Tuesday, October 6, 2009

title: the best trip ever

ok, let me start this off by saying: really old churches. they're pretty damn cool, right? they have beautiful sculpture, architecture, and some serious presence. we're agreed as far as that is concerned. what if i then say: really old churches to which you get an all-access, backstage tour from an expert, plus coffee and cookies. did you have a heart attack from the awesome prospects contained within that last sentence? you did, but you're still alive? good, because here's the coup de grace for your blown mind (and arteries): i did that last friday!!!!

my art history professor, rob duckers, is the curator of the treasury of the basilica of st. servatius (sint servaas in dutch). that means he deals with ancient roman glass bowls, saints' bones, silver, gold, and "pieces of the cross" (most likely just some very old olive wood, but still), among other cool relic-y type things. he took us to the town of maastricht, which is also the town in which d'artagnan (of 3 musketeers fame) was killed in 1673, to see all the dirty secret parts of the basilica. this included the emperor's special balcony, the lofty third floor where the bells used to be, and the crypt. yeah, where they keep the cool coffins and stuff.

this is the basilica of sint servaas, of which, i am sure, far better photos exist:the treasury is beautiful, rob and his colleagues have done such a wonderful job of taking care of and displaying it all. i didn't walk around in the dimly lit galleries taking photos of relics behind glass, so you're going to have to trust me on this one. there are a million things i could say about romanesque column capitals and the different periods of architectural features in this basilica, but i will spare you the details and take you to the church of our lady, star of the sea:
i roped you into reading this post with the promise of churches, but there is a bonus feature that i didn't tell you about: maastricht itself is beautiful and many hundreds of years old! oh, look, here's a little piece of history right here:those of you with particularly sharp eyes will have noticed the sign that says "hellpoort 1229". those of you who speak dutch or are simply very clever will have figured out that "hellpoort" means "hell's gate". why would a medieval city want to name one of it's entrances hell's gate? well, i'll tell you why! this was the gate which led to the gallows before the city spread outside its walls. the vast majority of the people leaving this gate were leaving maastricht for good (unless they planned on coming back as ghosts). and everyone convicted of a sentence worthy of hanging was, logically, going to hell for their crimes. so, for most people, this gate was the way to hell!
the windows above the red wooden part are cells where prisoners about to be executed were kept. i imagine it was a lovely view if you could manage to ignore the gallows in the foreground. the red wooden part itself is accessible from the fortifications, allowing the gate's guards to pour/throw whatever dangerous objects they were able to find on invaders.

the hellpoort is in the "old" (everything is relative here) part of town. across the river is the more modern parts of maastricht, which i didn't get to see much of. it is full of nice coffee shops and stores, though. here is a view of the river, with the "old" area on the left and the "new" area on the right. the bridge going between them was rebuilt in the medieval times in almost the same place and in the same style as the original roman one, which stood there for centuries before.
as you can clearly tell from the picture, maastricht is a beautiful, beautiful city. everyone staying in kasteel well should go--it's a pretty short trip from here and you don't even have to spend the night (though it is an option, there are hostels). maastricht also works perfectly with a trip to haarlem, the next stop in my ever-growing collection of photos. stay tuned!

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