Maastricht's central bridge, Sint Servaasbrug, is reckoned to be the oldest in the Netherlands, built towards the end of the 13th century. For hundreds of years this was the city's only bridge and so didn't have a name until 1932 when the Wilhelminabrug was constructed. Named after the city's patron saint St Servaasbrug is now used only for pedestrian and cycle traffic.
Not a lot of the original construction is left as it was destroyed during the Second World War resulting in most of the arches being replaced with stone-clad concrete. Another modern addition is the steel drawbridge, pictured, which can be raised to allow riverboats to pass beneath it. This is interesting because it has a walkway which rises with the bridge allowing people to continue using it when it's up - something I haven't come across before.
In the Aldenhofpark, adjacent to the main city park, you'll come across this odd structure along with various animal sculptures including the one on top of it of a girl comforting a dying giraffe. Doing a little research I find that this was formerly a bear pit. In 1920 the city bought a couple of bears from a German circus with the intention of breeding them and as a tourist attraction.
Unfortunately both bears turned out to be male.but the bear pit was used anyway up until 1993 when the ageing occupant, called Jo, was released to a zoo. Instead of bears the artist Michael Huisman was invited to contribute some sculptures which you can see now. That of the girl tending the giraffe is "De Troostmachin" (Consolations Machine" and is attached to a child's roundabout which when turned makes the girl's hand move. Inside the bear pit are sculptures of extinct animals.
This statue, sited in the City Park just outside the old city walls, commemorates the spot where the French captain, Charles Ogier de Batz de Castelmore, was killed during the Siege of Maastricht in June 1673. De Castelmore is better known as d'Artagnan, famously fictionalised in Dumas's "Three Musketeers".
The action took place during the French/Dutch war and the siege had been underway for two weeks, led by the engineer Vauban (better known for his fortress building such as that of Lille's Citadel). Vauban method of attack was to dig a series of zig-zag trenches working their way towards the heavily defended city walls and he was making steady progress. However the French king Louis XIV had wanted to celebrate mass in Maastricht's cathedral on the 24th June, the feast day of St John the Baptist, and had ordered an escalation oif the attack.
Being in charge of the musketeers d'Artagnan led the attack personally and was cut down, along with several of his troops, by fierce gunfire by the defenders soon after crossing the moat. Following the unsuccessful attack, which also saw heavy losses from the English troops fighting alongside the French, Louis decided to allow Vauban to continue with his method and the city capitulated less than a week later.
I had no idea what this statue on the Markt was about but the fact the flame was still burning on a sleety morning as I passed caught my camera eye. Now that I'm home a little research reveals that this is a Maastricht professor of physics and chemistry named Jean-Pierre (Jan-Pieter) Minckelers.
Whist at the University of Louvain he was invited to join a research group investigating the best gases for ballooning and as a side-product played with the idea of using coal gas for illumination in 1785 for his lecture room. He was thus the inventor of gas lighting but the commercial patent for coal gas lighting was taken out in 1804 by the German inventor, Friedrich Winzer, who had developed his process independently.
Although on a smaller scale than the nearby Aachen Christmas Market the one here at Maastricht is well worth the visit. The event runs from the end of November until January 1st and as well as a good selection of craft stalls, the gluhwein marquee and the fast food stands there is also a ferris wheel and ice-rink.
This all takes place on the main square, the Vrijthof, and along with the local bars and restaurants provides a buzzy atmosphere which makes it a joy to sit sipping a gluhwein or two and soak up the ambience.
As well as the market the city is a colourful delight with its Christmas lights and many of the shops stay open late on some nights. For a bit of extra festive celebration try to get there on December 5th and 6th when Sinterklaas and his Moorish helpers, the "Black Peters", are in town. December the 5th is the evening that the Black Peters distribute presents, on Sinterklaas's behalf, to Dutch children (only if they have been good) and on the 6th, Sinterklaas's "Name Day", the entourage leaves the Netherlands to deliver presents to children around the rest of the world.
A beatifull playground for children, close to one of the old fortifications of Maastricht "Fort Willem". Entrance fee is €1.70 a person.
The playground has a swimming pool, an 18 hole midget golf course and numberous of activities for the young ones.
In some of my other reviews I have referred to the Centre Céramique simply as “the public library” – which it is, but the building also includes exhibition rooms, two cafés, dozens of computer workplaces with free internet access, several soundproof rehearsal rooms for musicians, parts of the city archives and the European Journalism Center, which is on the top floor.
This strikingly beautiful modern building was designed, along with the entire new Céramique District on the site of an old ceramics factory, by the Dutch architect Jo Coenen (born 1949 in Heerlen). The building is located on the new public square Plein 1992 and is just a few meters from Knooppunt 2, the second node of the South Limburg network of bicycle routes.
To use a computer workplace you are given a log-in code. This is free, but there is a charge for other computer services such as printing. For those who bring their own laptops or other internet devices, there are numerous workplaces on four floors, and there is free wireless internet access throughout the building.
Most of the books in the library are of course in Dutch, but there are also books and especially periodicals in other languages.
The whole building is airy, roomy and bright – and it is air conditioned, which I much appreciated since I happened to be in Maastricht during a blistering August heat wave.
The Centre Céramique was built in the 1990s and has been open since 1999.
At the west (left) end of the Saint Servatius Bridge is the first node or junction of the South Limburg bicycle routes.
Knoop means knot and punt means point, so Kooppunt literally means “knot-point”.
The whole region of South Limburg is covered with these nodes or knot-points, which is where various bicycle routes come together. At each node there is a big map showing other nearby nodes and the bicycle routes that lead to them. Along the routes themselves there are little signs with the number of the next node, so you really can’t get lost.
The idea is that you can plan your bicycle tour (in advance or ad hoc) by following the marked routes from one node to the next. The system is very flexible, because you can start at any node, wherever you happen to be, and go to any other nodes that are nearby. This system originated in Belgium, apparently, and is now used in numerous regions of Belgium and the Netherlands.
My original intention was to cycle around to a dozen or so of these nodes in and around Maastricht (which is perfectly feasible because they are quite close together), but because I happened to be in Maastricht in the middle of a blistering summer heat-wave I finally decided to be sensible for once and not over-do it, as I usually do, so after visiting a mere five of the nodes I took refuge in the air-conditioned comfort of the public library (conveniently located near Knooppunt 2).
By the way, the word Knooppunt is also used to designate motorway interchanges. Maastricht has a particularly dreadful one called “Knooppunt Europaplein” which takes up huge amounts of urban real estate that could much better be used for other purposes.
At one corner of the Market Square there is a statue of a man holding a torch with an eternal flame.
At first I thought it must be a war memorial or the flame of freedom or some such, but it turns out to be something much more practical. The statue is of a man named Jan Pieter Minckeleers (1748-1824), a professor of physics and chemistry who was one of the inventors of gas lighting.
Apparently this invention was a by-product of his major line of research, which was to find the best gas for use in balloons for manned balloon flight.
Plein 1992 is a new public square in the Céramique district, commemorating the signing of the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992. It is just a short walk or ride from the historic city center, thanks to The High Bridge, a beautiful new car-free bridge across the Maas River.
The square has cafés, shops, a theatre, a supermarket and the great new public library, the Centre Céramique.
It is close to Knooppunt 2 of the South Limburg bicycle network.
Knooppunt 2, the second node of the South Limburg bicycle network, is in the Céramique district, on Avenue Céramique at the corner of Sonneville-Lunet.
This is a district where there used to be a big ceramics factory, starting on a small scale in 1851 and gradually developing into a major firm called the 'Société Céramique'. This was one of two major ceramics companies in Maastricht, until they merged in 1958.
The factory buildings were torn down in the early 1990's to make room for a new housing development, which was given the name Céramique.
At Knooppunt 2 there is a bus stop where I later caught the number 50 bus going to Aachen.
Knooppunt 3, the third node of the South Limburg bicycle route network, is near the main building of Maastricht University and is only 400 meters from Knooppunt 12, for whatever reason.
Parts of the old city walls and fortifications are nearby, as are some of the main churches and public squares in the city center.
These are the provincial government buildings, which are partly on an island and partly on the river bank at the south end of Maastricht. They were built in 1986.
This is where the Treaty of Maastricht was signed in 1992 by representatives of twelve European nations. The original table that they used to sign the treaty is on display inside, but I must confess that I did not go in to have a look at it.
In the Netherlands, tourist information centers are designated as VVV. The Maastricht VVV is located right in the heart of the pedestrians-only area of the city at Kleine Staat 1. Here, you can obtain helpful tourist information about Maastricht and the surrounding area.
The building in which the Maastricht VVV is located is called the Dinghuis. It was originally built in the 15th Century, and it used to be a courthouse.
For a few euros, you can gain entrance to a fabulous treasury. The gold in this room will blind you and the fine art and cratsmanship of all the displays will enthral you. Well worth the time and the money. I truly enjoyed my wander around the treasury.
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