A Blog by International Students at Leiden University

The poetry on Leiden’s walls

One of the first things I remember noticing about the city of Leiden after moving here to study a Research Masters degree a year and a half ago was that a lot of buildings had poems in various languages painted in their walls. I loved finding them and reading the ones that I could understand, especially the ones in Spanish (my mother tongue) by authors that I knew like Pablo Neruda or Octavio Paz, or just appreciating the beauty of scriptures foreign to me like Arabic, Japanese or Cyrillic. Even today I still enjoy discovering new ones or running into familiar ones (I even live very close to one!).


The Muurgedichten (Wall poems) is an artistic and literary project that started in Leiden in 1992. Aquí, by Mexican poet Octavio Paz, in Zonneveldstraat 18 (Anushka Minnaard, Muurgedichten Leiden).

I wanted to discover more about why and how did all of these poems end up on the walls of the city, so at the time I did a quick online search and found that the project Dicht op de muur (literally: ‘close to the wall / poem on the wall’) was conceived by Ben Walenkamp and Jan Willem Bruins in 1992, who together with other poetry lovers from Leiden constituted the Tegen-Beeld Foundation, which is still responsible for the wall poems. The aim of the project is to acquaint the people with literature and poetry from different cultures and to “arouse a feeling of respect for other cultures”. The multiculturality of the wall poems also works as a way of celebrating the strong connection between Leiden and world languages, as the project has collaborated over the years with Leiden University and its Centre for Linguistics, where a great deal of the world’s languages are studied.


Scattered throughout Leiden there are more than 120 poems in 38 different languages beautifully painted in various walls. Pictured here is Like a polar winter… by Palestinian-Iraqi poet Jabra Ibrahim Jabra in Berlagestraat 13a (Biccie, Wikimedia Commons).

More recently, while preparing this post, I found that last October the Tegen-Beeld Foundation together with the Taalmuseum launched a new interactive webpage about the wall poem project, in which each one of the more than 120 wall poems has its own page where you can read the original version as well as translations in Dutch, English and sometimes other languages. Some also have the option to listen to them being recited in their original language and contain additional information about the poem and its author, as well as personal anecdotes and city stories.

Fun Fact: Inspired by the wall poems, there is also a project of wall formulas, where 6 famous physics formulas that are somehow related to the city of Leiden decorate some of its walls.

The Muurgedichten webpage also offers walking and cycling routes that take you through poems about certain themes like ‘nature’, ‘innovators’ or ‘liberty’, which I think it’s an excellent way to get to discover both the intricate streets and alleys of the historical centre of Leiden as well as some suburban parts of the city.

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The walking and cycling routes through some of the wall poems in Leiden are an excellent way to explore the city (Muurgedichten Leiden-Google Maps).

How many wall poems have you seen? Which one is your favourite?

About Daniel Salinas

¡Hola! My name is Daniel and I’m a second year RMA student at the Faculty of Archaeology specializing in heritage. Besides my academic interests, which include history, tourism and museums, I enjoy photography, spending time in nature and drawing. Since arriving to Leiden back in the summer of 2017 I have been drawn by the history and heritage of this lovely university city. In this space I will be writing posts mainly about those topics, sharing interesting spots, art, museums, cultural events and little known stories of Leiden so you all can get to know the city a little better!

2 comments on “The poetry on Leiden’s walls

  1. Sophie Jorgensen-Rideout
    February 12, 2019

    This is so interesting, I’m going to look out for more of them on my spring walks!

  2. Michael Zaks
    June 20, 2021

    Hola! I seem to be quite a bit older, but still recall spending a couple of weeks at a conference in the Lorentz center of the Leiden University at around 2008, and how I was struck by the abundance of poetry in the town. Probably I saw, at most, a third of the verses available at that time; I guess (and hope) the collection has grown up substantially since those days. Always wondered whether the people living “on the reverse side of the wall” in some way associate themselves with the poems. Also in other respects I liked the friendly and calm place. Would be pleased to come again, but until now this did not work out.

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