I’m on a little holiday. After a business meeting this morning, I could catch the train to Maastricht, the charming city in the south of the Netherlands, and home of one of the most beautiful statues of the Holy Virgin, “Star of the Sea” - a statue that, like Marcus Aurelius in Rome, I can never pass by without saluting it.
I had rented a bike at the railroad station – after all, I was heading for Belgium, the country of Eddy Merckx. My first goal was an Iron Age settlement called Caestert, or Kanne-Caster. As the name already indicates, the Romans called it a castra, a fort. It is situated on a hill, about sixty meters above the Meuse, and it can dendrochronologically be dated to the year 31 or 30 BCE. It is immediately south of Maastricht, southeast of a village called Kanne, just across the border (satellite photo).
The date has generated a lot of debate. Originally, it was believed that this hill fort was built in 57 BCE, which would make this site a very likely candidate to be Atuatuca, where Ambiorix defeated the Fourteenth Legion. In fact, it remains the only plausible candidate: everything fits Caesar‘s account, and it is often speculated that the wood that was tested dendrochronologically, belonged to a later repair.
I had been there before, but had forgotten that a bike is not the ideal means to climb to the platform. Still, I managed to get there, made my way through the muddy forest, and took some photos. Although most of the site is covered by trees, several walls and two gates can be distinguished. Fortunately, there is no place to buy ice cream; the beautiful area is still the domain of people walking at their leisure, and an occasional cyclist.
Passing through villages like Zussen and Bolder, I reached Val-Meer, with a miraculous crucifix and a small medieval church that is still impressive. I made photos of the remains of the Roman road from Tongeren to Maastricht, and crossed to Herderen, where I wanted to see an ancient tumulus. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it, and because I was getting tired, I decided to continue to Genoelselderen, where I had a snack at the local “frietkot“. Not much later, I reached Tongeren, where I am now staying at the Ambihotel – it took some time before I understood the pun, which is easier to understand if – like the Belgians – you do not pronounce the H.
After a brief nap, I cycled en lisant around the Roman city walls. There were more ruins than I had expected, and the forest west of the city, where the view of the remains of the ancient aqueduct at sunset was splendid.
I am really enjoying myself. When I was eating my patates frites in Genoelselderen, sitting in the sun, enjoying a nice view of the Haspengouw, I realized how badly I had needed this trip.