Maastricht

From Roman times until the 19th century, Maastricht has owed its importance to its bridge, which was the lowest permanent crossing place of the river Meuse. The first defensive walls at Maastricht were built in the 13th century, but by 1300 the town had outgrown these walls, and new walls had to built to enclose the enlarged town. By the end of the middle ages, Maastricht had an impressive set of walls with many towers and large gatehouses.

A map of the 1632 siege, showing the early fortifications of Maastricht as well as the extensive works built by the besiegers.

With the growing use of artillery in the 16th century, the defences were gradually but crudely modernised by the construction of demi-lunes in front of the medieval walls.

The suburb of Wijk, on the right bank of the Meuse was given more regular fortifications, having a proper bastioned trace, as opposed to the rather haphazard arrangement of demi-lunes placed in front of the wall of the main part of the town. As was common with Dutch fortifications, there was a flooded ditch before the defences of Maastricht. In 1632 the Dutch under Frederick Henry laid siege to the town and took it. It remains a southern bulwark of northern Netherlands down to the present day.

In the mid 17th century the defences were improved again so that by 1648, 6 long hornworks had been built to protect weak points in Maastricht's defences. A second ditch, two demi-lunes and a number of lunettes were added to the defences of Wijk.

The defences of Maastricht in the mid 17th century. Surviving parts of the old inner set medieval walls can also be seen.

The original defences were probably mostly unrevetted earthworks, as was standard with the Old Dutch School of Fortification. They were at least partially revetted in stone by the 1673 siege and no major work was carried out on the fortifications between 1648 and 1672, so it seems that some of the defences were revetted before 1648. After the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, the defences fell into disrepair. In 1672, With the first of Louis XIV's Dutch wars, the town was hastily put into a state of defence, but it is unlikely that any revetment was carried out at this point.

Siege of Maastricht, 1676 (I think). If this is the case, the lines linking the hornworks and the new lunettes are the work of Vauban.

In 1673, Louis XIV laid siege to Maastricht with an army of 24,000 men. This was the first major siegework undertaken by Vauban, and was the first appearance of his system of parallel trenches for attacking a fortified place. Maastricht fell to Vauban's attack in just three weeks.

Once under French control, Maastricht's defences were improved by Vauban. He added several lunettes, improved the inundations and made provision for countermines, as well as strengthening the covered way in paces. A counterattack against Maastricht by the Dutch under William III of Orange in 1676 failed.

The Dutch regained Maastricht by the Treaty of Nijmegen, 1678. As a result of the events of the previous 5 years, the defences of the town were improved continuously throughout the long wars against France, which were to last until 1713. The hornworks were reinforced and more lunettes were constructed during this period.

Maastricht in 1693, with the improvements added after the town was returned to Dutch control in 1678.

The town remained an important base throughout the wars against the French, but it was not besieged again in those wars. In 1701, plans to construct an advanced redoubt on the heights of Sint Pieter, to the south of the town, were approved. This redoubt, known as Fort Sint Pieter, took the form of a detatched bastion, placed a long way forward of the ramparts themselves. The fort had its own ditch and a strong covered way.

Relief map depicting Maastricht in 1752.

Despite all these new additions, the main wall was still medieval, the only modernisation being the addition of more works in front of this wall, which was unable to stand artillery fire, being too tall and not backed by earth.

The new fortifications were tested in 1745 when the French attacked during the War of the Austrian Succession. The garrison made a determined resistance, and did not surrender until peace negations were underway at Aix-la-Chapelle.

In the mid 18th century, the western section of the walls were strengthened by the Dutch engineer Du Moulin, forming what are known as the Du Moulin Lines. He also planned a work to the north of the town, which was not constructed.

Again, French troops took Maastricht in 1794, bombarding the place into submission rather than resorting to conventional siege operations. After the fall of Napoleon in 1814, an outwork was built to the north of the town (as Du Moulin had advised) called the Fort Koning Willem I, Fort Sint Pieter was modernised, and the town's defences were revamped.

The siege of 1794.

Visiting Maastricht

The Waldeck Bastion, near the site of heavy fighting in the siege of 1673. Photo: Nico

Large parts of the defences of Maastricht have gone, but nevertheless sections of the defences from all ages remain. Of the original 13th century medieval walls, there are remnants, including the impressive Helpoort or Hell Gate.

The Pater Vinktoren tower, where the heads of five inhabitants of Maastricht who had helped the hated Spanish were displayed, has been reconstructed, and a small section of defences around the tower remain. The Bastion Waldeck, near to the place where the famous French muskateer d'Artagnan (whose adventures were the basis of Dumas' novel The Three Muskateers) was killed in the 1673 siege has also survived, and is worth a visit. A guided tour of the surviving section of the Du Moulin Lines (which are quite complex) is available from the tourist information office.

Fort Sint Pieter, which has been modified quite alot over the years, is intact and can also be visited. This is not a comprehensive list, but these are the main remnants - be sure to ask in the tourist information if you visit, they will be able to help you find more.

Part of the Du Moulin Lines. Photo: Nico
The monumental medieval 'Helpoort'. Photo: Chris

Maastricht has a major railway station (be sure not to get off at the university, like I did, its quite a walk to the old town from there!). Road and rail links with Belgium and Germany are good, so you shouldn't have too much problem getting there.

Many thanks to Nico (http://members.home.nl/nico.san/) and Chris (http://homepage.residentie.net/~schram-12/) for allowing me to use their pictures.
Condition Access to fortifications Size of fortress Accessability of town Museum/Info Overall score
3 8 3 10 5 5.8
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