MAASTRICHT BREIF HISTORY
The first thought that springs to the mind of Europeans of a certain age. When the name of Maastricht comes into a conversation is.
“That’s the city where a European treaty was signed in 1992. How dull it looked” The images of formality that were beamed across the continent and the rest of the world, did make the city look, not holding back, a little dull to say the least. From a British perspective, the building that kept appearing on our screens, looked so very functional, business-like and dull. Hey it was even surrounded by what looked like a moat. This building we were witnessing was The Provincial Hall. The meeting that was taking place there was The European Summit. 9th-10th December 1991. This was conference that the presidents and prime ministers of the then Member States of the European Union agreed upon the Treaty of Maastricht. This treaty had far-reaching consequences for European integration. The treaty was signed under the eyes of the world, watching intently, on February 7th 1992.
The translation of Maastricht is, place to cross the Maas. The Maas is the river around which the town’s history revolves. Maybe it was due to this that it was decided to make this the location for such a mighty treaty to be signed at such an important crossing. A crossing towards the future, and the joining of Europe. If your views of Maastricht are stuck in those past times, get them out of your head now. This is a wonderful town, no it’s better than that, and it’s a great town. Well worth a visit and exploration. A comment found on a web site a comment from a resident, reads “Maastricht is a place you come upon, then you go back more and more until you end up there.” The way HeadtoFoot feel about the place after a number of visits are definitely thoughts we share. We would love to join the 122,000 inhabitants that reside here. One thing that seems takes your breath away walking through the city, apart from how relaxed and civilised it seems. How many tall people, both men and women there are, of all ages. This is not the most important of observations. But should not go un-noticed We won’t go on any longer about the place any longer those thoughts can be found in the Why Maastricht section.
Let’s have a look at the history of the town.
Maastricht is the capital of the South Limburg region, which is now in the Netherlands. It is set deep in the south of the country, tucked in between Belgium to the West and Germany to the East. Traces have been found of inhabitants, hunter-gatherers from around 250000 BC. Signs of farmers and traces of their pottery have been dated back to 5300 BC. It is known that there were flint mines in the area dating from 3900 BC.
From here on the time line is much the same as the rest of Europe. The Romans arrived with Julius Caesar, around 57 BC, it is recorded that the Romans lost a battle in the area in AD 69. The battle was near a bridge over the River Maas. It is thought likely that this was the site that is now the location of Maastricht. The town was founded in the first century, when it prospered with the Romans.
The town is sited for its strategic position of strength. With the river Maas, acting as a very natural defence. The Romans built a road stretching from Boulogne-sur-Mer on the French channel coast through Bavay and Tongeren in Belgium, eventually ending in Germany at Cologne.
It is said that the road was up to 16 meters wide at times. Imagine troops marching across Europe on this road. Must have been some sight.
Rivers were huge obstacles in these times. Often used as part of a natural defensive structure. In Maastricht the River Maas is reasonably shallow and easy to cross. Making the location perfect. As long as the bridge, could be defended successfully. The Romans gave the town the name Mosae Trajectum. Place to cross the Maas. This eventually became Maastricht. The Romans built a wooden bridge, here, which at the time was the only fixed crossing to the North Sea. There is a memorial marking where it is thought the location of the original bridge was. The statue raised on a pole to mark the spot is a copy of a relic recovered from the river. This will be pointed out on the walk The Roman city had no walls, inhabitants relied on the fortifications along the River Rhine, in the East. It is a distance away but also had no river crossing, so effectively held back marauders from the East. As the power of Rome began to wane during the 3rd century, Germanic tribes started to raid the region. The Romans began to build fortifications. These garrisons’s were erected in strategic positions. Maastricht was finally captured around this time and promptly burned to the ground. At the start of the 4th century the bridge was re-built. On the left bank next to the bridge a “castrum”, a walled army camp was built. Now Maastricht found itself on the front line This walled camp remained long after the Romans had departed, dominating the area.
It was not until around 1000AD, that the wall and towers were finally taken down, and its stone was used for the building of houses. You can see the last traces of Roman occupancy amongst the stones at the base of Ounze- Lievre –Vrouweplein. They are to be seen openly, and not to hard to spot. During the walk around the town you will see many signs of Roman life, including some fairly recent excavations in the Hotel Derlon.
The history of the city can be divided into four periods. Obviously the Roman period was the first. The second period was the medieval period when the city became a pilgrimage city. Devoted to the grave of Saint Servatius. Servatius was the Bishop of Tongres, north west of Liege.
One of the earliest dioceses in the lowlands. It is claimed he was a distant relative to John The Baptist, he had been to the Holy land as a guard of the Holy Order. Whilst in Tongres he had a vision in which he was told to become Bishop of Maastricht. It was a previous vision, which sent him to Tongres. He died in Maastricht whilst Bishop, in 384. His remains were buried in a chapel on the road between Maastricht and Tongres.
This was the draw for the pilgrims. The first church was built over his grave around 560. Saint Servaasbasiliek was built over the tomb around 1000 AD. The cathedral is one of the few built over the tomb of a saint. A visit to the tomb and the cathedral are a must on any visitors list.
The early middle ages were dominated by the rule of Charlemagne. During this period the region around Aachen, became the seat of government. Apparently Charlemagne liked the warm baths the city offered. Charlemagne, Charles the Great was King of the Franks from 768 until his death in 814. He is regarded as the founding father of both the French and German monarchies, But also as the father of Europe as his empire united most of Western Europe for the first time since the Romans. After Charlemagne’s death his kingdom was divided and the Maas became the boundary between the west and east Frankish kingdoms. Maastricht ended up in the Eastern kingdom.
The city developed into a city of duel authority, with both the Prince Bishop of Liege, who was give trusteeship in 1204. The Duchy of Brabant who began to share power in 1283. Together they shared sovereignty over the city. This duel power sharing can be witnessed with a visit to the town hall. Where a very unusual feature was added to overcome any rivalry between the rulers. The city was given its defensive walls in 1229. The Bishopric of Liege was a state of the Holy Roman Empire, including most of Belgium provinces of Liege and Limburg. The following centuries saw the city and its destiny controlled very much by religion and its role a site of pilgrimage. The next major stage of Maastricht’s history was a period known as the Sieges Of Maastricht. The Spanish laid siege to Maastricht in 1579. When the town rallied to the aid of the Dutch. This led the Spanish, who had a major presence in the Low Countries at the time to lay siege to the town. The siege began in March and did not end until the end of July. The Spanish dug tunnels underneath the walls, only to have boiling water poured down them. Fires were also built in the tunnels by the defenders, the result being a lack of oxygen for those inside them, leaving them unusable. Eventually the defenders became worn down and the Spanish finally stormed into the city, only to find 4000 people alive. They promptly spent the next three days looting what little remained.
In 1673, Louis XVI brought 40,000 French troops to the walls. Once again a fierce and bloody battle took place. The French lost 8000 men on the battlefield during this siege. Including the famous D’Artagnan. His presence can still be seen around the town in physical monuments, and also many say in a supernatural way. He is said to wander the tunnels that still remain under the city. The French took the city again in 1748, and again1794. After this siege Maastricht was annexed to France. The French remained in control until 1814, when it finally became part of the Netherlands once again. This led to the establishment of the province of Limburg. There was yet another siege in 1830, when Belgium decided they should have the town. It was not successful as strong resistance was put up the garrison. Maastricht remained part of the Netherlands.
The Treaty of London 1839 confirmed Maastricht as part of the Netherlands.
The years between 1836 and 1850 saw the beginning of Maastricht’s industrialisation. Petrus Ragout founded his ceramics factories, along with their terrible working conditions. Before long many factories were being established. The city must have begun to feel less vulnerable around this period as the fortifications were partly demolished. 1890 to the 1930’s witnessed a rapid development and massive growth of the mining industry. With production in the region growing from 100000 tons in 1890 to 12 million tons in 1930. During the First World War the Netherlands remained neutral, but was occupied during the Second World War. The bridges were damaged during this occupation. This was still a major crossing point in Europe. Maastricht was one of the first towns to be liberated by the advancing allied army. This took place in September 1944.
The period after the war brought about a staggering cultural change. Local artists began to express themselves in their own styles rather than the confines of provincialism. Much of this can be seen all over the city. There has been great economic growth since the late 50’s. The closing of the pits brought about a change of direction for industry with companies such as DAF, moving into the region. The University of Maastricht was founded opening its doors in 1976. This mix of students and working residents gave the city a vibrant cultural agenda. 1991 had the world looking at Maastricht with the signing of the European treaty. Since then there seems to have been no looking back. The city continues with its traditions as a busy medieval centre on an ancient trading and crossing point. There are still remains an active industrial scene.Specialising in ceramics, papermaking and cement. Alongside the business side there is an endless stream of cultural events constantly taking place throughout the year, along with a strong social culture based around the bars and restaurants.This is definitely a 21st century city that is totally in touch with it’s past and traditions. Remember, a monument used is a monument saved. This is a place to keep coming back to, and who knows you may want to stay a little longer. This really is just a potted history of the city, aimed to give the visitor a brief insight.
There is only one way to see and enjoy this town, on foot.
It seems whatever the time of the year, there is always something to see and enjoy in Maastricht.
HeadtoFoot thoroughly recommend a visit.