Now that I am walking again, even with photo gear, I do the 5 km or so connecting old and modern Maastricht, the principle city of the southernmost Netherlands Province of Limburg; wondering where I came from and where I go to, suspecting that I am a northernmost south European. With a coach I arrived from my sister’s place in the country village of Gulpen, hidden between lush limestone hills, descending the old glacial terraces of River Meuse in order to reach, within half an hour, the central station of Maastricht, Mosa Trajectum, the crossing of the River Meuse, where nowadays live some 130 thousand ‘Mestreechteneeren’.
Neanderthal men may have found crossings to their liking at any place in a wild braided river plain, some quarter of a million years ago. Stone-age men, 25.000 to 2.500 years ago, gradually turned ‘civilised’ and were known for mining of excellent flint for fabrication of tools and weaponry. Arrived the Celts at 500 BC to bring the culture of the bronze-age to the local tribes, they were soon followed by the Romans that defeated under Julius Caesar in 57 BC the king Ambiorix of the local Eburones tribe (named after the toxic yew tree then used for suicide above surrender, nowadays this Taxus baccata produces cancer medicines). The Romans pacified the region and later build a bridge over the River Meuse during the reign of Caesar Augustus in the first century after Christ.
Do I descent from those local Arian tribes of hunters, gatherers and farmers, for which fortune and haphazard were in the hands of the gods of nature? Were it my ancestors that had to turn to the divine light of the holy trinity, everything from the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit; which earthly representative happened to reside in Rome, the center of the Roman Empire?
Thus ‘Sarbatios’ had to christen the heathens and in the glory of his work, the first stone was laid for the Maastricht Vrijthof Servatius basilica in the year 570 AC. Later, the Romans were followed by Spaniards, Prussians, Austrians, French and finally the Dutch. Meanwhile, foreign words, expressions and customs adsorbed into the local dialects and habits, thus became the area one of the northernmost catholic parts of Europe where, besides grain for beer, also grapes for wine are grown.
During the middle ages, Maastricht got city rights and flourished as a provincial centre of government, commerce and industry, with remains well preserved in the quarter of Maastricht Wijck Rechtstraat on the east bank of the River Meuse.
The former terrain of the ceramic industry recently gave way to the quarter of Maastricht Wijck Ceramique with many residential – commercial buildings according to design by modern Italian architects.
But mind you, I am not a true citizen of Maastricht, not even a peasant from the lush calcareous lands around, but rather an unfortunate have-not maybe descended from shepherds from the nearby wild lands, from the infertile heather sand dunes, from the woods of birch and pine, and from the mines of peat and coal. Our fathers were coal miners, did not readily take commands from higher worldly powers other than with a grain of salt. Learning to prefer the smartness that came from many often far away, rather than shrewdness from the few all too nearby. I welcomed that treaty of Maastricht, am proud of my European citizenship, could use a bit more of that European currency, and feel that I must be a northernmost south European, indeed.