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 guided the city.

More recent history

More recently, the city forms 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 1839 Treaty of London recognised the city 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 fled to the city (the Netherlands was neutral) and they needed help from the North. During World War Two, it was the first city the Germans took in the Netherlands. It was also the first city the Allies liberated.

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.

Today

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 (those not destroyed during the Second World War) reflects this fact. In the very first picture, we can see the old style of bridges with a modern section that allows boats to pass underneath. Because the river is not very deep in this section, flat bottom barges replace larger ships to transport goods up and down the river. The modern sections of those bridges use hydraulic systems to raise the bridges by a few meters (pedestrians can still use the bridges when this happens) 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 which is now a bookstore. The interior remained as it was during its use as a church with the exception of the pews, altar, and religious memorabilia usually found on the floors, which were removed to make space for bookcases and bookstands. 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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