In 1575, Leiden had the distinction of becoming the first city in the northern Netherlands to have a university. Legend has it that the university was a reward for the heroic resistance to the Spanish occupation. Leiden University became one of the leading universities in Europe and the tremendous degree of freedom of conscience and expression (as reflected by its motto ‘Praesidium Libertatis’) stimulated the institute's growth and excellence.
The university came into particular prominence during the Dutch Golden Age, when scholars from around Europe were attracted to the Dutch Republic due to its climate of intellectual tolerance and Leiden's international reputation. During this time Leiden was home to such figures as René Descartes, Rembrandt, Christiaan Huygens, Hugo Grotius, Baruch Spinoza and Baron d'Holbach.
Today Leiden University has seven faculties, over 50 departments and houses more than 40 national and international research institutes. It continues to enjoy an outstanding international reputation and in 2013 Leiden was the highest ranked university in the Netherlands in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. Topuniversities.com currently rates Leiden as the #19 in the 2016 QS World University Rankings.