The University of Leiden in the city of Leiden, is the oldest still existing university in the Netherlands. It was founded in 1575 by Prince William of Orange, leader of the Dutch revolt in the Eighty Years' War, as a reward for the heroic defence of the previous year against Spanish attacks, the tradition being that the citizens were offered the choice between a university and a certain exemption from taxes.
Originally located in the convent of St Barbara, the university was removed in 1581 to the convent of the White Nuns, the site of which it still occupies, though that building was destroyed in 1616.
The presence within half a century of the date of its foundation of such scholars as Justus Lipsius, Joseph Scaliger, Franciscus Gomarus, Hugo Grotius, Jacobus Arminius, Daniel Heinsius and Guardas Johannes Vossius, at once raised Leiden university to the highest European fame, a position which the learning and reputation of Jacobus Gronovius, Herman Boerhaave, Tiberius Hemsterhuis and David Ruhnken, among others, enabled it to maintain down to the end of the 18th century.
The portraits of many famous professors since the earliest days hang in the university aula, one of the most memorable places, as Niebuhr called it, in the history of science. The university library contains upwards of 190,000 volumes and 6000 manuscripts and pamphlet portfolios, and is very rich in Oriental and Greek manuscripts and old Dutch travels.
Among the institutions connected with the university are the national institution for East Indian languages, ethnology and geography; the fine botanical gardens, founded in 1587; the observatory
(1860); the natural history museum, with a very complete anatomical cabinet; the museum of antiquities (Museum van Oudheden), with specially valuable Egyptian and Indian departments; a museum of Dutch antiquities from the earliest times; and three ethnographical museums, of which the nucleus was P. F. von Siebold's Japanese collections. The anatomical and pathological laboratories of the university are modern, and the museums of geology and mineralogy have been restored.