In this website, I've written on a number of European cities that have maintained a large amount of its medieval infrastructure -- the old city walls, old churches and town halls, etc. Some cities are fortunate enough to have a large part of it left, but not all cities have truly integrated it into the overall character of the town (i.e., "Here's the rebuilt town, and oh by the way, there's the renmants of the old city wall over there. We keep it because the historians say we have to.") But when you have a grand mix of new and old, seemingly flowing together with the character of the town and its people, it is always a pleasant experience.
That was what my visit to Maastricht, at the southeastern corner of the Netherlands, was like. Maastricht has retained many of its old buildings -- particularly the old churches and various city walls. But many are now renovated, and the city has added fountains and other signs of modernity, producing a very colorful city, one that drew thousands to its streets on the sunny Saturday afternoon I spent there.
Maastricht was once a fortified city, and portions of the fortifications still remain, forming the outer ring of the modern downtown. As is my common practice, I started at these outer structures during the morning, and worked my way inward in time for lunch -- it worked very well. There are two sets of bastions that would interest any history buff, the du Moulin Line or "Hoge Fronten" to the northwest and the Waldeck Bastion in Waldeckpark to the southwest. The former is a whole section of the bastion walls (inner and outer) with caves and internal passages that are occasionally open to the public. Walking through them, I imagined what attacking such a fortress must have been like, as the inner walls of the bastion were loaded with gun positions ready to snipe anyone caught in the middle. The latter is a better maintained, but smaller, section.
From Waldeckpark, I worked my way east, meeting up with the Jeker River, which is a small tributary leading into the Maas River (from which the city got its name). Maastricht's University Square is all along this route, and its old red-brick construction and tightly winding cobblestone streets (so tightly winding it is easy to get lost) are very pretty. The Jeker cuts through the center of the university grounds, and there are several old-style bridges and parks that follow along. In order to get the best views, you'll want to work your way south of the river, then follow east.
You will eventually encounter Nolenpark, Maastricht's most notable, and the second picutre shows why. The park follows the exterior of the "Third" City Wall (Derde Omwalling), a section of white stone flanked by two stout towers and an old gateway in the center. The city of Maastricht has added a couple ponds and fountains to make Nolenpark very scenic and a pleasant walk.
Staying to the outside of the wall, you will come upon the "First" City Wall (Eerste Omwalling) facing the river with a row of cannons pointing to the east, and the "Second" City Wall (Tweede Omwalling) that parallels the Derde but further north. The first photo of this travelogue shows De Helpoort, Maastricht's best known gate, located in the Second Wall. A plaque on the tower indicates that the gate was first built in 1229, but it is in great shape.
Working into the city, I found another maze of tight cobblestone roads, but many of these are brilliantly decorated with flags, signs, and new coats of paint. The Koestraat, shown in the third photo, is but an example. When I took this shot in the late morning, the crowds were just beginning to form, but by mid-afternoon, you couldn't cram more people onto this street! That could be said through the shopping district, which covers about ten city blocks.
There are several market squares in the downtown, each of which are worth visiting. The Koestraat exits to the most popular square, the Onze Lieuwe Vrouweplein, shown in the fourth photo. The Holy Mother Basilica is located to the right of the photo, along with a special open chapel for "Old Lady of the River", with its massive golden Madonna. This church also has a schatzkammer (treasury museum).
Directly north is the Stadhuis square, with its immense Stadhuis in the center. What I found interesting wasn't so much the Stadhuis but the statue located at the northwest corner of the square. It is of a VIP of some kind, but he's holding a lit torch -- no, not a simulated concrete 'torch' but a real, flaming torch. I also noted that the surrounding area proudly displayed the white-star-on-red-flag symbol of the city of Maastricht.
The other city square that you must hit is the Vrijthof, shown in the final photo, partly obscured by a champagne festival that was just kicking up. This is the scene of Maastricht's best-recognized skyline, with St. Janskerk, St. Servaasbasiliek, and the Militaire Hoofdwacht (Guard House). St. Janskerk still shows some war damage to its original red tower, but the whole of the church interior is fabulous. St. Servaasbasiliek's entrance is a beautiful archway leading to another ecclesiastic museum.
After all this walking, I settled back over to the Holy Mother Basilica to get lunch, washed down with a belgian abbey beer (a very popular drink in this area, I learned). With the throngs of people wandering around enjoying the beautiful sunshine and the scenery, I felt both relaxed yet energized.
I would definitely put Maastricht high on the list of places to go when visiting the Benelux region or western Germany. It's among the best when it comes to mixing new and old in a beautiful array of history and color.
Trip taken 13 July 2002 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin