Maastricht (, , Dutch: [maːˈstrɪxt] (); Limburgish (incl. Maastrichtian): Mestreech [məˈstʀeˑx]; French: Maestricht (archaic); Spanish: Mastrique (archaic)) is a city and a municipality in the southeastern Netherlands. It is the capital and largest city of the province of Limburg. Maastricht is located on both sides of the Meuse (Dutch: Maas), at the point where the Jeker joins it. It is adjacent to the border with Belgium.
Maastricht developed from a Roman settlement (Trajectum ad Mosam) to a medieval religious centre. In the 16th century it became a garrison town and in the 19th century an early industrial city. Today, the city is a thriving cultural and regional hub. It became well known through the Maastricht Treaty and as the birthplace of the euro. Maastricht has 1677 national heritage buildings (Rijksmonumenten), the second highest number in the Netherlands, after Amsterdam. The city is visited by tourists for shopping and recreation, and has a large international student population. Maastricht is part of the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion, which includes the nearby German and Belgian cities of Aachen, Eupen, Hasselt, Liège, and Tongeren. The Meuse-Rhine Euroregion is a metropolis with a population of about 3.9 million with several international universities.
Maastricht is mentioned in ancient documents as [Ad] Treiectinsem [urbem] ab. 575, Treiectensis in 634, Triecto, Triectu in 7th century, Triiect in 768–781, Traiecto in 945, Masetrieth in 1051.
The place name Maastricht is an Old Dutch compound Masa- (> Maas "the Meuse river") + Old Dutch *treiekt, itself borrowed from Gallo-Romance *TRA(I)ECTU cf. its Walloon name li trek, from Classical Latin trajectus ("ford , passage, place to cross a river") with the later addition of Maas "Meuse" to avoid the confusion with the -trecht of Utrecht having exactly the same original form and etymology. The Latin name first appears in medieval documents and it is not known whether *Trajectu(s) was Maastricht's name during Roman times. A resident of Maastricht is referred to as Maastrichtenaar whilst in the local dialect it is either Mestreechteneer or, colloquially, Sjeng (derived from the formerly popular French name Jean).
Neanderthal remains have been found to the west of Maastricht (Belvédère excavations). Of a later date are Palaeolithic remains, between 8,000 and 25,000 years old. Celts lived here around 500 BC, at a spot where the river Meuse was shallow and therefore easy to cross.
It is not known when the Romans arrived in Maastricht, or whether the settlement was founded by them. The Romans built a bridge across the Meuse in the 1st century AD, during the reign of Augustus Caesar. The bridge was an important link in the main road between Bavay and Cologne. Roman Maastricht was probably relatively small. Remains of the Roman road, the bridge, a religious shrine, a Roman bath, a granary, some houses and the 4th-century castrum walls and gates, have been excavated. Fragments of provincial Roman sculptures, as well as coins, jewellery, glass, pottery and other objects from Roman Maastricht are on display in the exhibition space of the city's public library (Centre Céramique).
According to legend, the Armenian-born Saint Servatius, Bishop of Tongeren, died in Maastricht in 384 where he was interred along the Roman road, outside the castrum. According to Gregory of Tours bishop Monulph was to have built around 570 the first stone church on the grave of Servatius, the present-day Basilica of Saint Servatius. The city remained an early Christian diocese until it lost the distinction to nearby Liège in the 8th or 9th century.
In the early Middle Ages Maastricht was part of the heartland of the Carolingian Empire along with Aachen and the area around Liège. The town was an important centre for trade and manufacturing. Merovingian coins minted in Maastricht have been found in places throughout Europe. In 881 the town was plundered by the Vikings. In the 10th century it briefly became the capital of the duchy of Lower Lorraine.
During the 12th century the town flourished culturally. The provosts of the church of Saint Servatius held important positions in the Holy Roman Empire during this era. The two collegiate churches were largely rebuilt and redecorated. Maastricht Romanesque stone sculpture and silversmithing are regarded as highlights of Mosan art. Maastricht painters were praised by Wolfram von Eschenbach in his Parzival. Around the same time, the poet Henric van Veldeke wrote a legend of Saint Servatius, one of the earliest works in Dutch literature. The two main churches acquired a wealth of relics and the septennial Maastricht Pilgrimage became a major event.
Unlike most Dutch towns, Maastricht did not receive city rights at a certain date. These developed gradually during its long history. In 1204 the city's dual authority was formalised in a treaty, with the prince-bishops of Liège and the dukes of Brabant holding joint sovereignty over the city. Soon afterwards the first ring of medieval walls were built. In 1275, the old Roman bridge collapsed under the weight of a procession, killing 400 people. A replacement, funded by church indulgences, was built slightly to the north and survives until today, the Sint Servaasbrug.
Throughout the Middle Ages, the city remained a centre for trade and manufacturing principally of wool and leather but gradually economic decline set in. After a brief period of economic prosperity around 1500, the city's economy suffered during the wars of religion of the 16th and 17th centuries, and recovery did not happen until the industrial revolution in the early 19th century.
The important strategic location of Maastricht resulted in the construction of an impressive array of fortifications around the city during this period. The Spanish and Dutch garrisons became an important factor in the city's economy. In 1579 the city was sacked by the Spanish army led by the Duke of Parma (Siege of Maastricht, 1579). For over fifty years the Spanish crown took over the role previously held by the dukes of Brabant in the joint sovereignty over Maastricht. In 1632 the city was conquered by Prince Frederick Henry of Orange and the Dutch States General replaced the Spanish crown in the joint government of Maastricht.
Another Siege of Maastricht (1673) took place during the Franco-Dutch War. In June 1673, Louis XIV laid siege to the city because French supply lines were being threatened. During this siege, Vauban, the famous French military engineer, developed a new tactic in order to break down the strong fortifications surrounding Maastricht. His systematic approach remained the standard method of attacking fortresses until the 20th century. On 25 June 1673, while preparing to storm the city, captain-lieutenant Charles de Batz de Castelmore, also known as the comte d'Artagnan, was killed by a musket shot outside the Tongerse Poort. This event was embellished in Alexandre Dumas' novel The Vicomte de Bragelonne, part of the D'Artagnan Romances. French troops occupied Maastricht from 1673 to 1678.
In 1748 the French again conquered the city at what is known as the Second French Siege of Maastricht, during the War of Austrian Succession. The French took the city for the last time in 1794, when the condominium was dissolved and Maastricht was annexed to the First French Empire (1794–1814). For twenty years Maastricht remained the capital of the French département of Meuse-Inférieure.
After the Napoleonic era, Maastricht became part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815. It was made the capital of the newly formed Province of Limburg (1815–1839). When the southern provinces of the newly formed kingdom seceded in 1830, the Dutch garrison in Maastricht remained loyal to the Dutch king, William I, even when most of the inhabitants of the town and the surrounding area sided with the Belgian revolutionaries. In 1831, arbitration by the Great Powers allocated the city to the Netherlands. However, neither the Dutch nor the Belgians agreed to this and the arrangement was not implemented until the 1839 Treaty of London. During this period of isolation Maastricht developed into an early industrial town.
Because of its eccentric location in the southeastern Netherlands, and its geographical and cultural proximity to Belgium and Germany, integration of Maastricht and Limburg into the Netherlands did not come about easily. Maastricht retained a distinctly non-Dutch appearance during much of the 19th century and it was not until the First World War that the city was forced to look northwards.
Like the rest of the Netherlands, Maastricht remained neutral during World War I. However, being wedged between Germany and Belgium, it received large numbers of refugees, putting a strain on the city's resources. Early in World War II, the city was taken by the Germans by surprise during the Battle of Maastricht of May 1940. On 13 and 14 September 1944 it was the first Dutch city to be liberated by Allied forces of the US Old Hickory Division. The three Meuse bridges were destroyed or severely damaged during the war. As elsewhere in the Netherlands, the majority of Maastricht Jews died in Nazi concentration camps.
During the latter half of the century, traditional industries (such as Maastricht's potteries) declined and the city's economy shifted to a service economy. Maastricht University was founded in 1976. Several European institutions found their base in Maastricht. In 1981 and 1991 European Councils were held in Maastricht, the latter one resulting a year later in the signing of the Maastricht Treaty, leading to the creation of the European Union and the euro. Since 1988, The European Fine Art Fair, regarded as the world's leading art fair, annually draws in some of the wealthiest art collectors.
In recent years, Maastricht launched several campaigns against drug-dealing in an attempt to stop foreign buyers taking advantage of the liberal Dutch legislation and causing trouble in the downtown area.
Since the 1990s, large parts of the city have been refurbished, including the areas around the main railway station and the Maasboulevard promenade along the Meuse, the Entre Deux and Mosae Forum shopping centres, as well as some of the main shopping streets. A prestigious quarter designed by international architects and including the new Bonnefanten Museum, a public library, and a theatre was built on the grounds of the former Société Céramique factory near the town centre. Further large-scale projects, such as the redevelopment of the area around the A2 motorway, the Sphinx Quarter and the Belvédère area are under construction.
Maastricht consists of five districts (stadsdelen) and 44 neighbourhoods (wijken). Each neighbourhood has a number which corresponds to its postal code.
The neighbourhoods of Itteren, Borgharen, Limmel, Amby, Heer, Heugem, Scharn, Oud-Caberg, Sint Pieter and Wolder all used to be separate municipalities or villages until they were annexed by the city of Maastricht in the course of the 20th century.
The outlying areas of the following municipalities are bordering the municipality of Maastricht directly.
Maastricht's city limits has an international border with Belgium. Most of it borders Belgium's Flemish region, but a small part to the south also has a border with the Walloon region. Both countries are part of Europe's Schengen Area thus are open without border controls.
Maastricht features the same climate as most of the Netherlands (Cfb, Oceanic climate), however, due to its more inland location in between hills, summers tend to be warmer (especially in the Meuse valley, which lies 70 metres lower than the meteorological station) and winters a bit colder, although the difference is only noticeable on just a few days a year. The highest temperature recorded was on 25 July 2019 at 39.6 °C (103.3 °F).
Maastricht is a city of linguistic diversity, partly as a result of its location at the crossroads of multiple language areas and its international student population.
In 2010–2014, 69.8% of the population of Maastricht regarded themselves as religious. 60.4% of the total population stated an affiliation with the Roman Catholic Church. 13.9% attended a religious ceremony at least once a month.
Since the 1980s, a number of European and international institutions have made Maastricht their base. They provide an increasing number of employment opportunities for expats living in the Maastricht area.
Maastricht is known in the Netherlands and beyond for its lively squares, narrow streets, and historic buildings. The city has 1,677 national heritage buildings (rijksmonumenten), more than any Dutch city outside Amsterdam. In addition to that there are 3,500 locally listed buildings (gemeentelijke monumenten). The entire city centre is a conservation area (beschermd stadsgezicht). The tourist information office (VVV) is located in the Dinghuis, a medieval courthouse overlooking Grote Staat. Maastricht's main sights include:
Furthermore, the Maastricht Exposition and Congress Centre (MECC) hosts many events throughout the year.
There are several city parks and recreational areas in Maastricht:
The municipal government of Maastricht consists of a city council, a mayor and a number of aldermen. The city council, a 39-member legislative body directly elected for four years, appoints the aldermen on the basis of a coalition agreement between two or more parties after each election. The 2006 municipal elections in the Netherlands were, as often, dominated by national politics and led to a shift from right to left throughout the country. In Maastricht, the traditional broad governing coalition of Christian Democrats (CDA), Labour (PvdA), Greens (GreenLeft) and Liberals (VVD) was replaced by a centre-left coalition of Labour, Christian Democrats and Greens. Two Labour aldermen were appointed, along with one Christian Democrat and one Green alderman. Due to internal disagreements, one of the VVD council members left the party in 2005 and formed a new liberal group in 2006 (Liberalen Maastricht). The other opposition parties in the current city council are the Socialist Party (SP), the Democrats (D66) and two local parties (Stadsbelangen Mestreech (SBM) and the Seniorenpartij).
The aldermen and the mayor make up the executive branch of the municipal government. After the previous mayor, Gerd Leers (CDA), decided to step down in January 2010 following the 'Bulgarian Villa' affair, an affair concerning a holiday villa project in Byala, Bulgaria, in which the mayor was alleged to have been involved in shady deals to raise the value of villas he had ownership of. Up until July 1, 2015 the mayor of Maastricht was Onno Hoes, a Liberal (VVD), the only male mayor in the country, who officially was married to a male person. In 2013 Hoes was the subject of some political commotion, after facts had been disclosed about intimate affairs with several other male persons. The affair had no consequences for his political career. Because of a new affair in 2014 Hoes eventually stepped down.
Since July 1, 2015 the current mayor of Maastricht has been Annemarie Penn-te Strake. Penn is independent and serves no political party, although her husband is a former chairman of the Maastricht Seniorenpartij. She has served for the Dutch judicial system for many years in many different positions. During her tenure as mayor she still serves as attorney general.
One controversial issue which has dominated Maastricht politics for many years and which has also affected national and international politics, is the city's approach to soft drugs. Under the pragmatic Dutch soft drug policy, a policy of non-enforcement, individuals may buy and use cannabis from 'coffeeshops' (cannabis bars) under certain conditions. Maastricht, like many other border towns, has seen a growing influx of 'drug tourists', mainly young people from Belgium, France and Germany, who provide a large amount of revenue for the coffeeshops (around 13) in the city centre. The city government, most notably ex-mayor Leers, have been actively promoting drug policy reform in order to deal with its negative side effects.
One of the proposals, known as the 'Coffee Corner Plan', proposed by then-mayor Leers and supported unanimously by the city council in 2008, was to relocate the coffeeshops from the city centre to the outskirts of the town (in some cases near the national Dutch-Belgian border). The purpose of this plan was to reduce the impact of drug tourism on the city centre, such as parking problems and the illegal sale of hard drugs in the vicinity of the coffeeshops, and to monitor the sale and use of cannabis more closely in areas away from the crowded city centre. The Coffee Corner Plan, however, has met with fierce opposition from neighbouring municipalities (some in Belgium) and from members of the Dutch and Belgian parliament. The plan has been the subject of various legal challenges and has not been carried out up to this date (2014).
On 16 December 2010, the Court of Justice of the European Union upheld a local Maastricht ban on the sale of cannabis to foreign tourists, restricting entrance to coffeeshops to residents of Maastricht. The ban did not affect scientific or medical usage. In 2011, the Dutch government introduced a similar national system, the wietpas ("cannabis pass"), restricting access to Dutch coffeeshops to residents of the Netherlands. After protests from local mayors about the difficulty of implementing the issuing of wietpasses, Dutch parliament in 2012 agreed to replace the pass by any proof of residency. The new system has led to a slight reduction in drug tourism to cannabis shops in Maastricht but at the same time to an increase of drug dealing on the street.
The A2 motorway runs through Maastricht in a double-decked tunnel. Before 2016, the A2 motorway ran through the city; heavily congested, it caused air pollution in the urban area. Construction of a two-level tunnel designed to solve these problems started in 2011 and was opened (in stages) by December 2016.
In spite of several large underground car parks, parking in the city centre forms a major problem during weekends and bank holidays because of the large numbers of visitors. Parking fees are deliberately high to encourage visitors to use public transport or park and ride facilities away from the centre.
Maastricht is served by three rail operators, all of which call at the main Maastricht railway station near the centre and two of which call at the smaller Maastricht Randwyck, near the business and university district. Only Arriva also calls at Maastricht Noord, which opened in 2013. Intercity trains northwards to Amsterdam, Eindhoven, Den Bosch and Utrecht are operated by Dutch Railways. The National Railway Company of Belgium runs south to Liège in Belgium. The line to Heerlen, Valkenburg and Kerkrade is operated by Arriva. The former railway to Aachen was closed down in the 1980s. A small section of the old westbound railway to Hasselt (Belgium) was restored in recent years and will be used as a modern tramline, scheduled to open in 2023.
The Dutch and Flemish governments reached an agreement in 2014 to build a new tram route, the Hasselt – Maastricht tramway, as part of the larger Spartacus scheme. It was scheduled to take three years, from 2015 to 2018, and to cost €283 million. However, the planning process has been heavily delayed, and as of 2018, construction has not yet started. The tram is now scheduled to be operating in 2024. When completed, the tram will carry passengers from the city centre of Maastricht to the city centre of Hasselt in 30 minutes. It will be operated by the Flemish transport company De Lijn, with 2 scheduled stops in Maastricht and another 10 in Flanders.
Regular bus lines connect the city centre, outer areas, business districts and railway stations. The regional Arriva bus network extends to most parts of South Limburg and Aachen (Germany). Regional buses by De Lijn connect Maastricht with Hasselt, Tongeren and Maasmechelen, and one bus connects Maastricht with Liège, operated by TEC. Various bus companies such as Flixbus and Eurolines provide intercity bus services from Maastricht to many European destinations.
Maastricht is served by the nearby Maastricht Aachen Airport (IATA: MST, ICAO: EHBK), in nearby Beek, and it is informally referred to by that name. The airport is located about 10 kilometres (6 miles) north of the city centre. The airport is served by Corendon Dutch Airlines and Ryanair which operate scheduled flights to destinations around the Mediterranean, the Canary Islands and North-Africa . There are also charter flights to Lourdes which are operated by Enter Air.
Maastricht has a river port (Beatrixhaven) and is connected by water with Belgium and the rest of the Netherlands through the river Meuse, the Juliana Canal, the Albert Canal and the Zuid-Willemsvaart. Although there are no regular boat connections to other cities, various organized boat trips for tourists connect Maastricht with Belgium cities such as Liège.
These distances are as the crow flies and so do not represent actual overland distances.
In 2002 the municipal government officially adopted a local anthem (Limburgish (Maastrichtian variant): Mestreechs Volksleed, Dutch: Maastrichts Volkslied) composed of lyrics in Maastrichtian. The theme was originally written by Ciprian Porumbescu (1853–1883).