Maastricht links Western Europe
By WONG JOON SAN
HARDLY a day goes by without some mention by the media of the word ''Maastricht'' in The Netherlands.
So, what is so great about this city? A glance at a map of The Netherlands will show Maastricht is tucked away in a remote corner of the country. But, on closer examination, it will show that the city is at the heart of one of the most densely populated regions of Western Europe, with 50 million people living within a radius of 200 kilometres.
And what is more special? One can even study to become an interpreter of Chinese in this city's translation institute. Maastricht, which is known as a centre for education and science, has a conservatoire, two art schools, a drama academy, a hotel and catering college. Its recently established University of Limburg commands international respect in the field of medical science.
According to Mr Peter Bruls, Rotterdam's representative in Hongkong, since the Treaty of Maastricht, concluded after the meeting at this city by the council of Europe in December 1991, the name of Maastricht has been widely publicised by the media.
''Maastricht is entirely different from the stereotype perception that people have of The Netherlands,'' he said.
Maastricht, the oldest city in The Netherlands, which escaped the destruction during World War I and World War II, is now one of the hottest holiday destinations. It offers visitors carnivals, jazz festivals, street parades and other cultural events as away of life.
For shoppers, the city is renowned as an antique mecca, due partly to its countless antique emporia and partly the internationally popular art and antique fair held annually in March.
And another reason the city is drawing many visitors is its ''southern'' way of life which is reflected in the many brass bands and choirs based there.
The city, which is rich in heritage and linked with the neighbouring cities of Aachen and Liege by centuries of close cultural and political history, is a melting pot of various races.
A mixture of French, German, Flemish and Dutch, together with a smattering of the lilting Maastricht dialect brings the best out of this lively city.
The name Maastricht originates from the Latin Mosea Trajectum, or ''Crossing-point of the Maas''. Ever since the Romans built a settlement on this spot in 50 BC, it has been permanently inhabited.
At the end of the 4th century AD, the first bishop, St Servatius, for reasons of safety, moved his seat of office from Tongeren to Maastricht. At the place where the saint was buried in 384 AD, was founded a church which is now known as the St Servatius Basilica.
After the Romans, the Franks occupied the settlement. Emperor Charlemagne ruled from nearby Aachen and allowed Maastricht to take advantage of its favourable position close to the centre of power.
Between 1202 and 1795, Maastricht even had two simultaneous rulers - the Bishops of Liege and the Dukes of Brabant - who had equal say in administrating the city.
The historic stories about Maastricht go on and on. Due to its turbulent history, the city owes much of its diverse character to the cultural influences of the past.
There are 1,450 listed buildings in the city today but it would be naturally impossible to view all of them. It is a ''must'' , however, for a visitor to Maastricht to take a guided walk along the city walls led by a local expert.
By leaving a busy shopping street for the cobblestones of a winding alleyway, it is possible to sample the age-old atmosphere of the city's grandeur as one passes the decorative gable stones of the 18th century merchant houses. A visitor cannot help but notice that they are either faced with a grandiose church or a wooded park where the remains of the city walls suddenly appear as they move about this attractive city.
Maastricht is also home to the important glass-making and ceramic business. And it is rich in monuments, museums and galleries. For more adventurous visitors, there are other excursions that may include a visit to the limestone caverns, exploring the Maas valley by pleasure steamer, or roaming the picturesque Limburg uplands.
Maastricht also caters to international multi-functional conventions, seminars, conferences, fairs, events and meetings.