The anatomical theater of Leiden University

| Leiden Convention Bureau

In 1590, Leiden established its first botanical garden, where the renowned botanist Carolus Clusius served as a figurehead. During the same period, the administration of Leiden University decided to establish the university library in a small chapel at Rapenburg. This immediately became the location for a highly modern facility – the anatomical theater.

Petrus Pauw, a professor in Leiden and the creator of the anatomical theater, had studied in Leiden from 1581 to 1584 and continued his education in Paris, Rostock, and Padua - the three universities where anatomy lessons were given. Well-versed in the latest developments in anatomy, the professor seized the opportunity to build his facility for Leiden University. In the choir of the chapel, a round wooden structure was built, according to Pauw's wishes and design, inspired by Roman arenas like the Colosseum, with gradually ascending tiers where the audience could take their seats. Three times a year, anatomical demonstrations took place on a human body in the anatomical theater. Medical students, students from other faculties, members of the surgeon's guild and their apprentices, as well as curious citizens, attended these demonstrations.

The anatomical lessons occurred each winter, as the low temperatures slowed down the decay of cadavers. Even when there were no lessons, the audience gathered in the theater. In the absence of anatomy lessons, skeletons of people or animals from Brazil and Egypt were exhibited on the balustrades of the theater and in display cases on the wall.