Maaseik is a municipality in the Belgian province of Limburg. The city is located on the banks of the river Meuse (Maas), bordering the Netherlands. The Maaseik municipality includes the town of Maaseik and the villages of Neeroeteren and Opoeteren. The town of Maaseik includes the hamlets of Aldeneik, Heppeneert, Wurfeld, 't Ven and Gremelslo.
As its name would suggest, Aldeneik is older than Maaseik. Although there are a lot of toponyms referring to the many oaks, the word eyck is similar to the German word 'ecke', which means 'corner'. Old bend may be linked to the fact that historically, the Meuse formed a bend around the village. Throughout the whole Meuse region, the course of the Meuse has always shifted slowly. This happened also in Heppeneert, a hamlet just south of Maaseik. The old course of the Meuse is still clearly seen there.
Aldeneik was established by Adelard, a local Frankish lord, around 700 AD, as a Benedictine monastery. His two daughters, Herlindis and Relindis, both became abbesses of the monastery and eventually became saints. The religious center of Aldeneik soon became the focal point of a small community.
The monastery suffered heavy destruction by the Normans in the 9th century. Around 950, emperor Otto I gave the monastery to the Bishop of Liège, who delegated the administrative tasks to a local chapter of canons.
Maaseik, Nieuw-Eycke ('new oak'), was founded out of Aldeneik, around 1000. It lay near the Roman road between Maastricht and Nijmegen and safe above the valley of the Meuse. Besides, it bordered the County of Loon in the north; that's why this village got its City charter in 1244. The village began to grow. It became one of the most important trading places of the Meuse region.
As is typical in such towns, the four main streets begin at the market-place square. On this market place stands a statue of the famous painters Hubert and Jan van Eyck, who were probably born in Maaseik in 1390. The oldest private pharmacy of Belgium is also on the market square. The rectangular shape of the city walls is also typical. On the west side of the city, a castle was built against the wall.
The walls were dismantled in 1467, when Charles the Bold attacked the Prince-Bishopric of Liège during the Liège Wars and destroyed many cities in the region. Maaseik was also besieged in 1672 by Louis XIV. The city burned in 1650 and 1684; the last fire destroyed 1/3 of the entire city, included the historic center. After that the Maaseikenaars built stone houses instead of wooden ones. During the iconoclastic period, Maaseik almost became independent, but Gerard van Groesbeek was able to calm the people.
16th century until now
In the 16th and 17th century the economy reached its high point, thanks to Maaseik's advantageous location between Liège and the sea. Its commercial activity remained strong until the second half of the 17th century, when the regional power of Liège started to fade. During all that time, Maaseik was still a dependence of the chapter of canons in Aldeneik. Just before the French Revolution, no fewer than six religious institutes were still present in the city.
The walls were rebuilt in the 16th century and strengthened by Vauban in the following century. After the French retreat in 1815, however, the military installations were gradually taken down. Only the south section of the embankment remains. Names of the old city gates (e.g., Bospoort, Maaspoort) recall the time when the city was walled. In 2007, remains of a tower were found during excavation for an underground parking garage. This tower was part of the castle.
The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century seems to have bypassed Maaseik. It lost its importance and did not grow, but due to this many houses from the Renaissance are still in existence. Though a railroad had been built there, this road was removed around 1950; it is now part of the famous circle network in Belgian Limburg.
Before World War I, the bridge over the Meuse, the Pater Sangersbrug, was built, connecting Maaseik directly with the Netherlands and improving opportunities for trade. This bridge was destroyed several times during both World Wars. The present bridge was built in 1951 and replaced an American bridge from 1944. Today, the city is mostly a regional centre offering shopping, educational, and medical services to the surrounding communities.