goddess of spring and flowers) with a wreath of flowers on her head from which a large white tulip with red flame-like lines running from the edges hung on the side of her head. Capitalising on his famous name, bulb traders named similar tulips after him. This striped version of the Rembrandt tulip was referred to as “broken” because the base colour was broken by a secondary colour.
“Broken” tulips were highly prized during the 17th century largely due to their unique colouring and difficulty in replicating. What wasn’t known at the time was that the markings were a result of a virus that infected the flower and weakened the plant. Eventually it became illegal to sell infected bulbs so growers carefully bred a new version of the Rembrandt tulip that is disease-free but still captures some of the original look.
This brings me to Hortus Botanicus, Leiden’s botanical garden where Carolus Clusius, a professor at Leiden University and the garden’s first director planted his collection of tulip bulbs and helped set the foundations for the tulip industry. Carolus was a trained doctor and pioneering botanist with an exceptional reputation and broad international network. Through his contacts Carolus was able to procure an extensive plant collection and when the garden was established it contained over 1,000 different plants in a space barely 114 x 131ft (35 x 40m).
As you can see Leiden is brimming with history and I barely scratched the surface but I’ll wrap it up for now with a climb through 18th century De Valk Windmill and take in the panoramic view of the town then maybe go in search for a bit of Hutspot to fill the belly and rest up for the night.