Maastricht Ancient Fortification Sites, Maastricht

Maastricht Ancient Fortification Sites (Self Guided), Maastricht

As a key meeting point for European cultures and trading routes, Maastricht for millennia had been the site of many battles. Once known as the "Bulwark of the Netherlands", the city earned its reputation thanks to the impenetrable defenses that lasted through multiple attacks on its strategic position.

The very first fortifications in Maastricht appeared around the 1200s. Some of them are still in place today, wholly or partially, seamlessly merged with the structures of later ages, and making pleasant places to walk around. Among them are such prominent sites as:

Fort St. Pieter (Saint Peter's Fortress) – a fantastic looking hexagonal construction, part of the defense works that protected the city during the 18th-19th centuries; full of tunnels and caves, while imposing, it only ever saw a single battle; a visit here brings you back to older times, where soldiers and musketeers roamed the hallways;

Waldeck Park Casemates – these ancient marlstone mines have more than 20,000 passages decorated with generations of graffiti. During WWII these quarry tunnels were converted into an air raid shelter, but were never used;

Helpoort (Hell's Gate) – one of the iconic monuments that give Maastricht its special atmosphere; forms part of the Old Town wall built in the 13th century. This was one of the main entrances to Maastricht and today is the oldest Dutch city gate still standing.

There are many secrets, legends and myths associated with Maastricht's splendid defensive structures. If you're keen to reveal some of them and explore the city's ancient gates, forts, bastions and ramparts in more detail, take this self-guided walking tour.
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Maastricht Ancient Fortification Sites Map

Guide Name: Maastricht Ancient Fortification Sites
Guide Location: Netherlands » Maastricht (See other walking tours in Maastricht)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.3 Km or 2.1 Miles
Author: ellen
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Fort St. Pieter (Saint Peter's Fortress)
  • Maastricht Underground
  • Waldeck Park Casemates
  • De Vijf Koppen (The Five Heads) Bastion
  • Helpoort (Hell's Gate)
  • Pater Vinktoren (Father Vinck) Tower
  • Wycker Waterpoort (Wycker Watergate)
Fort St. Pieter (Saint Peter's Fortress)

1) Fort St. Pieter (Saint Peter's Fortress) (must see)

Saint Peter's Fortress was built during the 18th century to defend Maastricht from the French. The fortress was built on St. Peter's Mount.

The French breached the walls of Maastricht and sacked the city in 1673, and the city responded by building a stronger fort. Saint Peter's Fortress was built in a hexagonal shape. The fort's interior features a maze of passages and tunnels.

The French attacked again in 1793 with an army of 15,000 men, and the fort was put to the test. Led by the governor of Maastricht, Prince Frederick of Hesse-Kassel, the Dutch garrison of 4,500 men successfully defended the city. The thick walls of the fort were impenetrable and the rows of gunnery windows offered defenders amble opportunities to make the invaders suffer.

Visitors can join a guided tour to explore Saint Peter's Fortress. The tour guide will show visitors underground tunnels, the canon gallery, the secret water well, and the stunning view.
Maastricht Underground

2) Maastricht Underground (must see)

Maastricht Underground is a collection of caves. The caves are also called the Caves of Maastricht or the caves of Mount Saint Peter.

The caves were originally dug in the 13th century to mine chalk. A total of 20,000 tunnels were cut. When lime's value dropped, locals stopped mining. Instead, they started drawing art on the cave's walls. Today, 8,000 tunnels remain spread over 80 kilometers.

During World War II, the caves were used to store paintings. The Night Watch by Rembrandt was one of the paintings hidden in the caves. Rembrandt's famous painting was removed from its frame and rolled into a cylinder for safe-keeping. Locals also stored armaments such as tanks in the cave system.

In addition, over 6,000 locals sheltered in the caves during World War II. The evacuation area features electric lights, a small hospital, a public address system, chapels, a bakery, toilets, and water pumps.

Visitors can explore the caves on a guided walking or scooter tour. It is recommended that visitors bring a coat as the underground caves are quite cold.

Visitors can arrange different tour packages and visit different areas of the caves. The Zonneberg Cave system includes the World War II air-raid shelter. Guests can also see a full-size charcoal version of The Night Watch.

In the North Caves, visitors will descend 30 meters (98 feet) below the surface. This tour features an area where families hid in the caves with their cattle. Visitors can see the oven where the families baked bread.

Visitors can also take private tours or tours catering to kids.
Waldeck Park Casemates

3) Waldeck Park Casemates

The Casemates (Kazematten) is a network of underground tunnels and former chalk mine galleries located in Waldeck Park – the scene of many violent battles, back in the past. As a defense system, the casemates were created over the period from 1575 to 1825, totaling 14 km in length.

The Waldeck bastion was constructed following the siege of the city in 1688-90 for the purpose of strengthening the outworks on the south-west side. Commissioned by the fortress engineer Daniël Wolff baron van Dopff, it is named after George Frederik van Waldeck-Eisenberg, the military governor of Maastricht (1679-92), and was a seconded fortification – not attached to the main wall. During the dismantling of the Maastricht fortress, in 1867, it was partially destroyed.

From 1770 to 1780, the outer wall of the dry moat was reinforced with a counter scarp of masonry bricks with marl blocks in chains at regular intervals. Behind this wall is a caponier, an elongated, curved casemate with embrasures from which an enemy, ventured into the dry moat, could be fired at from behind. The caponier is linked via corridors to the underground mine system of Maastricht.
Also there are listening and communication corridors used for eavesdropping on enemies.

The history of the casemates is remarkably associated with the legendary French musketeer d'Artagnan who was killed during the siege of Maastricht in 1673. There is a lot of information about him inside the casemates, plus an impressive statue outside, in Waldeck park.

At the time of WWII, locals also put the underground tunnels – capable of holding up to 30,000 people – to a good use, hiding from the Germans. The newest part of the network was built in the 20th century, during the Cold War, to serve as a shelter in case of a nuclear attack on Maastricht.
De Vijf Koppen (The Five Heads) Bastion

4) De Vijf Koppen (The Five Heads) Bastion

De Vief Köp (The Five Heads), otherwise known as De Drie Duiven (The Three Pigeons), is a late 15th-century/early 16th-century bastion. Together with the nearby Haet ende Nijt it once formed an extension of the original 14th-century second city wall of Maastricht. Both bastions, now parts of the Maastricht City Park, have been national monuments since 1966.

Just like most of the city fortifications, The Five Heads was initially unnamed. In the 17th century, the names "die Duive" or "de Drie Duiven" were used, after a nearby inn. Quite possibly, this name also refers to the three Jeker branches that meet here. In 1638, after the failed Betrayal of Maastricht, the severed heads of the five main suspects were displayed here on a stake. The name De Vijf Koppen came into use perhaps only in the late 19th century, when calls were made for the rehabilitation of the 'Catholic traitors'.

The Liège-Maastricht Canal, dug in 1845-50, ran close to De Vijf Koppen, forming a turning basin, officially called Zwanengracht. After the abolition of Maastricht's fortress in 1867, large parts of the medieval city walls and most of the outbuildings were demolished, clearing space for the construction of the Stadspark in 1888.

As a part of it, the Zwanengracht was made into a pond. In 1973, a large fountain was placed in the pond around the bastion, powered by ten water pumps and illuminated by forty spotlights. Nowadays, the variable play of the water jets goes on every few minutes.

On March 24, 2019, part of the ramparts at the Five Heads collapsed.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Helpoort (Hell's Gate)

5) Helpoort (Hell's Gate)

Hell's Gate is part of the city's original walls. Hell's Gate is Maastricht's only remaining city gate from the medieval times and the Netherlands' oldest city gate.

Henry I, Duke of Brabant, authorized the gate's construction in 1229. The gate is 14 meters (46 feet) tall.

Hell's Gate was an integral part of the city's fortifications for about 200 years. During the 15th century, the Second City walls were built, and Hell's Gate was no longer needed as the city's main entrance.

The gate was used for various other functions. It was used as an armory, a meeting place, a residence, and a powder storehouse.

Today, the gate features a small museum that focuses on the fortification's history. Volunteers often staff the museum and share historical facts. In addition to visiting the museum, visitors can climb the tower and enjoy the views.
Pater Vinktoren (Father Vinck) Tower

6) Pater Vinktoren (Father Vinck) Tower

The Pater Vincktoren (Father Vinck) Tower, formerly known also as the tower behind the Feilzusters or the tower at the Swesteren, is a 14th-century rampart in Maastricht. The tower was part of the medieval Second City Walls and is the point of connection with the First City Walls. Designed to defend the swampy area of the Jeker gateway, its construction was finished between 1370 and 1380.

Following the 1867 decision by King Willem III to abolish the fortress of Maastricht, the tower behind the Faliezustersklooster was almost completely destroyed, but then luckily was fully restored in 1906 by architect W. Sprenger. Thenceforth it has been referred to as Pater Vincktoren after Father Servatius Vinck, a Franciscan priest who was executed in 1638 for the alleged betrayal of Maastricht.

There is no historical connection, however, between Pater Vinck himself and the tower, except that his monastery was nearby and his head (along with those of four other beheaded suspects) was displayed on a stake at a neighboring bastion, thence known as The Five Heads. The naming can be seen as an attempt to rehabilitate the 'Catholic traitors', who, in the spirit of the times of growing Catholic self-awareness and anti-Dutch sentiment, wished to be seen as martyrs.

The tower has two floors. The first one gives way to the parapet and the second can be accessed from the staircase built on the city side. In the frame between the first and second floors is a gargoyle in the shape of a cat's head.

Today, the Pater Vincktoren, with its preserved piece on the one side and the water gate on the other, forms a much-photographed ensemble in Maastricht City Park.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Wycker Waterpoort (Wycker Watergate)

7) Wycker Waterpoort (Wycker Watergate)

The Wycker Waterpoort, also called Waterpoortje is an originally medieval water gate in Maastricht. The gate is located in the Wyck district, at the place where the Waterpoort street meets the Maas river . The gate has been a national monument since 1966.

The water gate was probably built in the 14th century as part of the Wycker city wall, construction of which started in 1318. The gate gave access to an unloading quay on the Maas via a narrow gate passage. The first mention dates from 1377.

The gate was bricked up around the middle of the 17th century. The specification book no. 192 of the Maastricht City Archives shows that the Waterpoort was (partly) demolished in 1714 because it was too narrow for traffic crossing the Meuse, which had to use a bridge during the restoration of the bridge (the current Sint Servaasbrug ). The gate was rebuilt with the same material, but with a passage width of 12½ feet instead of 7¾.

Until the middle of the 19th century ships were unloaded and loaded here. In 1890 the gate was demolished by order of the municipal council, when the Wycker city wall was lowered along the Maas and the retaining wall behind it was excavated.

The gate was restored in 2007, which was partly necessary due to the extra security of the Maaskades. A staircase was built in the gate opening, which restores the connection with the Maas. Two tiles with information about the monument were also installed.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

Walking Tours in Maastricht, Netherlands

Create Your Own Walk in Maastricht

Create Your Own Walk in Maastricht

Creating your own self-guided walk in Maastricht is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Statues and Monuments Tour

Statues and Monuments Tour

The citizens of Maastricht are reputed to be spiritual and have a good sense of humor. Their attitude towards life, as well as their customs and traditions, are vividly reflected in the numerous statues and monuments scattered throughout the city.

Among these is the Statue of Jan Pieter Minckeleers, commemorating the local inventor of gas lighting. Another notable figure is the Mooswief, also...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.1 Km or 1.3 Miles
Maastricht Introduction Walking Tour

Maastricht Introduction Walking Tour

Maastricht is an ancient city known for its rich history, medieval architecture, and vibrant cultural scene.

In the first century AD, the Romans built a bridge across the Meuse river. A settlement grew near the bridge. Maastricht's name means "a place to cross the Meuse river". Today, a pillar marks this location of the original Roman bridge.

The Roman settlement was small,...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.2 Km or 1.4 Miles
Maastricht's Historical Buildings Walking Tour

Maastricht's Historical Buildings Walking Tour

Founded by the Romans some 2,000 years ago, the charming city of Maastricht is one of the oldest in the Netherlands. Its long history is manifested in numerous remnants, including religious and secular buildings of any form. Over the course of the centuries, Maastricht has garnered a wealth of architecture, featuring a variety of styles: Gothic, Baroque, Romanesque and Renaissance.

Cultural...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.1 Km or 1.9 Miles