With its charming cobbled lanes, many canal side houses and surprising wealth of hidden gems, Leiden is the perfect avoid the hubbub of Amsterdam like a side trip or alternatively like a weekend break in its own right. The Dutch city also happens to be the place to find the oldest university within the Netherlands, which in turn holds its great amount of secrets. Here’s a peek inside of Leiden University’s Zweetkamertje (Sweat Room), whose typically locked door is just opened on the rarest of occasions…
Leiden University’s Zweetkamertje (Sweat Room)
If you have the ability to allow it to be into the Sweat Room (typically the area is closed behind lock and key for preservation purposes), then you can expect to find almost every inch of the walls covered in graffiti. Myself along with a handful of friends only were able to sneak an appearance inside because of a sort lecturer allowing us into the room due to some actual students being present and waiting to sign their own names on the wall!
The room is a the oldest in the entirety from the University complex and can be found inside the Academiegebouw building, a former monastery turned university building whose roots go as far back to the 15th-century. Known as Universiteit Leiden in Dutch, the training institution began all the way back in 1575 and maintains close ties towards the Royal family to this day. Across the city, most of the top great finds have ties to Leiden University, such as the ever so beautiful botanical gardens.
The room is so-called because of the fact that, in times passed by, doctorate students would have stood within the room waiting to protect their theses and dissertations. The area would also provide served as a waiting room for those waiting to listen to the outcomes of the doctoral exams, and so the name ‘Het Zweetkamertje,’ or ‘the sweating room’ in English.
It was during this time period (it’s unclear as to who come up with first signature, or at what date this occurred) that some anxious students would nervously await their results and pass time by applying the walls of the room. Within the decades, the tradition continued, to the point where every available space was covered in pen markings. Now, signing the wall is a coming of age for college students who've already learned the results of the doctorate.
Though typically closed to the public, students filling out the wall are able to have as much as five accompanying guests. Obviously, through the years, the University of Leiden has seen many a notable figure finish its programmes, and they also too have signed the wall.
Among famous alumni, there’s Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, and also the current King from the Netherlands. Particularly high profile signatures could be identified by the truth that they’re typically covered in small glass plaques. Last but not least, even if you’re not able to begin to see the Leiden Sweat room for yourself, there remain lots of good reasons to visit Leiden on your next trip to the Netherlands.