Maastricht, Netherlands – The Rhine’s centre of religion

Just across the border from Aachen in Germany lies the city of Maastricht in the Netherlands. Like Aachen, Maastricht also has a Roman history. Unlike Aachen, it did not develop into a political capital. Rather Maastricht developed into a religious one due to the legend of the death and burial of Saint Servatius. At the same time, the city served as a cultural and economic/manufacturing hub during the Middle Ages; it not only attracted religious pilgrims but also economic immigrants and trade caravans well into the 1500s. Unfortunately, the wars of religion during the 1600s and 1700s devastated the city; it did not fully recover until the industrial revolution reached the Netherlands in the 1800s. Maastricht changed hands many times during this period of economic depression. Dutch, French, and Spanish hands (each one having control multiple times) guided the city.

More recent history

More recently, the city was part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands created in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna. It continued to remain part of it during the Belgian Revolution in 1830 despite the general populace wanting to join Belgium. The Dutch garrison did not suffer the same manpower shortages that other Dutch armies did from Belgian deserters and were able to hold onto the city. The city was recognised in the 1839 Treaty of London as belonging to the Netherlands. However it remained very autonomous due to its heavy Belgian and German influences until the First World War. Refugees from both sides of the conflict warmed the city (the Netherlands was neutral) and needed help from the North. During World War Two, it was the first city taken by the Germans in the Netherlands. It was also the first city liberated by the allies.

Today, Maastricht is a cultural capital of Europe. It is also one of the birthplaces of the European Union due to the Maastricht Treaty, signed in 1992. It has hosted Europe’s most expensive art fair, The European Fine Art Fair, since 1988. Additionally it continues to be an attraction for tourists and consumers from nearby countries.

One of the reasons why Maastricht was a manufacturing centre during its heyday was due to its access to the river and its central location. It could easily be used as a loading/unloading point for goods to be sent throughout Europe. What remains of the bridges today (many were destroyed during the Second World War) reflects this fact. In the very first picture, we can see the old style of bridge with a modern section that allows boats to pass underneath. Because the river is not very deep in this section, flat bottom barges are used in place of larger ships to transport goods up and down the river. The modern sections of those bridges which aren’t tall enough use hydraulic systems to raise the bridges by a few meters (the bridges can still be used by pedestrian traffic at this time) so that boats may pass underneath.

As the city was a religious centre in Europe, there is a high density of religious institutions within the city. For example, the second picture shows Sint-Janskerk church near the Basilica, which is the longest church in the Netherlands (and I think the highest church that we saw in Maastricht, although I have not found any evidence to support my claim).

My favourite building in Maastricht was the old Dominican Church that had been turned into a bookstore. The interior remained as it was during its use as a church with the exceptions of the pews, altar, and religious memorabilia usually found on the floors, which was removed to make space for bookcases and book stands. Two additional stories were also built within the choir of the cathedral and offered a large selection of books across many topics and genres. The Nave also contained a café for the enjoyment of an afternoon reading in a church.

Here are some more images from around the city:

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