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Oude Hortus Botanicus

Lange Nieuwstraat 106

View of the Hortus Botanicus around about 1930 — Over the centuries, all kinds of botanists and scientists from every corner of the globe have dwelled behind this door.

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The Botanical gardens of Utrecht are the oldest existing university gardens in the Netherlands. The gardens were planted in 1639, three years after the university was founded.

This is where the scientific study of plants started in Utrecht. The purpose of the herb gardens was to teach future physicians – students of the Faculty of Medicine – how to prepare medications for different illnesses. At that time, the university consisted of two other faculties besides the Faculty of Medicine, those of Theology and Law.

Botany was a way of tapping divine wisdom. Assembling all these exotic plants was also the result of a need to create the Garden of Eden. The garden was supposed to resemble paradise and contain strange plants from exotic places.

But the scientification of botany soon changed its divine nature. Evert Jacob van Wachendorff played an important role in this. He was one of the most important Professors of Botany Utrecht has ever seen. In the early 18th century, Van Wachendorff designed a system of classification of plants, allocating them long, complicated Latin names. 

Gradually, the focus shifted from the herb garden to botany in general. Throughout the 19th century, the garden was increasingly used for research purposes. This went hand-in-hand with the founding of the new Faculty of Mathematics and Physics. Thanks to the invention of the microscope, the emphasis shifted to plant physiology and anatomy.

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