Key of the Fortifications of Maastricht

The key of the fortifications was found in Maastricht, the Netherlands, and was used to open a door or a postern to one of the fortifications of Maastricht. This particular key was gifted to the Centre Céramique a couple of years ago (S. Aarts, personal communication, March 1, 2023).

In the following blogpost, you will receive more information about the key of the fortifications itself, its contextual and historical background, and how it is included in the Maastricht Collection.

3D model of the Key of the Fortifications

This object belongs to the following themes:



Place of Origin
Maastricht, The Netherlands

Time Period of Use (ca.)
1200 CE


Dimensions (cm)
Height: 10

3D Model

Canon EOS 250D

Processing software
Agisoft Metashape Professional Edition

Ebru Sara Bilen & Janine Glormann

Unlocking Secrets: The Fascinating History of the Key to Maastricht’s Fortifications

While creating the 3D model of the key, it was possible to create a virtual representation of the key of the fortifications, providing a deeper understanding of it as an important aspect of the city’s history and making it more accessible for people who, for example, can only view it from afar in museums. So, while looking at the above 3D model of the key, you can see it from all sides and angles, and consequently, you can imagine holding it in your own hands.

Materiality and Usage

However, in order to stimulate the imagination of holding it in your hands first, you need to know a few facts about it:

  1. Around the year 1200 CE, the first fortifications of Maastricht were built that surrounded the city (‘’City Walk: Maastricht Ancient Fortification Sites, Maastricht, Netherlands’’ n.d.). The fortifications were built to protect the city.
  2. The key that you can see above was once an integral part of the city’s defensive system, because it was used to open a door or postern of the fortifications.
  3. This 3D modeled key is a representation of one of the many fortifications that were protecting Maastricht.

To know these facts increases the value if you now imagine holding this key in your own hands. When you touch it for the first time, you know immediately that it is not just a normal key.

The Key of the fortifications

It is around 10 cm high, which is much larger than normal keys nowadays because today’s keys are more likely to be made out of carbon steel, stainless steel or nickel silver (Schlüsseldienst Bollacke, 2016). Instead, this key is made out of iron. Also, its distinctive brown color and matching keychain reflect the materials and styles typical of the time period in which the key was used. Because of the fact that the key is quite old, it feels pretty rough when you run your fingers along it. But despite the passage of time, the key remains in remarkable condition, although the black inscription on the keychain is now nearly impossible to decipher. Based on our understanding of the historical context of such keys, one can speculate that this inscription may have served to identify the relevant gate or door that the key was intended to open. In addition, such writings often contained personal notes, such as the name of the key owner or other relevant information (S. Aarts, personal communication, March 1, 2023).

Because the key was designed to control access to the city’s fortifications, it was of great importance to the people at that time. To ensure that they were not lost or misplaced, these keys were often stored in leather bags that bore the same identifying tags as the keys themselves (S. Aarts, personal communication, March 1, 2023). By examining this specific key, one can gain insight into the practicalities of life in a fortified city, where access to the city’s gates was carefully controlled and managed.

History and Symbolics

Since Maastricht is a city steeped in history, and its military fortifications play a critical role in that legacy, it is worth it to dive a bit deeper into the history of these fortifications and the value they had and still have for Maastricht.

For thousands of years, Maastricht has been the site of numerous battles as it was  a crucial intersection for European cultures and trade routes. The city was once called ‘the Bulwark of the Netherlands’ because of its formidable walls that withstood numerous assaults on its advantageous location (‘’City Walk: Maastricht Ancient Fortification Sites, Maastricht, Netherlands’’ n.d.). Therefore, Maastricht had several fortifications which date back to the Roman era, with a fortress established on the east bank of the Meuse River (‘’City Walk: Maastricht Ancient Fortification Sites, Maastricht, Netherlands’’ n.d.). Throughout the Middle Ages, walls and gates were added to the city’s defenses. Accordingly, those keys were used to open the doors and gates of the fortifications around Maastricht. The transition from being a fortified city to becoming the first industrial city in the Netherlands is a significant moment in the city’s history. Our object, a key to the fortifications, symbolizes the end of this era (S. Aarts, personal communication, March 1, 2023). 

Nevertheless, some of the fortifications can still be seen today. Among the remaining fortifications are the Fort Sint Pieter, the Helpoort and the Waldeck Park Casemates.

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Fort Sint Pieter

A hexagonal building known as the fort Saint Peter served as part of the city’s defenses in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is one of the fortifications of Maastricht that is still in place today (Photographed by DAANPHOTO24 via Atlas Obscura).


The Helpoort is one of the main entrances to Maastricht and simultaneously the oldest surviving Dutch city fortification. (Photo via Visit Maastricht).

Waldeck Park Casemates

These old mines have over 20,000 mines tunnels. During World War II, these quarry tunnels were converted into air raid shelters, but were never used (Photo via Visit Maastricht).

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Visitors can explore these remnants of the past to learn more about the city’s military history (‘’City Walk: Maastricht Ancient Fortification Sites, Maastricht, Netherlands’’ n.d.).

The eventual dismantling of the fortifications at a later time signaled a significant shift in the city’s economic and political landscape. The rise of industry and trade transformed Maastricht into a hub of commerce. The city’s location on the Meuse River was pivotal in facilitating the movement of goods and people (Panhuysen, 2009).

The Meuse River (Photo via Visit Maastricht)

Broader Themes

Exploring the history of the fortifications in Maastricht provides a unique window into the daily life of those people who lived and worked within the city’s walls. By going deeper into the different themes of this collection, where this key fits in, one can gain insight into the practicalities of life in a fortified city, where access was carefully controlled and managed. To be more specific, the key sheds light on the broader themes of Power and Politics and Economics and Wealth that shaped the city’s development over time.

Military fortifications have significantly shaped the Power and Politics dynamics of various regions throughout history. The decision to construct fortifications often originates from political and strategic considerations. Political power struggles or conflicts between nations may drive the need to protect a city or state from external threats (Parkinson & Duffy, 2007). Moreover, the design and layout of the fortifications reflect the political and military strategies of the time. The choice of location, the type of fortification, and the repositioning of defenses may all be influenced by political and power-related factors. Not to forget, because fortifications are highly related to war, death and destruction can follow from this, despite being built to protect people. Fortifications can also be used to assert political power and authority. For example, a city with strong fortifications can demonstrate its ability to protect its citizens and territory, which may enhance its political standing and influence.

On the other hand, Economics and Wealth can also be studied through the lens of fortifications. Fortified cities often served as hubs for trade and commerce, with walls and gates protecting valuable goods and people. Moreover, labor and industry were also integral to the functioning of fortified cities. However, in the past, crowded living and working conditions could lead to issues related to health, hygiene, and access to essential goods.

Many fortifications are tourist attractions today, highlighting the intersection between heritage and economics. Thus, by examining the fortifications of a city, we can gain insight into its economic and social history.

As a conclusion one can state that the transition from being a fortified city to becoming the first industrial city in the Netherlands is a significant moment in the city’s history. The 3D modeled object, a key of the fortifications, symbolizes the end of this era.

Written by Ebru Sara Bilen & Janine Glormann