A Brill Calendar: January 12
Explosion on the Rapenburg
Few historical disasters in Holland were as awesome as the one hitting Leyden on a dreary Monday, January 12, 1807, at a quarter past four in the afternoon; not far from the University ‘Aula’.
Early on that winter-morning a mercantile vessel had moored at the ‘Lange-brug’ and Rapenburg carrying several thousand pounds of gunpowder. When a spark reached it inadvertently some eight hours later, all hell broke loose.
When all was over and inventories made, 151 citizens were registered as perished. Over 200 years later these citizens are not seen as an anonymous mass. Among the people dying that day in Leyden was Professor Adriaan Kluit (Dordrecht, 1735), teaching since 1778 and patriarch of Medieval Studies in his country; as well as the scholar Jean Luzac (Leyden, 1746), befriended to John Adams, 2nd American President, and a classical philologist who made the newspaper ‘Gazette de Leyde’ an international publishing success. Added to the loss of all these lives were 218 ruined buildings beyond any repair: a whole neighbourhood shattered.
On the day itself, Louis Napoleon, first & last King ruling a short-lived ‘Kingdom Holland’ (1806 – 1810) before it was annexed to the French Empire - visited this ‘Ground Zero’. Myth & Legend have it that the brother of the Emperor joined search-parties personally in looking for victims the ensuing evening and night with torches. Furthermore His Majesty provided money and substantial means to alleviate the misery of his subjects during the aftermath. Naturally, his Royal compassion & generosity fostered Louis’s popularity.
The City-council decided not to rebuild the devastated area. Leyden, at the time beyond its prime as prosperous municipality, was a sad place to look at for years following January 12, 1807. The decline, slow in coming and ending in a one-day cataclysm, would last until 1816, when the first steam engine in the nascent Kingdom of The Netherlands was installed in Leyden, signalling new prosperity for the ‘Bulwark of Freedom’. The area round the Lange-brug was untouched by regeneration till 1835, with the erection of a Church, (typically). Other real-estate projects there had still to wait for another fifteen years; until 1850.
2013, May 17
2013, April 11
2013, April 11