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Leiden was formed on an artificial hill (today called the Burcht van Leiden) at the confluence of the rivers Oude and Nieuwe Rijn (Old and New Rhine).
In the oldest reference to this, from circa 860, the settlement was called Leithon.
Besieged from May until October 1574 by the Spanish, Leiden was relieved by the cutting of the dikes, thus enabling ships to carry provisions to the inhabitants of the flooded town.
As a reward for the heroic defence of the previous year, the University of Leiden was founded by William I of Orange in 1575.
Modern scientific medical research and teaching started in the early 18th century in Leiden with Boerhaave.
Leiden is a city with a rich cultural heritage, not only in science, but also in the arts.
The recreational area of the Kaag Lakes (Kagerplassen) lies just to the northeast of Leiden.
This county got its name in 1101 from a domain near the stronghold: Holtland or Holland. Early 13th century, Ada, Countess of Holland took refuge here when she was fighting in a civil war against her uncle, William I, Count of Holland. In 1420, during the Hook and Cod wars, Duke John III of Bavaria along with his army marched from Gouda in the direction of Leiden in order to conquer the city since Leiden did not pay the new Count of Holland Jacqueline, Countess of Hainaut, his niece and only daughter of Count William VI of Holland.
One of his pupils was Lodewijk Elzevir (1547–1617), who established the largest bookshop and printing works in Leiden, a business continued by his descendants through 1712 and the name subsequently adopted (in a variant spelling) by contemporary publisher Elsevier.
In 1572, the city sided with the Dutch revolt against Spanish rule and played an important role in the Eighty Years' War.
Yearly on 3 October, the end of the siege is still celebrated in Leiden.
Tradition tells that the citizens were offered the choice between a university and a certain exemption from taxes and chose the university.Burgrave Filips of Wassenaar and the other local noblemen of the Hook faction assumed that the duke would besiege Leiden first and send small units out to conquer the surrounding citadels.