En Plein Public

Maastricht’s streets, squares, and bridges

17 June 2023

The monuments define the streets! This city walk introduces you to the well-trodden paths, bridges, and squares that narrate Maastricht’s rich past and shape its cityscape. Follow your feet and discover the streets that guide you.

Walking through Maastricht, you’ll discover the stories behind its bridges, courtyards, and plazas and how they continue to inspire contemporary architecture. You’ll encounter new inner-city housing, historical streets, cul-de-sacs, unused squares, and heritage with potential.

But how do we restore, preserve, and renovate such treasures? And how do Maastricht’s citizens feel about this? To address these questions, curator Remco Beckers of Bureau Europa and conservator Joes Minis of Centre Céramique have devised this walk specifically for the 2023 Maastricht Day of Architecture.

Distance: 5 km | Walking time: 2.5 hours

1. Our walk begins at Bureau Europa, platform for architecture and design, situated at the Bassin, sometimes known as Maastricht’s fifth square. Though squares play a significant role in Maastricht’s urban design, the Bassin faces several challenges. In 1827, the Netherlands’ first industrial tycoon Petrus Regout established his De Sphinx ceramics, glass, and crystal production plant in Bassin, making it an important industrial heritage site today. However, Bassin was abruptly cut through by a bridge in the 1960s, severely compromising its historic character. The Belvédère Plan, a long-term, phased urban regeneration and development plan adopted by the municipality in 1999, proposed demolishing this bridge. A proposed express tram from Hasselt halted the demolition for many years. With the tram proposal’s cancellation and the selling of the Sappi paper factory, Bassin’s north side can finally be ‘taken care of’. The Sappi and Landbouwbelang sites will accommodate new housing, Maasboulevard will divert further along the Meuse, and the bridge itself will prioritise bicycles over automobiles. The city centre will extend to fully embrace Bassin as a square with its own unique identity.

2. Walk back towards Boschstraat and turn right at Bureau Europa. At the traffic lights, you have a view of the newly built Noorderbrug (North Bridge). A 1967 proposal by American traffic expert David Jokinen addressed the congested infrastructure in the Netherlands’ historical cities. The plan involved demolishing Maastricht’s industrial heritage to construct inner city ring roads. Stilted highways would rise above the existing street layout with access and exit ramps encumbering the urban fabric. He also proposed the construction of uncompromising southern and northern bridges. Almost none of these plans materialised, and only the Noorderbrug was built, albeit fifteen years later. However, this bridge was ill-suited for the Belvédère Plan’s 21st-century urban expansion to the Belgian border. Hence, its route was modified in 2017–18 to connect new residential areas, office buildings, and cultural facilities to the A2 and the recently built King Willem-Alexander tunnel. A detached exit ramp, ‘de Krul’ (‘the Curl’), serves as a reminder of the original slip road.

3. Follow Frontensingel past the Sphinx car park. Turn left at the traffic lights onto Maagdendries. A passage 100 metres ahead on the right leads you to Lindenkruis residential area. Although urban planner Frits Palmboom was able to develop the infrastructure, or ‘hardware’, of the Belvédère Plan, the 2008 economic recession hindered progress on the ‘software’. Today, however, housing development is in full swing. De Sphinx factory wall along Maagdendries repurposes industrial heritage for two collective private ownership (CPO) projects: Les Mouleurs (Martens Willems & Humblé, 2014–21) and the Sphinxtuin (Mathieu Bruls, 2015–19). CPO is a streamlined approach to construction where residents, architects, contractors, and consultants collaborate on future housing, putting residents’ desires at the forefront. Lindenkruis, built between 2015 and 2020, features urban villas and homes in a modest, sustainable style designed by several architects, including iNeX, N-Architecten, DEDRIE, and Verheij. Courtyards and small squares emerge, reminding us of how Maastricht had to infill due to the city walls’ strict confines. Lindenkruis’s palimpsest of developments lie atop one another like layers of earth, with materials such as zinc, ceramic, and hardwood honouring the area’s history. The courtyards and squares harmonise the new urban fabric with the old.

4. Stroll through the streets until you reach the convivial Brandweerkantine (Fire Brigade Canteen) eatery on Capucijnenstraat. Opposite, a covered thoroughfare leads you to Charles Voscour. The former fire station in the city’s northern corner evokes the area’s industrial past, which lasted until the 20th century. Successively came two new courtyard neighbourhoods, Bruno Albert’s Misericordeplein in 1992 and Charles Vandenhove’s Charles Voscour in 1993, with both architects hailing from Liège. Vandenhove has completed several similar developments and designed Charles Voscour in his typical postmodern style. The neighbourhood’s imitation of St. Peter’s Square makes it a hidden gem worth exploring. As you take in the surroundings, you can observe the embracing colonnades, the central obelisk, and the ‘dome’ of the main building. The Doric columns, architraves, and pediments provide the architecture with an uncluttered quality, while the use of brick and concrete (Roman materials!) is subtle and timeless, referencing Maastricht’s classical origins.

5. Exit Charles Voscour and head towards Hoogfrankrijk. Climb up the street towards Herbenusstraat and turn left. Continue to the Kumulus building on your left. Hoogfrankrijk was formerly an unnamed hill that used to be exclusively occupied by the military until the abolishment of the fortifications in 1867. The name of the hill and the street, Hoogfrankrijk (High France), derives from the fortification’s name. The old city wall used to run along the north side of the road where you are standing now. The wall’s demolition created space for Herbenusstraat in 1878. It was the first newly constructed street in the old city centre for several centuries, marking significant urban expansion instead of infill. In 1880, Petrus Regout II built workers’ housing at the foot of Herbenusstraat with modern amenities such as running water. Beyond Kazemattenstraat, more upscale residencies were constructed in a distinctive brick style.

6. Continue along Herbenusstraat to the Bakkerij Hermans, where locals highly recommend standing in line for their fruitvlaai (fruit flan). From there, turn onto Zakstraat. Before the city wall’s demolition in 1869, Zakstraat was a dead end. When, around 1800, the French started naming streets, they called it Cul de Sac. The name was corrupted to Kuuldezakstraot and finally became Zakstraat. It leads to Brusselsestraat, the city’s main thoroughfare for many years, which traces the old Roman road known as Via Belgica that led to Boulogne-sur-Mer. In the 19th century, many factories were built in this corner of the city, such as the majestic building at Brusselsestraat 87. From 1871, it served as the office building for the saltworks of the influential Marres family, who were one of the most prominent families in Maastricht. Joseph Marres was an enterprising man and, along with the Regout, Rutten, and Lhoest families, founded De Maastrichtse Bouwvereniging (Maastricht Building Association) in 1877, which constructed workers’ homes on Herbenusstraat, Lindenkruis, and Statensingel.

7. Walk past the office building to the old factory site, now called Herdenkingsplein (Memorial Square). In the 1990s, the Wiel Arets designed Academie, home to the Maastricht Institute of Arts, transformed this courtyard. The building’s modest raw concrete and black-painted steel epitomise Arets’ signature style. Glass blocks create a poetic membrane, a transparent yet opaque divider between the art school’s colourfully effervescent interior and the square’s orderly and rigid exterior. The design embodies his ‘alabaster skin’ theory, where architecture disappears as soon as it appears, merging into the urban fabric as an opaque but transparent separation of life inside and outside. The enclosing colonnade defines the square’s rhythm, which, thanks to Rein Geurtsen’s urban plan, continues in the surrounding residential blocks. Despite the significant architectural differences between the buildings of Mecanoo on the west side and Boosten Rats on the south, the colonnade elegantly unites them. Lastly, take note of the twelve bronze plates in the pavement, a war memorial created by sculptor Appie Drielsma.

8. Cross the square, head towards Kruisherengang, and turn right. Recent renovations to the Kruisherenhotel have met with consternation, as have the plans for the Calvarieklooster (Cavalry Monastery) and the PTT telephone exchange at Helpoort (Hell’s Gate). An ambitious extension of the fashionable Kruisherenhotel is underway, designed by architect Francine Houben of Mecanoo. This new location will feature fifty hotel rooms, an upmarket restaurant, and the offices of the Oostwegel Collection, and incorporates the monumental 1903 De Stuers building. Locals who oppose this plan submitted an alternative in March 2023. It replaces the proposed 25-meter-high building with a courtyard based on an urban plan by Rein Geurtsen, who designed Herdenkingsplein. The courtyard buildings conform to municipal zoning restrictions limiting building heights in dense urban areas. Despite Oostwegel and Houben making concessions, whether these will appease their critics remains to be seen. A final decision is still pending.

9. Walk down Kruisherengang and turn right into Calvariestraat. Pass a few city farms and turn left just before Jean Huysmans’ Aldenhof apartment block from the 1950s. Walk past Café Abrahamslook into the new Polverpark area. The name Abrahamslook (Abraham’s Hollow) was coined after gunner and gunpowder thief Abraham van Citterd, who, while smuggling on 21 December 1761, accidentally blew up the powder magazine that stood here, causing a breach in the city wall. The explosion was heard in Aachen and Liège, and his remains were found as far away as Kruisherengang. Though the former nurses’ flats, redeveloped as the Polvertoren by Martens Willems & Humblé in 2014-18, provides the focal point, it preserves the protected view of the city over the towers of Saint John Church and Basilica of Saint Servatius. In 2018, the same architects began the still-ongoing Polverpark area, together with Bureau Verbeek, which provides a car-free environment, apartments, townhouses, and villas. The names of the Brandenburg, Waldeck and Hertell buildings, by CB5 architects, refer to the former fortifications, while the new street, Sint-Servaaspoterne, was coined after a small gate in the city wall that the French closed in 1673. ‘Polver’, another word for ‘gunpowder’, ties in with the history of the Abrahamslook breach.

10. Walk to Tongersestraat and turn left. Turn right at the Y-junction, where Roland Topor’s mural has adorned the street since 1988. After the Jan Van Eyck Academie, turn right again to the Academieplein (Academy Square). This square is named after the Jan Van Eyck Academie, a renowned post-academic art and design institute for research and production. Erected in 1958–61, it boasts a functionalist design, contrasting starkly with the historical surroundings. It was designed by Frits Peutz, an architect from Groningen who was particularly active in the mining town of Heerlen. The Academieplein is in the heart of the Jekerkwartier, Maastricht’s ‘Latin Quarter’, with the academies of music and theatre nearby. Despite its picturesque and leafy appearance, the square is mostly used for parking.

11. Descend the stairs to Bonnefantenstraat. On your left is the Maastricht Academy of Music, and on the right, the Jeker flows into the city through the De Reek water gate. Continue until you reach De Bosquetplein. Before this modest square’s construction at the end of Grote Looiersstraat in the early 20th century, the Jeker used to flow through the middle of the street as an open sewer. After the river’s removal in 1897, plans arose to demolish and rebuild the entire street in a chic, modern style. Maastricht’s citizens opposed the idea, allowing us to appreciate this 18th-century street today. Their civic resistance also enables us to admire Sint Servaasbrug still. On the corner with Zwingelput is the graffiti-strewn wall of Martinushofje, a little courtyard where old Catholic women sought refuge in small houses in the 18th century. Contemporary architects favour such enclosed spaces, incorporating them into the urban fabric as courtyards that are context-sensitive. Midway on the left along Grote Looiersstraat is Looiershof, a modern enclosure built on the former 19th-century Jos Bauduin Vermicelli and Macaroni Factory site. From 2015 to 2018, CB5 architects added modern buildings to this space, huddled between the townhouses and the city wall on the north side.

12. Continue along Grote Looiersstraat and down Tafelstraat. On the corner with Sint Pietersstraat is Waalse Kerk. Nicolas Comhaire from Liège constructed this church in 1732–33. Its sober baroque style is atypical for Maastricht and features a twelve-sided central building that is an optical illusion as it is a rectangular nave with two five-sided extensions. In 2023, ArCharis Architecture will transform Waalse Kerk, making it suitable for future use. Besides church services, the building will facilitate social and cultural activities. These plans follow the trend of making religious heritage more sustainable, which the Province of Limburg places great value on, especially in light of the current energy crisis.

13. Proceed through Sint Pietersstraat and turn left into Begijnenstraat. At the end of the street is the Poort Waerachtig, which means the ‘The Actual Gate’. This city gate is the Netherlands’ youngest, as its inscription indicates, ‘in eighteen hundred and eighty-eight, this gate was actually [waerachtig] built.’ Thanks to Victor de Stuers from Maastricht, the pioneer of monument preservation in the Netherlands, the city walls have become a Romantic feature of the city parks. Waerachtig Gate was also highly romanticised in the past and once had battlements, but in 1936 the battlements thundered down. Walking left around the pond, observe a breach in the wall where the whole wall gave way in 2019. Climate change has affected the earthen rampart behind the wall, making it too wet and causing it to crack. The pond where the rocks ended up is the last remaining section of the Liège-Maastricht canal.

14. From the pond, continue through the park and turn left. Beyond the foliage, you’ll see Hoge Brug (High Bridge), known in the Maastricht dialect as ‘Hoeg Brögk’. This footbridge and impressive feat of civil engineering was added to Maastricht’s urban landscape in 2003. Designed by Liège architect René Greisch, this steel arch bridge is suspended by diagonally tensioned cables and features piers on both banks, allowing for unobstructed river traffic. Across the bridge, enter Plein 1992, designed by Jo Coenen. This elevated triangular plaza’s shape, often called the ‘Balcony of Maastricht’, is no coincidence. If you extend its outlines over the river, they meet at the extreme ends of the historic Onze-Lieve-Vrouwenwal (Our Lady’s Wall) on the opposite bank of the Meuse. Likewise, if you were to extend the bridge to the same height, it would land perfectly on top of the wall. This geometrical ploy weaves the city’s history into a harmonious urban design that seamlessly integrates past and present.

15. Turn left from the bridge onto De Ruiterij and cross the intersection into Wycker Grachtstraat. Ahead, enter the small portal on the right to reach Bourgogneplein. The straitjacket of Maastricht’s fortifications kept the city compact for many years. This tradition continued even after dismantling the city walls by building new homes within old gardens and factory grounds. For example, Bourgogneplein, completed in 1986 by Wynand Thomas and the B4 action group of former alderman John Wevers, is a quiet, stony square nestled within the buildings on Wycker Grachtstraat and Hoogbrugstraat. Head left across the enclosure to reach Bourgognestraat. This street encapsulates Maastricht’s history because it is named after a military gunpowder magazine, then factories arose here, followed by housing after World War II. As Bourgognestraat meets Lage Barakken, rows of garages, empty buildings, and run-down houses make it one of the city’s last ‘ugly corners’. The neighbourhood critically views plans to turn the 1927 Art Deco Cinema Palace on Lage Barakken into a hotel. Doesn’t Maastricht have enough hotels?

16. From this art deco façade, continue down the street. Arriving at the flower kiosk and clock on the Wycker Brugstraat, we have reached the end of this city walk. This street was built in 1866, breaking through the city wall and a row of houses, earning it the name Percée, meaning ‘breakthrough’ in French. Architect W.J. Brender à Brandis’s 1882 plans for the station area of the city created an approach avenue to the Sint Servaasbrug and the city centre. At the beginning of this ever-widening street is architect Van Heukelom’s central station, which the municipality erected in 1913 right in front of industrialist Eugène Regout’s villa, apparently to deprive him of his red carpet into the city. The street’s grand 19th and early 20th-century buildings were declared Maastricht’s first protected area. Locally known as ‘the square with the clock’, this is a popular spot for locals to meet, watched over by Frans Carlier’s 1985 bronze sculpture De Wiekeneer, a demonym for a resident of Wyck.

Texts Remco Beckers & Joes Minis | Translation JLC Coburn | Design Dennis van Eikenhorst | Images Mark Ahsmann | ArCharis | Belvedere | Bureau Verbeek | CB5| Fidus Makelaardij | Rein Geurtsen | RO group | Kleon3 | Jo Misere | Otter | Monique Wegdam | Peter de Wit