...it closed about 70 years ago :-(
For an absolutely fascinating day out from Maastricht a visit to the "caves" at St Pietersberg is a must. These so-called "caves" are in fact the tunnels created by the excavations of marl, a type of limestone, used locally as a building material - in fact much of Maastricht's Old City was constructed using it, including most of the churches and the city wall.
The mining operation into the St Pieters hill began during the Roman occupation, about 2,000, years ago and over the years there were about 20,000 corridors dug out with a total length of about 230 kilometres. Some of these have since been blocked off but the remaining labyrinth is still about 80 kilometres with 8,000 corridors - see pic #5 for the map.
During our VT Aachen Euromeet 2015 Valentina organised an English-speaking guided tour for us, complete with boat trip and a buffet lunch but there are scheduled daily tours for independent travellers and small groups - website below has details of these.
The tunnels formed by the miners followed the seams of the marl which has created a fractal-like maze and so the "caves" are no longer open for general public access - in the past people have gotten lost within them and literally starved to death. Fortunately our guide had been here before - HA!
To get to the "caves" you can either take a boat trip, drive or walk - they are about 5 km from central Maastricht. From the boat you first have to climb the mountain, which fortunately is only 100 metres but being the Netherlands that qualifies it as a "mountain". The guide met us beside the café at the top where he issued a couple of us with battery-operated lanterns and then we had another 5 minutes or so to walk down to the gated entrance.
As to be expected the caves are spooky, without the lights they are literally pitch black and once away from the backlight of the entrance you won't even be able to see your hand in front of your face - as our guide demonstrated during the trip when he got the lantern bearers to briefly switch them off. The caves themselves are more than just tunnels under the hill, they have had various uses over the years which have included being used as a storeroom for artworks during the 1st World War and as an air-raid shelter during the 2nd.
Throughout the caves there are drawings, paintings, direction signs and even fossil remains - the dark, dry, consistently cool, atmosphere having preserved everything perfectly. Much of this dates from towards the end of the 2nd World War when about 40,000 Maastricht residents occupied the site to shelter from the air-raids and shelling as the Allies fought to retake the city. During that period the "caves" had all the basics for everyday living such as a bakeries, dormitories, refectories, toilets, a hospital and yes, even a bar!
Our tour lasted about an hour, which passed amazingly quickly. Our guide, a local man, was excellent - knowledgeable and entertaining with it and his English perfect.
Definitely worth the visit.
When I heard we were to visit a cave I expected rock formations, stalactites and stalagmites etc., but I found something rather different. For one thing, this is a man-made cave, or rather series of cases, carved out of the limestone hills over centuries, starting with the Romans. There are over 200 kilometres of passages here and they hold a lot of history.
Our tour took us through just a small part of this labyrinth, although even so we were underground for over an hour. Our guide was very informative and spoke good English. He explained how the stone here (known as marlstone, a form of limestone) was quarried for use in buildings in the area, leaving behind this network of passages. These passages have served as a place of refuge for Maastricht residents during periods of conflict, most notably during the Second World War. The guide showed us many places where people have, literally, left their mark on the tunnel walls, mainly using charcoal – advertisements for food products, decorative paintings, records of individual names … We saw a chapel with several Stations of the Cross on its walls – the full series of images wasn’t completed because peace was declared part-way through and the artists downed tools to return to the surface. We also saw part of the caves where a hospital had been set up during the war, and heard about the vault where precious art works from Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, including Rembrandt’s Night Watch, were stored to protect them from bombing raids during WW2.
Some things to be aware of if visiting:
1. It is quite a steep hill to climb up from the boat dock (or car park) to the café where tours to the caves start, and from there about a ten minutes’ walk further, mostly flat, to the caves’ entrance. The walk in the caves lasts about an hour; there are no steps but the floor is uneven in places. This tour isn’t suitable therefore for anyone with significant walking difficulties.
2. The caves are unsurprisingly in total darkness and although our group was given some oil lamps to use, carried by three of the guys, it could get pretty dark in places depending on where the light fell and how close we were. Also at one point the guide had us turn off all lights to experience the darkness. Give this tour a miss if you are claustrophobic or have a fear of the dark.
3. It is always cool underground, even on the hottest of days, so bring a warm top to slip on
If you are able to manage the walking involved and have no fear of being underground then I can definitely recommend a visit here as these are certainly not your usual caves!
Visit the Duivelsgrot (Devils cave) at the St. Pietersberg.
The Duivelsgrot or Wijngaardgroeve is a small cave in the Sint-Pietersberg, part of Plateau van Caestert, located on the valley side of the river Jeker.
A spur trail of the Napoleon Trail that I'm still following (Paris, Waterloo, Elba, Pyramids ...). The French Emperor visited the hill St. Pietersberg on the 31st of July, 1803. Our tour guide informed us, however, that Napoleon did not actually enter the intricate network of mineshafts and corridors, but merely set foot on top of the hill.
These caves are off the beaten path from the center of town but it is walkable. I wish the VVV site had mentioned that the tour was not in English at all. The site is in English and the information on the ticket booth is in English so we had no idea. The tour guide mentioned it as we bought the ticket but by that time we had wasted so much time getting there that we didnt want to turn back.
Well, I enjoyed the caves for about 15 minutes of the 1 hour and 30min tour and then I got bored because the tour guide did not speak English. The pictures on the wall are very recent so not that mysterious. The caves are cool and creepy.
Fort St.Pieter lies at the northern point of Mount St.Pieter and was constructed in 1701. It rises up from a pentagonal base-plan- one edge is facing the direction of France - most feared enemy during the 18th century. Actually it is under reconstruction or renovation, paid by the European Community.
The picture is showing the basic plan- charcoal painted at the walls of the caves nearby
The St. Pietersburg caves are awesome. It's pretty impressive to see that every stone of the 7,000 route system was hand set. If the tour guide didn't have a flashlight and lanterns distributed throughout the group, it would be pitch black; you wouldn't be able to see your hand in front of your face. And they show you what it's like.
Next to Maastricht you will find one of the highest 'mountains' in the Netherlands: Sint Pietersberg (just over 100 m). It is a limestone hill with green trees on top. The marlstone here was mined and caves originated through this mining. Today you can visit the caves, in which you will see bats and some rockart. For more info on visiting the caves see the touristinfo in Maastricht or their website: http://www.vvvmaastricht.nl/
It is also nice to walk on top of the mountain. There are beautifull viewpoints of the city and the surrounding country. And if you really like to walk you can also strat a trip here to Pieterburen in Groningen (455km) This longdistance track is called Pieterpad and can be walked in both directions. The track is marked by red and white rectangle signs.
It is a must - a topic to visit this so called "caves" near Maastricht. The history and importance is so fascinating. During the many sieges Maastricht has suffered, French (1700)- and German during the last world war, local inhabitants used the passages as a shelter; some of the emergency provisions are still to be seen, (backery and toilets).
The temperature in the caves is 9-10 degrees Celcius.
Professional guides will show you the importance of the caves during many periods, like the second worldwar, escaping gate or labyrint to Belgium for many English pilots. (Allo, Allo this is London calling!)
st. Pietersberg Caves (Grotten st. Pietersberg)
In the old days the people from Maastricht used a lot of marl to build their houses. The marl could be found in the hill called 'St. Pietersberg.' ('berg' means 'mountain' in Dutch; but considering the flatness of the rest of the country, it's not surprising that they call every small hill a Mountain in the South!)During the process of getting all this marl out of the hill, through the ages there arised a labyrinth of small tunnels. At this moment there are some 20.000 tunnels inside the hill. The man who were breaking the blocks of marl out of the hill, left their traces. Nowadays you can see on the walls of the tunnels interesting, moving messages, inscripts and even art, made by unknown artists. An other intersting feature is that these tunnels also expose lots of fossils, of fish and other animals who lived in that Maastricht regio millions of years ago!
Because of the fact that the tunnels and holes are located deep underground, they served as a safe place to hide for Maastricht citizens during several sieges of Maastricht (f.e. during w.w. 2: The caves were during this war used to hide Rembrands'famous Nachtwacht, so that the Germans could not lay their hands on it!) All the facilities underground, used by those people during those days, are still visible! Temperature in the caves is about 10 degr. C, so you better wear a warm sweater.
Just outside the city center you might encounter the St Pietersberg. In this hill caves were formed by excavating the interior. You can visit these caves at two points, the Northern Caves and the Zonneberg Caves. An experienced guide will take you on a 60 minute tour through the tunnels. On the way you will learn about the miners, the world war hide away and you will see several cave drawings.
Now I should add that these aren't actually caves, but tunnels. They were manmade by miners who cut out huge blocks of "mergel" stone. These blocks of stone would then be used to build houses. The tunnels date back to as early as the 15th century. You coul'nt possible visit all the tunnels, because there simply are too many.
The tours usually start at 12:30 and 14:00 - but in the summer there are more tours, every hour from 11:00 to 16:00. Tours start at either Luikerweg 71 or the Slavante Restaurant.
When you visit Maastricht, do not ever forget to visit the caves nearby... it can be visited by guided tours. Do not loose your group, the caves are like labyrinths and you may not find the way out. The caves are the result of centuries of excavation of marl, a building stone. What you now see is an enormous labyrinth of more than 20,000 passages.
The temperature in the caves is 9-10 degrees Celcius; therefore I advise you to take a pullover or coat with you.