Maastricht, Netherlands


Maastricht (Limburgish: Mestreech; French, somewhat outdated: Maestricht; Walloon: Måstraik or Li Trai) is a city and municipality in the south of the Netherlands. It is the capital of the province of Limburg and has 118,636 inhabitants (August 1, 2020, source: CBS). This makes it the largest municipality in the province of Limburg.

Maastricht originated at a ford on the river Maas, from which it owes its name (Maastricht = Mosa Trajectum = passage through the Maas). Maastricht has been continuously inhabited for two thousand years. The city has a long and eventful history, as attested by the numerous historical buildings and art treasures in churches and museums. The city gained international reputation through the Treaty of Maastricht (1992), which created the European Union in its current form and paved the way for the introduction of the euro as the European currency.

In the rest of the Netherlands, the city is often seen as "foreign", mainly because of its peripheral location near Belgium and Germany, but also because of the atypical landscape, the Mosan housing construction, the different history, the complicated language situation, the dominance of Catholicism ( in the past more than now), the strong emphasis on community life (brass bands, carnival, processions) and the alleged Burgundian way of life.



Maastricht is located in the south of the Netherlands. The city lies at the foot of the Sint-Pietersberg, between the Plateau of Margraten, the Plateau of Caestert and the Haspengouw, at the place where the river Jeker flows into the Maas. The city center is located at an altitude of about 50 meters above sea level. The suburbs are slightly higher. The lowest part of the municipality is the river Maas near Itteren; the highest point is the Sint-Pietersberg (109 m). D'n Observant is higher at over 170 meters, but it is an artificial hill.



The Maas has carved out a wide valley through erosion, in which river clay has been deposited throughout the Quaternary. In the twentieth century, some brick factories were established in the Belvédère area, which used this river clay as a raw material for bricks, roof tiles and vitrified clay pipes. One of these factories is still active. In the higher parts of the city, the top layer consists of loess, a fine-grained type of soil suitable for arable farming. The sheltered south-east slope of the Cannerberg in the Jeker valley is, partly due to its subsoil, suitable for wine growing.

Maastricht is located in an area where the Cretaceous comes to the surface in some places, for example in the vicinity of the Devil's Cave. On the Sint-Pietersberg and the Cannerberg, people have been making grateful use of the presence of the easily extractable chalk rock, often referred to by the incorrect name marl, for centuries. The material extracted in underground marl quarries was used as building material and as fertilizer in agriculture. As a result of this form of underground mining, hundreds of kilometers long corridors were created, some of which can be visited (Caves North, Zonneberg, Jesuit Mountain). From the beginning of the 20th century, marl mining took place in opencast mining for the cement industry. The 200 hectare ENCI quarry is the result of these large-scale excavations. The Natural History Museum Maastricht contains a large number of fossils from the Sint-Pietersberg, including Mosasaurs, giant tortoises and other fossils from the Cretaceous Sea.



Because Maastricht is located deep inland by Dutch standards, the city is less affected by the sea than the parts of the Netherlands located more west and north. This means that the weather has slightly more characteristics of a continental climate than in areas closer to the coast. The winters are often a bit colder and snowier, the summers are on average a bit warmer. However, the measured differences are small: on average, the maximum temperature in July and August is no more than half a degree above that of De Bilt. Maastricht is one of the places where the highest temperatures in the Netherlands are measured. On July 2, 2015, the city recorded the second highest maximum temperature so far since the start of the observations around 1900, namely 38.2 ° C.



Maastricht has traditionally been located on both banks of the river Maas, which have been connected by a bridge for 2000 years. Few other Dutch cities have a comparable development history. The part of the historic city on the east bank is called Wyck (pronunciation: Wiek). The other district is simply called Maastricht. After the separation of the Netherlands and Belgium, final agreement was not reached until 1843 to add an area of ​​2.3 km (1,200 fathoms; 1 cannon shot far) around Maastricht to the Netherlands. Maastricht and Sint Pieter had always remained in Dutch hands and until 1839 they formed an enclave in Limburg occupied by the Belgians. This is why the part of Maastricht on the left bank remained Dutch, while both south and north of the city the left bank of the Maas (Grensmaas) belongs to Belgian Limburg.

The city used to be surrounded by a circle of agricultural villages with fields, meadows and orchards: Limmel, Amby, Heer, Scharn, Heugem, Oud-Caberg, Wolder and Sint Pieter. Since the annexations of 1920 and 1970, these villages belong to the municipality of Maastricht and have gradually been urbanized. Sint Pieter occupies a special place in this respect due to its isolated location between Maas and Sint-Pietersberg and the protected status of the area. The villages of Borgharen and Itteren are emotionally quite far from the city and have also managed to retain their rural character.



Maastricht is one of the cities that call themselves "the oldest city in the Netherlands". Based on the results of archaeological excavations, it can be said with certainty that the city has been continuously inhabited for twenty centuries. Roughly speaking, the history of Maastricht can be divided into four eras with four different faces: Roman fortress, medieval religious center, garrison city and early industrial city.



The origin of the name Maastricht can probably be traced back to the Latin Mosa Trajectum, "passage" or "ford in the Maas", a name that is first known from the Middle Ages. The designation Traiectum, -tricht, -trecht or -drecht was also used for other places (such as Utrecht); hence the addition of the name of the river. In 1051 the name Masetrieth was first noted, which eventually became Maastricht.


Prehistory and Roman Times

Long before the city of Maastricht was founded, there was already human habitation in the area. Excavations in the Belvédère clay quarry have revealed traces of human habitation from the Old Stone Age (about 250,000 years ago), the oldest archaeological finds in the Netherlands.

Around the year 10 BC. the Romans built the important Cologne-Tongeren highway (later called Via Belgica) that crossed the Maas at Maastricht. A settlement arose at the Roman bridge, the center of which was near the current Stokstraat. Around 270 AD. Roman Maastricht was destroyed by invading Germanic tribes. To protect the bridge in the year 333 AD. or built the Roman castellum on the left bank shortly afterwards. The Romans buried their dead along the roads outside the settlement. According to tradition, the originally Armenian missionary and bishop of Tongeren Servatius was buried in one of those cemeteries, today's Vrijthof.


Middle Ages (500-1500)

Maastricht is frequently mentioned in written sources from the early Middle Ages. The picture that emerges is that of a reasonably large, reasonably prosperous city at the time, which, thanks to the presence of a bishop's see and perhaps a royal palace, formed a certain center of power within the Merovingian and Carolingian empires. Despite the existence of a list of 21 holy bishops of Maastricht, there is no certainty about the first bishops. It is clear, however, that the Christian religion was rooted here from an early age. In the course of the 8th century, Maastricht lost its episcopal see to Liège.

Already in Merovingian times a toll was established in Maastricht and coins were minted. In 881 the city was sacked by Vikings. In the 9th century, after the various divisions of Charlemagne's empire, Maastricht was part of the Middle Kingdom of Lower Lorraine. At the end of the 10th century, Maastricht seemed to become the capital of that empire for a while. The last Duke of Lower Lorraine, however, died in captivity and was reburied around the year 1000 in St. Servaas Church.

The eleventh and twelfth centuries were a time of great prosperity, especially for the chapter of Saint Servatius. Around the year 1000, both Maastricht chapters - that of Saint Servatius and that of Our Lady - started a large-scale building campaign, in which they copied and tried to surpass each other. This building activity led to an unprecedented cultural boom in Maastricht and the surrounding area. Maasland goldsmithing reached a high level and Maastricht painters and sculptors ('masons') were active in large parts of the Holy Roman Empire. Hendrik van Veldeke wrote a new vita of Saint Servatius, one of the oldest works in Dutch literature.

In 1204 Maastricht was lent by the emperor to the duke of Brabant. From that moment on, Maastricht had two lords, the (prince) bishop of Liège and the duke of Brabant, the beginning of the duality of Maastricht. Around 1400 Brabant, and therefore also part of Maastricht, came into the possession of the Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold. His successors, including Emperor Charles V and Philip II of Spain, stayed in the city several times and then stayed in the Brabant Government.


Maastricht has never had city rights in the sense of a city letter; these developed gradually over the centuries. In 1229, the city did receive permission from Duke Henry I of Brabant to replace the existing earthen wall around the city with a stone city wall. In 1281, construction began on a new bridge, just north of the old one, which had collapsed a few years earlier. In 1284 joint management was enshrined in a constitutional treaty called the Alde Caerte. After a number of interpretation disputes, this was supplemented in 1356 with the Doghter Caerte. This situation persisted until the French Revolution. A second wall was built around 1375. Tannery and cloth manufacturing were particularly important for the late medieval economy. Throughout the Middle Ages, Maastricht was an important religious center and a place of pilgrimage. From the thirteenth century many monasteries settled in the city.


Early modern and French periods (1500-1814)

In the sixteenth century, Maastricht, with its fifteen to twenty thousand inhabitants, belonged to the larger cities in the Netherlands. The city experienced a modest period of prosperity around 1500, also in the cultural field. However, freedom of religion weighed heavily. In 1535, 15 heretical Anabaptists were burned at the stake on the Vrijthof. In the iconoclasm of 1566, statues and furniture in churches and chapels also died in Maastricht. During these years, the initial boom period came to a halt and poverty increased rapidly.

In 1579 Alexander Farnese, later Duke of Parma, recaptured Maastricht (Siege of Maastricht, 1579), after which the Counter-Reformation began. In 1632 Frederik Hendrik conquered the city (Siege of Maastricht, 1632) and Maastricht came into the hands of the Protestant Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. He took the place of the Brabant duke in the city council and respected the condominium with Liège. The peace terms gave the Reformed and Catholics the same rights, so both got religious freedom.

From 1673-78 (Siege of Maastricht, 1673) and in 1748-49 (Siege of Maastricht, 1748) Maastricht was under French rule. During the short-term French occupation, the Protestant people of Maastricht were temporarily deprived of their equal rights.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Maastricht was a dormant provincial town. The garrison provided some entertainment, but otherwise life in the city was characterized by a conservative attitude to life. There was a slight cultural revival in the second half of the 18th century.

After a failed attempt in 1793, the French commander Kléber captured the fortress of Maastricht on November 4, 1794 (Siege of Maastricht, 1794). The city was annexed to the French Republic after the conclusion of the Hague Treaty of 16 May 1795, which brought an end to the age-old duality. Maastricht became the capital of the Nedermaas department. The legacy of the French Era is, on the whole, not a positive one. Churches, chapters and monasteries had been abolished, valuable inventories sold or destroyed, libraries, archives and treasuries looted, and centuries-old institutions dealing with the care of the sick, the poor and the elderly abolished.


Modern era (1814-1945)

On August 1, 1814, Maastricht became the capital of the new province of Limburg in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. During the Belgian revolt of 1830, Maastricht remained under Dutch rule due to the tenacity of garrison commander Dibbets.

In 1834, the young entrepreneur Petrus Laurentius Regout on Boschstraat started producing glass and crystal on an industrial scale, followed two years later by the manufacture of pottery. The Regout factories developed very well and partly because of this Maastricht became a prominent industrial city in the 19th century. Due to poor social conditions, infant mortality was high and the average age low. At the time, Maastricht was an unhealthy, dirty city with a large number of impoverished inhabitants. Socialism found a certain following at an early stage, but never on the scale of the Walloon industrial basins.

It was not until some time after the fortress status was lifted in 1867 that the first residential areas outside the medieval city wall were constructed. On January 1, 1920, some surrounding municipalities were annexed, increasing the area of ​​the municipality from 415 ha to 3500 ha.

In 1826 the Zuid-Willemsvaart, including the inland harbor of Bassin, was opened for shipping traffic. The Liège-Maastricht Canal was dug between 1845 and 1850. The first railway line in Maastricht (Aachen - Maastricht) was opened in 1853. Maastricht was only connected to the Dutch railway network in 1865. Maastricht station was built on sites that had previously belonged to the municipality of Meerssen.


Maastricht was a strongly Frenchized city in the 19th century. The urban elite spoke French, in addition to Maastrichtian, and barely mastered Dutch. Until well into the 20th century, education and social life were strongly segregated and largely in the hands of Catholic institutions.

On the morning of May 10, 1940, the Maastricht garrison blew up the bridges across the Maas in an attempt to slow down the advance of the Germans. After the capitulation, the German occupation began, which would last for four years, four months and four days in Maastricht, until September 14, 1944. Because it was feared in 1943 that the city would be on the front line, the Sint-Pietersberg plan was developed. an evacuation center was set up in the Sint-Pietersberg. Allied air raids not only caused many deaths, but also led to a housing shortage for decades due to the loss of a large area of ​​housing. The greatest loss was suffered by Maastricht Jews: of the 515 members of the Jewish community in 1940, only 145 remained in 1945.


Recent history (1945-now)

After the Second World War, the population increased explosively, which led to the construction of uniform new housing estates, initially mainly west of the Maas. On July 1, 1970, another municipal annexation took place, increasing the population to 112,500. From the 1960s onwards, a gradual secularization and depollution of Maastricht society took place, as a result of which the Roman Catholic Church lost much influence.

Gradually, the center of gravity in the urban economy shifted from industrial employment to services. In 1974, the University of Limburg (since 1996 Maastricht University) started. The arrival of the university led to more diversity in the Maastricht population composition and increasing internationalization. Summits of the European Council were held in 1981 and 1991. The city owes great international name recognition, especially to the latter meeting, and the resulting Maastricht Treaty.