Excursion to Maastricht

On 8th August 2008, me and the other students that were attending Utrecht Summer School met early in the morning at the bus station (adjacent to Utrecht Centraal railway station) to catch the bus that would take us to Maastricht, the southernmost city in the Netherlands.

The name Maastricht comes from the Latin term Mosae Trajectum, which means “passage over the Maas”. This is a reference to the bridge over the “Rivier Maas” (Meuse River), build by the Romans during the reign of Augustus Caesar.

There is an ongoing dispute over whether Maastricht or Nijmegen is the oldest city in the Netherlands. I don’t know which city is the oldest one, but one thing Maastricht can claim, its uninterrupted habitation since at least the days of the Roman Empire, around 2000 years ago.

Meuse River

Meuse River

In Maastricht, we were presented with a city tour in an older-timer bus. Unfortunately, we were also presented with a rainy day. The city tour by bus was great to find out quite a lot about the historic part of the city. For example,  I found out that the famous musketeer d’Artagnan was killed in battle at the Siege of Maastricht, in 1673.

Afterwards, we took a cruise on the Meuse River, during which I had my lunch while I was appreciating the view from the boat. This boat trip was very enjoyable. It gave an excellent overall view of Maastricht, the boat was very beautiful and comfortable and it was very relaxing to be on the water.

After cruising for around 20 minutes, we disembarked and walked up the hill to have a guided tour in the amazing Caves of St. Pieter.
These Caves consist of an underground labyrinth with over 20,000 passageways extending over an area of 80 hectares, which resulted from the marl quarrying over the centuries.

Caves of St. Pieter

Caves of St. Pieter

But the Caves weren’t used only as a source of marl. They also served as a place of refuge during the many sieges that Maastricht has endured as well as during World War II. Some of the facilities installed at that time, such as a bakery, water pumps and electrical installation, are still present.

Two different networks of tunnels are opened to the public, the “Grotten Noord” (North Caves) and the”Grotten Zonneberg” (Zonneberg Caves). We visited the last one, where the facilities referred above were installed.
Down there, we experienced the completely absence of light for a few minutes. We find very big tunnels there and some of their walls show the marks that the manual laborers who cut out the blocks and various artists have left. There’s writings, paintings and even some sculptures. Several of these works of art were intentionally placed in the Zonneberg Caves after 1900.

The Caves are really amazing! They are one of the most incredible things done by humans I have ever saw. But they are really chilly, after a while down there, I was feeling frozen. It felt so good when we came outside the caves and I felt a warmer temperature.

Just a curiosity about Mount St. Pieter. Due to the importance of its flora and fauna, in 1974, Mount St. Pieter was given the status of a protected nature reserve. The hill-forest landscape and the chalk grassland support a rich and diverse fauna and flora. There’s, for example, some rare plants belonging to the orchid family growing there. At least 15 of the 19 species of bats that were identified in the Netherlands can be found under Mount St. Pieter. In autumn, bats seek out the underground mine shafts to hibernate there.

Caves of St. Pieter

Caves of St. Pieter

We returned to the city center by boat. Then, it was given us some time to explore the city by our own. I didn’t see much of the city, we just visited a few shops and than we went back to the meeting point.

It was a pity I could only take only 3 (bad) pictures. First, it was raining and it was not possible to take any decent picture. Then, my camera, for some reason I do not know, was adding some yellow and green lines in the pictures. And when we were in the Caves, the battery of my camera (that had been recharged overnight) decided to die.

1 Response to “Excursion to Maastricht

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