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Visiting Maastricht, The Netherlands: a tale of the towers of two churches

Updated on March 11, 2016
Flag of The Netherlands
Flag of The Netherlands | Source
The Sint-Janskerk and the Sint-Servaasbasiliek, Maastricht
The Sint-Janskerk and the Sint-Servaasbasiliek, Maastricht | Source
Maastricht, 'Dutch city maps', edited by Willem and Joan Blaeu, 1652
Maastricht, 'Dutch city maps', edited by Willem and Joan Blaeu, 1652 | Source
Map location of Maastricht, The Netherlands
Map location of Maastricht, The Netherlands | Source

Witnesses to centuries of history

The two church buildings stand side by side. One is Protestant — the Sint-Janskerk; the other is Roman Catholic — the Sint-Servaas Basilica.

Both have tall towers. The Sint-Janskerk has the tallest tower, in Gothic style; the Sint-Servaas Basilica has four towers, two of which are in strikingly Romanesque style.

The Sint-Janskerk's first tower blew over in a storm. (This was in the year 1366, by the way.) To some extent, it resembles the tower of Utrecht's Cathedral. The other towers at the Sint-Servaas Basilica form part of a westwork in ancient, Imperial style.

The Sint-Janskerk tower is painted red; this is a comparatively recent development, with various colours having graced its lines over the years. The Sint-Servaas Basilica's towers have tended to exude the grey-brown stone colour with which they are built.

Both churches are ancient. The Sint-Janskerk was founded around the beginning of the 13th century, while its present buildings date from the 14th and 15th centuries; the Sint-Servaas Basilica is older, the present building dating from the beginning of the 11th century. However, Servaas (Latin: Servatius; French: Servais), bishop of Tongeren in what is now nearby Belgium, died at Maastricht in the year 384, upon whose grave a structure was soon built.

Both churches face onto the Maastricht city square known as the Vrijthof.

One could go on.

In fact, it would be hard to think of one church, without the other. It would be hard to think of Maastricht without them both.

The two churches, side by side, seem almost symbolic of the existence of the two traditions: Protestant and Roman Catholic, in The Netherlands, which for centuries have commanded the allegiance of very roughly half the population of the country for each (1).

Maastricht is the provincial capital of the Dutch province of Limburg (but bear in mind that an adjacent Belgian province is also called Limburg). Its name is derived from the Latin Traiectum ad Mosam, that is, the crossing place over the Maas River. Settled by the Romans, Maastricht vies with Nijmegen to be known as the oldest city in The Netherlands.


(1) There are many exceptions, and other churches and religious groups, but for the purposes of this article I shall not try to describe this situation further.

Also worth seeing

In Maastricht itself, there are many visitor attractions, but a few of these include: the Medieval gate known as the Helpoort ; the Dinghuis , with a striking Renaissance frontage; Fort Sint-Pieter , an 18th century fortress, recently restored; the City Hall (Dutch: Stadhuis ), a solid, 17th century building, with a distinctive tower.

Gronsveld (distance: 8.6 kilometers), Rijckholt (distance: 9.5 kilometers) and Eijsden (distance: 12 kilometers) all have interesting castles.

Tongeren , Belgium (distance: 19 kilometers) has Roman walls and a 13th century Gothic basilica.


How to get there: Airlines flying to Amsterdam Airport from New York include Delta Airlines and KLM. For North American travellers making the London, England area their base, the nearest sizable airport in The Netherlands to Maastricht is Eindhoven Airport, to which Ryanair flies from London Stansted Airport, and Aer Lingus from London Gatwick Airport. Car rental availability includes options from Amsterdam and Eindhoven airports. The Dutch railroad company NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen) maintains rail services from Amsterdam and Eindhoven to Maastricht. For up to date information, you are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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