Friday, July 3, 2009

Valkenburg Castle and the Velvet Cave

It's another lovely day in Belgium. Russ had today off, so we decided to do a little more exploring. We took a little trip to the Netherlands to check out the town of Valkenburg and explore the ruins of Valkenburg Castle. It's a beautiful area. After a delicious lunch at a local cafe, we headed on up the hill to the castle. Valkenburg Castle has the distinction of being the only castle in the Netherlands to be built on a hill. It was originally built in 1100, but has changed shapes and sizes throughout the years. All that remains of the original castle is the foundation.
The castle had several owners over the years, the last being King William III. He ordered the castle to be blown up with gunpowder to prevent it from ending up in the hands of the French.
Under the ruins of the castle are the Velvet Caves. They have guided tours of the caves every hour on the hour. The caves were originally formed when marl was mined from the ground to form the castle walls. This left a series of tunnels under the ruins. The tunnels were then used for the knights to escape the castle and sneak up on their enemy from behind when being attacked. It also allowed them to bring supplies into the castle. When the railroad came to Valkenburg in 1853, hotels started being built in the area. To make the caves more attractive to the tourists, they were decorated with drawings. The walls were smoothed out, blackened with charcoal, and then the drawings were scratched into the wall with a sharp object. The drawings tell stories about life around the castle. This first drawing is of a block cutter. These were the people who cut out the caves. They knew their way around the caves with no problem. If you look closely at the tree on the left side of the picture, you will see a map of the caves carved into the leaves. This drawing is of the Castle at around 1600. It shows what the castle looked like before it was destroyed in 1672. This tells the story of Alexis of Cleves and Walram, who were wed in the castle. Walrem's brother, Reginald, was jealous and angry that Alexis chose his brother instead of him. Reginald murdered the young couple before their wedding night.
In 1770, the jaw of a mosasaurus was discovered in the rock under St. Peter's hill. The story says that the French army seized it and took it to Paris where it is now on display at the Museum of Natural History. The French say that they bought the jaw bone from the city for 600 bottles of red wine. In September of 1944, the American Army entered south Limburg. This was nearing the end of World War II. Around 600 locals stayed in the cave during this time, to find shelter from the war between the Americans and Germans. American troops also spent time in the caves after the liberation of Valkenburg. They came during their leave to check out the area. Some of the locals and soldiers left notes and signatures on the caves walls.

There is a chapel in the caves. Many Catholic priests were imprisoned during the late 1700's due to political turmoil with the French, and some took shelter in the caves. Legend says that the priest Servatius Widdershoven hid in the cave for 3 years.
Valkenburg is a beautiful area, with lots of history. We had a great afternoon checking out the area. Now it's time to rest. Tomorrow is another adventure. It's the 4th of July, and you know what that means.........COOKOUT!!!!!!!

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