Close(d) Heritage

Door to an inside garden

Leiden, the Netherlands. Day 145 since the total lockdown. The stores and hospitality services have reopened slowly. Sadly, museums and cinemas haven’t yet.

As an archaeologist, I love to visit museums and archaeological sites. But, because of the situation, this is not possible right now. I’ve decided that this won’t stop me to enjoy the cultural heritage. We can still go out for walks. I checked some information online about the town I live in and got myself a book about its history. I took my bike and my camera and went out decided to discover new things around me and enjoy the heritage that is close to me and that I can still enjoy even with close museums.

Beestenmarkt, where the animal market used to have place / Photo: Aida Loy 2021

First stop, the square just in front of my house Beestenmarkt, right now is just a nice square surrounded by water and restaurants but it owns its name to the animal market that took place on it for centuries. On my way to the next stop. Leiden is the hometown of the painter Rembrandt, and there is a whole square dedicated to him next to where his childhood house used to be. Next to this square, a reconstruction of the windmill of Rembrandt’s parents. It is located in an ideal place, just in the historic harbour, where all the boats are houses and we can find nice old houses. And next to the harbour, the Morspoort, built in the 17th century.

Rembrant square
Rembrandt Square where his house used to be. With a portrait of the artist and a sculpture of a child Rembrandt painting himself / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Windmill "De Put"
Windmill “De Put”, reconstruction of Rembrandt’s parents’ windmill / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Carpenters' house
Carpenters’ house in the historical harbour / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Windmill and harbour view
View of the historical harbour and windmill / Photo: Aida Loy 2021

Cycling around I discovered some nice little details from the city. While stopped to pet a cat on the street (all the cats here are house cats that just have time outside) I looked up and saw this door with a nice decoration on top. After further exploring the city I discovered that is not the only of them lying around. They are reminiscences of the first families living in those houses and their occupation.

Door with decoration on top
Door with decoration on top / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Detail of the decoration
Detail of the decoration on top of the door. It marks the entrance to an inside garden / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Decoration on a wall
Decoration on a wall / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Door with inscription on top
Door with inscription on top / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Door with decoration on top
Door with decoration on top with the emblem of the city (the two keys) / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
House with decoration under the window
House with decoration under the window / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Door with decoration on top
Door with decoration on top that leads to an internal garden / Photo: Aida Loy 2021

On my way to the university buildings, I came across Doelenpoort, the “target” gate that gave access to the arsenal of the city. I reached the university buildings with the Hortus Botanicus where the first tulips of Europe were planted. These buildings used to be a monastery until the Dutch expulsed the Spanish army from the city and the Leiden people got the University in return for their bravery. There is also an old observatory, that nowadays is the part of the law faculty. The new houses built around these buildings have been decorated with constellations. Next to the observatory a bridge like any other, but, what I discovered, this was Einstein’s favourite bridge while he lived in Leiden. Yes, Albert Einstein lived in Leiden while teaching at the Leiden University.

Doelenpoort / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Backside of the Doelenpoort / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Reconstruction of the garden that the medicine students had in the same spot in the 16th century / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Building of Leiden University since the late 16th century. Previously a monastery / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Observatory, currently a building of the law faculty / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Observatory / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Detail of decoration
Detail of the decorations of the buildings next to the observatory / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Einstein's bridge
Einstein’s favourite bridge in Leiden / Photo: Aida Loy 2021

I continued cycling around the canals. Following what, until the 16th century, were the walls of the city. I stopped for a nice picture of some bridges just to check my book and discover that where I was standing was the entrance the pilgrims from the Mayflower entered in Leiden. Mayflower pilgrims? In Leiden? Yes, they came escaping from the religious prosecution they were experiencing in England. And stayed for some years. They lived close to their church Pieterskerk (Saint Peters). In one of the walls outside the church, there is a commemorative of these pilgrims. And what else is around this church? Well, in the square next to it, the old jail and the guards’ houses, Gravensteen. Nowadays part of the university buildings. While checking these buildings, I found there was an art piece exhibition. The Japanese artist Sachi Miyachi had created an art piece based on the windows of this building in wood. Adding birds houses to it. But Sachi Miyachi is not the only artist around here. Walking through a small street I found, Rembrandt’s school and atelier. Currently is a museum, that is obviously closed, but they have created a nice way to engage with people. If you walk to the window and pose, Rembrandt, helped with a camera and some 21st century I suspect, will create a sketch of you that you can download from their webpage.

Tower in the old city walls
Remaining building of the old city walls / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
View of the canals
View of the canals. Point through where the Mayflower pilgrims entered Leiden / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Pieterskerk / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Plate to the Mayflower pilgrims
Plate on one of the walls of Pieterskerk with the names of the Mayflower pilgrims / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Back side of the Gravensteen building / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Gravensteen building / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Gravensteen square
Square with the backside of the Gravensteen buldings and the art exhibition of Sachi Miyachi / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Art exhibition
Art piece by Japanese artist Sachi Miyachi / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Rembrandt's Atelier
Rembrandt’s workshop / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Window at Rembrand't workshop
Window for the sketch by Rembrandt at his workshop / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Drawing sketch
The sketch starting to appear / Photo: Aida Loy 2021

Back on track, on my way to the Van der Werf park, I met the old police station, now an apartment building (a common practice in this country where no sunk land is not that available). And next to it, some stone cases. They have flowers. It is a monument in memory of the Jewish who were deported from the city during the Nazi occupation. This week the Netherlands celebrated Liberation Day and all the monuments to the victims got flowers in their honour.

Monument to the deported Jewish
Monument to the deported Jewish / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Monument to the deported Jewish
Monument to the deported Jewish / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Police Station
Old police station / Photo: Aida Loy 2021

Just behind, the law faculty. Claiming to be the coldest point on the planet for 1 minute. Why? Liquid nitrogen was discovered here when it was the physic faculty. The location of this building is also interesting, or so the book tells me. In 1807 a boat full of gunpowder exploded in this area creating a big explosion and destroying the houses around. The faculty is where some of those houses were and, in front, a park dedicated to the most famous mayor of Leiden. This mayor, van der Werf, offered his hand to the people to eat while the city was under Spanish siege in the 16th century.

Law Faculty
Law faculty, coldest point on earth during a minute / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Van der Werf
18th century sculpture to van der Werf / Photo: Aida Loy 2021

Behind this park, a new square, just built in the effort of the city to be more green and have fewer cars. Biking around the square I realised a building I haven’t notice before. There is a plate on the front, it makes it easier to discover things this way. It was a synagogue, constructed in the 18th century and in use until the 19th. Interesting.

18th century synagogue in Leiden / Photo: Aida Loy 2021

Now I cycle towards the hill of Leiden. The Netherlands is known as a plain country. And it is. But in Leiden, they created a way to fight against the floods: to build a hill, de burcht (800-1200). Surrounded by walls it looks like a castle but its interior is empty to allow as many as possible inside. And close to it, the pilgrims’ museum. A house that used to be inhabited by those Mayflower pilgrims while staying in Leiden. In the downstairs, they have created a museum with furniture of those times that anyone can see through the windows. Finally going home. Checked of another building on my way, the Lakenhal, nowadays is a museum about Leiden, in its origin, the fabric makers and traders house.

Hill and fortification that forms the Burcht / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Stairs to the Burcht / Photo: Aida Loy 2021
Pilgrims' museum
Pilgrims’ museum / Photo: Aida Loy 2021

While museums keep close, and our entertainment options are limited. Why not make some online investigation and explore our surroundings. Visiting your own city as a tourist will do. Explore those heritage spaces that you walk through so many times and discover which secrets they have for you.

Lakenhal museum, previously fabric makers and traders centre / Photo: Aida Loy 2021