Leiden Gunpowder Disaster Memorial – Leiden, Netherlands - Atlas Obscura
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Leiden, Netherlands

Leiden Gunpowder Disaster Memorial

A massive explosion that leveled hundreds of buildings in the city of Leiden is remembered by a waterside plaque. 

On the afternoon of January 12th, 1807, a ship moored in the docks of Leiden in the Netherlands exploded with such force that hundreds of the surrounding buildings were destroyed, and it seems as though it may all have been caused by a cooking accident. 

During the French occupation of Leiden, a ship full of gunpowder was sitting in the so-called Steenschuur (Stone Barn) canal in the heart of the city. The ship was heading to the town of Delft, carrying the munitions from the city of Haarlem, holding over 37,000 pounds of explosive powder. No one is sure exactly what set the conflagration off, but 4:15 in the afternoon, the ship exploded. The ensuing blast left 152 people dead, and another 2,000 injured, toppling over 200 buildings in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Given how devastating the blast was, and the limited capacity of forensics at the time evidence as to the cause was never found. However the leading theory is that a cooking accident aboard the vessel sparked the explosion. However this seems to be based on testimony that someone saw potato shavings being thrown overboard before the blast.

These days it is hard to see that the town was damaged at all, as most of the buildings were either rebuilt or replaced. Only a classy stone inscription remains in the canal where the incident occurred. The plate actually installed down on the actual canal wall, so you have to look for the memory if a blast that once devastated the town. 

Know Before You Go

It's best seen from the Van der Werfpark side of the water. So go into the park and look at the canal walls on the opposite side. Can't miss it.