Tot ziens to the Netherlands
04.05.2019 - 07.05.2019 11 °C
Maastricht, sitting on the banks of the Maas River, is the Netherland’s oldest city. It is located in the south of the country on a thin finger of land which juts down between Germany and Belgium. The West Bank of the Maas is the city’s main hub with a lovely old town containing 1667 national heritage buildings. It developed from a Roman settlement, the remnants of which can be seen in the city walls, the first being built in 1229. It’s cobblestoned, pedestrianised streets are lined with lovely shops and cafes, which along with a few nice squares give it an air of bourgeoise. On Sunday we did a walking tour and got a real insight into the long history of the city and its medieval buildings.
The Town Hall
Maastricht’s second basilica Onze Lieve Vrouwebasillek, Basilica of Our Lady, one of the oldest churches in the Netherlands built before 1000AD
The oldest city gate in the Netherlands.
Part of the city wall and the red shuttered building dating from 1647 that was previously a nunnery
The (normally) most beautiful and famous of the squares is the cobblestoned, tree and cafe lined Vrijthof Square in the centre of the old town. This is where Andre Rieu conducts his annual concerts. However, a big Andre fan I was devastated to arrive there to find a carnival being set up in right in the middle of it and blocking what should have been a beautiful view to the Basilica of St Servatius and St Johns Church with its 80 metre tall red tower and the 38 heritage buildings lining the other sides of the square.
Today I walked 3.4km from our bnb to Andre Rieu’s home. It is actually a castle and sits on a small hill overlooking the Maas, with a church behind it with a large steeple. I imagine in its day it would have been situated in a little village on the outskirts of town, but although it sits within a lovely garden with a mass planting of rhododendrons in bloom and a long sweeping stairway, unfortunately suburbia has encroached on it and spoiled the effect somewhat. However, it was exciting to see where Andre lived, but alas no sightings!
Andre’s Primary school
While I was off doing my explorations, Keith went off to explore some of the defences that were built by the Dutch to defend the city. Because Maastricht is strategically located on the Maas River and is a gateway between north and south Europe it was attacked many times over 2000 years with control changing many times. It started with Romans in early AD who established the first fort in the middle of the town. They were followed by the Gauls, Vikings, Spanish and French over the next 1500 years.
King Willem was determined to keep Maastricht in Dutch hands and built many major defensive structures. Keith first visited Fort St Pitier on a 100m hill which overlooks the town and provided cannon and musket cover to defend the south of the town. To the west 14 km of tunnels (known as casements) were dug into the limestone hills in a zig-zag pattern. The tunnels had openings through which they could deliver a withering cross fire at the approaching troops. In later years these casements were used as bomb shelters in WW2 and shelters against nuclear attack in the Cold War.
We are staying on the east bank in an area called the Wyck, a lovely area with 17th century houses and quieter than the West Bank.
The Wyck from the West Bank
Not only has this charming, historical city been a nice place to relax after a couple of busy weeks, it has been a fitting bookmark to our journey through the Netherlands from our starting place in another wonderful Dutch city, Amsterdam.
Tomorrow we train back to Amsterdam then catch an evening flight to Stockholm.
Tot ziens Netherlands! We’ve enjoyed getting acquainted.