A vibrant city above, limestone quarries below.
One of the cities I visited during my work exchange in the Netherlands in 2022 was also Maastricht. I was primarily there to visit my friend M. Yousri who wrote a guest post for my blog back when I was first starting out and was living in Aachen (Germany) at the time. Since I was focused on exploring the Netherlands, we agreed to take a daytrip across the border to Maastricht. The Dutch train system is really amazing and you can get around to pretty much anywhere in a time efficient manner.
Maastricht turned out to be a city full of small details rather than one with big, specific tourist sites, so this post will have a lot of photos, but I guess you are all used to that by now. 🙂 One of my favourite things that Yousri showed me was the Dominicanen bookshop in a church and it is absolutely worth visiting. It always makes me wonder why we no longer build beautiful buildings like that instead of all this edgy, sharp-angled modern architecture.
The DOMINICANEN BOOKSHOP IN A CHURCH
Our next stop were the caves of Maastricht underground. When I first saw them advertised online I thought we’d be visiting actual natural caves, but they turned out to be a massive system of limestone quarries dating back to the 13th century. A total of about 20.000 tunnels was dug out under Mount St. Pieter to mine chalk and about half of them are still preserved today. Once the value of lime dropped, the quarries were mostly abandoned and artists started to wander the tunnels and create in there. During WW2, the quarries were used for shelter and to store valuables, including the Night Watch painting by Rembrandt.
Today you can take a guided tour with flashlights to see some of the tunnels and art and I have to say that it is a very different experience than visiting a natural cave or a mine. For some reason the geometric square tunnels and high ceilings felt rather unsettling and I cannot imagine how it must have felt to work in there all day, carving out large chalk blocks. Since I am a geek, I could say it felt a bit like visiting a fantastical dwarven kingdom.
Fortunately the city is just as interesting above as below. The 300 years old fort of St. Pieter is located directly above the caves and you can take a guided tour through it as well, but we did not have enough time. The fort is supposed to be largely intact inside and also recently restored, but even if you do not go inside, you can still admire the views over the river Meuse from the top of the hill.
It was a rather gloomy day, but we found a lot of fun spots around the city, including some very funky sculptures – like why ever would you put up a bronze rooster? Of course we did not skip the heart of the city called the Vrijthof square with its fancy historical buildings and basilicas, and the aptly named Markt square with the farmers’ market.
We also strolled through the Stadspark, which runs along the city walls and has a small animal park with birds and deer. There’s a d’Artagnan statue to commemorate one of Dumas’ legendary three musketeers who was killed in Maastricht during a battle between French and Dutch troops, as well as a bear pit where real bears used to be kept for amusement and is now an art space.
Impressions of Maastricht
Just as we were leaving, I went to take another photo of the river and a large flock of birds took off nearby. The two photos below were taken about 40 seconds before a bird promptly shat on my head… Some people say that brings good luck, but I suppose I was just happy that it had happened at the end of our visit instead of at the start.