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Wednesday, July 01, 2015

The Limestone Hills Hide Much Of The History of Maastricht - Day 6

Just south of town is the entrance to the mine. Inside that tunnel - there are 200 miles of passage ways - some extend over into Belgium. The Dutch hid "The Night Watch" by Rembrandt here so the Nazis couldn't take it. Several Jews used these tunnels to avoid the Nazis. This is a mine - not a cave - it is man made. 

Limestone was cut out of the tunnels by hand. They have been taking it out for 700 years. Later - the mines were opened as tourist attractions - and charcoal drawings were placed right on the walls. Inside - the mines are relatively clean and dry. It is only 52 degrees in the cave. I was carrying a mantle lamp which was very hot and it kept my legs and arms warm.

This young tourist is using a small saw to show high easily the limestone was to cut. Underground limestone absorbs moisture like a sponge. When brought outside it took 2 weeks to dry out. Then it became a very hard building stone. Also the limes stone was crushed to make cement. A typical worked would remove two blocks a day - each a little less than a ton. Horses were used to haul them out. On the wall you can see the outline of where blocks were cut out.

This drawing is of a worker sharpening his saw.

This drawing shows all of the tunnels in the mine. The layer of limestone is about 30 feet thick.

More cave drawing in the Saint Peters mine.

I drove about 10 miles south of town on my scooter to Eben-Emael and the famous WWII fort. I did not realize that I had driven into Belgium - there are no border stops - no lines across the road. 

At Fort Eben-Emael - there are still relics left from the war.

This is the entrance to Fort Eben-Emael. At one time - this was the strongest fort in Europe. Most of it is in the mountain. France had built the famous Maginot Line of forts to protect from Germany. The Germans simple went a few miles north and attacked this fort in Belgium. They practiced for days on a mock-up fort. They designed a plan where gliders full of men landed on the top and took the fort from inside. This fort protected 3 bridges crossing the canal and the Meuse River. The Germans flooded into the low country then were in Paris quickly. 

Fort Eben-Emael is really a mountain honeycombed with tunnels in the soft limestone.

Some Belgian vehicles were still milling around the fort - like this neat jeep

We have rented a cheap Chinese knockoff scooter. It costs about 40 euros a day. This scooter costs about 1000 euros new. It is governed to 15 MPH which allows us to drive on bike paths - sidewalks - plazas - and streets. To give you the idea of speed - our Vespa at home goes 65 MPH. Even though we are only going 15 MPH over here - it sure saves your legs so you can walk around at night.

Fort Saint Peter was carved out of the mountain in 1701. From this fort - the cannons can cover the whole city and the Meuse River. They chose this spot for the fort because when Louis XIV attacked the Netherlands - he chose this spot to invade. In the background you see Maastricht.

Fort Saint Peter is just south of downtown. There are daily guided tours. 

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