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Yesterday evening Dan and I went for a walk and stumbled upon the Hoge Fronten almost in our backyard. The Hoge Fronten (literally the High Fronts) is a massive collection of battlements and earthenworks build in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries for the defense and protection of Maastricht. Today it is a protected natural monument and nature reserve set up to protect the endangered muurhagedis (wall lizards) that reside there.
I had heard about this place about a year ago from a friendly pensioner whom I spoke with when writing my Sint Annalaan article for Crossroads. But he hadn’t impressed upon me the sheer size of the thing; probably because I was still struggling with the local accent. I just assumed it was another small wall section like they have in several places in Maastricht. Wrong again. (I’m starting to see a pattern here.) As we walked into the park and the first battlement reveled itself to us, it was clear that there is something very special going on here. Click “More…” below to see a walking tour in photos or go to Flickr for this Slideshow with descriptions.
In addition to being free to walk around (on the path, several areas are restricted during the Spring, Summer, and Fall), there is yet another underground tour here. Underneath the Hoge Fronten is a network of tunnels and caves carved out over the years both for building materials and to create a space to barrack soldiers and hide civilians during times of war. You can learn more about the Kazematten (Casements) tour at Maastricht Underground. The tours are all in Dutch, but the VVV will arrange English speaking ones upon request.
As we walked into the Hoge Fronten, we saw only some rolling earthenwork and wondered if perhaps it was not actually the battlements that we had heard it was. It must be amazing to have this literally in your back yard. There are, in fact, several places to enter. This just happened to be the closest to us.
Then we walked up a short staircase and discovered the Hoge Fronten itself! The complex is a mix of earthen ramparts, partially reinforced walls and "dry" moats. Since the fortifications are on a hillside a real moat wasn't possible. A large underground complex is also associated with the Hoge Fronten.
Walking on back towards our apartment, you can see just how closely the ramparts comes to the modern city buildings. This shot is just a tiny portion of the entire complex. The cathedral in the background in the one at the end of my block.
Another shot from within the Hoge Fronten of the disused cathedral.
Further along, we found what appears to be a section of the area that is mostly earthenworks. Well worn paths are available to lead you safely through the complex.
Some sections are blocked off to keep people away from this Japanese Knotweed. This is an invasive plant in this area and efforts are being made to destroy it and prevent it from spreading.
Several panels with dates and names are built into the battlements. The Hoge Fronten was built and expanded throughout the 18ths and 19th centuries. Also, most of the battlements are constructed from several layers of brick; at least from the outside.
Large areas of the Hoge Fronten are blocked off to protect an endangered "wall lizard" species that lives here. However you can walk between the walls in some areas. Just stay on the path.
A closer-up look at the doors and windows placed at strategic locations along the battlements.
Dan keeps walking down the hill. We've walked about 2/3s of the Hoge Fronten by this time. As you can see it continues to curve away down below.
Another look from between the battlement walls. We were not able to actually loop around within the Hoge Fronten. The walk took us all the way down the hill we live on, but not very far horizontally.