Leeuwarden’s history goes back to Roman times. Back then there were already people living where today the Oldehove stands. The city of Leeuwarden grew atop terps built in a bay of the Middelzee that later silted up and were empoldered.
The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were an auspicious time for Leeuwarden. The city drew attention as the residency of the Frisian Nassaus, who became stadtholders of the northern provinces. In the Dutch Golden Age, the aristocracy also emerged in Leeuwarden, a time when the city was among the ten most distinguished cities in The Netherlands. Splendid buildings like the Kanselarij (the Chancery, where law was practiced), the Stadhouderlijk Hof (a former royal residence), and the Waag (the trading centre of the town) and the crooked tower of the Oldehove attest to its former status. Even today there are almost 500 national heritage sites to be found in the inner city. As the nineteenth century unfolded, Leeuwarden did not develop into an industry city, but instead specialised in trading agrarian products aimed at the local area. Its services and healthcare industries remain important for the city today.
These days, Leeuwarden is home to over 100,000 inhabitants. Roughly half of the population speaks Dutch in daily life, while a fifth speaks the city dialect Liwwadders and the remainder speaks Frisian or a foreign language.
A host of famous Dutch writers were born in Leeuwarden, or else have lived, worked or attended school there, including François HaverSchmidt, Havank, J.J. Slauerhoff, Simon Vestdijk, Geert Mak, Michaël Zeeman, Annejet van der Zijl, Pieter Boskma and Kees 't Hart.
Leeuwarden has a lively cultural scene with literary events, theatre (including the Frisian theatre company Tryater), exhibitions (in particular in the Pricessehof, the Natuurmuseum and the Frisian Musem), music (including at Neushoorn), and with culture in the city’s De Harmonie theatre and with festivals including Welcome to the Village and Explore the North.
In 2018, Leeuwarden is the cultural capital of Europe. In the context of this and also of Leeuwarden-Frieslân 2018, citybooks descends on the city. We have invited four authors and two photographers to come and be inspired by the Frisian capital, in collaboration with local partners Explore the North, Lân fan taal and Leeuwarden Culturele Hoofdstad.
The Iraqi-Finnish author Hassan Blasim is the first author to write a citybook during a two-week stay in Leeuwarden. Our next guest is the Belgian novelist and playwright Erik Vlaminck. The Frisian poet Arjan Hut was also invited to write a citybook about his hometown. The fourth author we welcome is LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, an experimental performance artist and poet from Harlem, New York. During her two week residency in September 2018, she performs several times in the Low Countries.
The visual city portraits of Leeuwarden are made by two Dutch artists working with collage techniques. Chantal Rens often starts from photographs and combines them in unexpected, humourous ways. Anne Margot Stapert was inspired by dark and bloody historic events and stories taking place in Leeuwarden for her contemporary graphic collage illustrations.
The citybooks stories and poems about Leeuwarden will not only be available to read and listen to in Dutch and English – and in Blasim’s case also in Arabic – but also in Frisian.
- Read more about Leeuwarden Culturele Hoofdstad at www.friesland.nl.
- Explore the North uses Leeuwarden city centre as stage for writers, musicians, dancers and actors from across the world. Read more and discover the festival’s programme of events at www.explore-the-north.nl.
- Lân fan taal is a Free State for all the languages of the world, in which all languages are equal and language is boundless. Read more at lanfantaal.com.