Limburg (Dutch and Limburgish: (Nederlands-)Limburg) is the southernmost of the twelve provinces of the Netherlands. It is located in the southeastern part of the country, where it borders the Dutch provinces of Gelderland to the north and North Brabant to the north and the northwest. To the east it borders the German state of Northrhine-Westphalia, to the west the Flemish province of Belgian Limburg, and to the south the French-speaking Belgian province of Liège.
Major cities are the provincial capital Maastricht in the south, Roermond in the middle, and Venlo in the north, all upon the Meuse . In south Limburg, there are also urban agglomerations at Sittard-Geleen and Parkstad Limburg, which includes the city of Heerlen.
Limburg has a highly distinctive character. The social and economic trends which affected the province in recent decades generated a process of change and renewal which has enabled Limburg to transform its national peripheral location into a highly globalized regional nexus, linking the Netherlands to the Ruhr metro area and the southern part of the Benelux region. A less appreciated consequence of this international gateway location is rising international crime, often drugs-related, especially in the southernmost part of the province.
For centuries, the strategic location of the current province made it a much-coveted region among Europe's major powers. Romans, Habsburg Spaniards, Prussians, Habsburg Austrians and French have all ruled Limburg.
The first inhabitants for whom traces have been found were Neanderthals that camped in South Limburg. In Neolithic times flint was mined in underground mines; including one at Rijckholt that is available to visit. In Roman times Limburg was thoroughly Romanized and many existing towns and cities like Mosa Trajectum (Maastricht) and Coriovallum (Heerlen) were founded. Bishop Servatius introduced Christianity in Roman Maastricht, where he died in 384. After the Romans had departed the Franks took charge. The area flourished under Frankish rule. Charlemagne had his palace in nearby Aachen. After the partition of the Frankish empire the current Limburg belonged, like the rest of the Netherlands, to the Holy Roman Empire. The territory of Limburg was from the early Middle Ages usually divided between the Duchy of Brabant, Duchy of Gelderland, Duchy of Jülich, the Principality of Liège and the prince-bishop of Cologne. These dukes and bishops were nominal subordinates of the Emperor of the Roman Empire, but in practice they acted as independent sovereigns who were often at war amongst themselves. Their conflicts were often fought in the Limburg area, contributing to the fragmentation of the area.
The New time Limburg was largely divided between Spain (and its successor, Austria), Prussia, the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, the Principality of Liège and many independent small Fiefs. In 1673, Louis XIV personally commanded the siege of Maastricht by French troops. During the siege, one of his brigadiers, Charles de Batz-Castelmore d'Artagnan, perished. He subsequently became known as a major character in The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, père (1802–1870).
Limburg was also the scene of many a bloody battle during the Eighty Years' War (1568–1648), in which the Dutch Republic threw off Habsburg Spanish rule. At the Battle of Mookerheyde (14 April 1574), two brothers of Prince William of Orange-Nassau and thousands of "Dutch" mercenaries lost their lives. Most Limburgians fought on the Spanish side, being Catholics and hating the Calvinist Hollanders.
Following the Napoleonic Era, the great powers (England, Prussia, the Austrian Empire, the Russian Empire and France) united the region with the new Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815. A new province was formed which was to receive the name "Maastricht" after its capital. The first king, William I, who did not want the name Limburg to be lost, insisted that the name be changed to "Province of Limburg". As such, the name of the new province derived from the old Duchy of Limburg that had existed until 1648 within the triangle of Maastricht, Liège, and Aachen.
When the Catholic and French-speaking Belgians split away from the mainly Calvinist northern Netherlands in the Belgian Revolution of 1830, the Province of Limburg was at first almost entirely under Belgian rule. However, by the 1839 Treaty of London, the province was divided in two, with the eastern part going to the Netherlands and the western part to Belgium, a division that remains today. With the Treaty of London, what is now the Belgian Province of Luxembourg was handed over to Belgium and removed from the German Confederation. To appease Prussia, which had also lost access to the Meuse after the Congress of Vienna, the Dutch province of Limburg (but not the cities of Maastricht and Venlo because without them the population of Limburg equalled the population of the Province of Luxembourg, 150,000 ), was joined to the German Confederation between September 5, 1839 and August 23, 1866 as Duchy of Limburg. On 11 May 1867, the Duchy, which from 1839 on had been de jure a separate polity in personal union with the Kingdom of the Netherlands, was re-incorporated into the latter with the Treaty of London. The style "Duchy of Limburg" however continued in some official use until February 1907. Another idiosyncrasy survives today: the head of the province, referred to as the "King's Commissioner" in other provinces, is addressed as "Governor" in Limburg.
The Second World War cost the lives of many civilians in Limburg, and a large number of towns and villages were destroyed by bombings and artillery battles. Various cemeteries, too, bear witness to this dark chapter in Limburg's history. Almost 8,500 American soldiers, who perished during the liberation of the Netherlands, lie buried at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten. Other big war cemeteries are to be found at Overloon (British soldiers) and the Ysselsteyn German war cemetery was constructed in the Municipality of Venray for the 31,000 German soldiers who lost their lives.
In December 1991, the European Community (now European Union) held a summit in Maastricht. At that summit, the "Treaty on European Union" or so-called Maastricht treaty was signed by the European Community member states. With that treaty, the European Union came into existence.