Maastricht was a key Roman castrum at the bridge where the main road from Cologne to Gaul crossed the River Maas (Meuse). Archaeological remnants of a 1700-year-old Roman urban square are still visible to guests taking breakfast at the central Derlon Hotel. Later in the 4th century, Armenian born St Servaas (Servatius) was buried in Maastricht leading it to develop into a major spiritual centre. Over future centuries the city's rise was frequently interrupted by wars and sieges.

In 1830, when most of the southern Netherlands joined newly formed Belgium, Maastricht was 'saved' by commander Bernardus Dibbets who refused to accept a Belgian ultimatum and withstood a siege, leaving the city in Dutch hands as a disconnected exclave until 1839 when the Netherlands reclaimed enough of eastern Limburg to connect it to the rest of the Dutch state. This geographical appendix has lasted ever since, Maastricht hanging cartographically from the rest of the country, hemmed in on three sides by Belgium and Germany. In the 20th-century it was this very precarious position that saved the city from war damage: the Dutch government simply didn't bother mounting a defence.

Its geographical legacy has bequeathed Maastricht a pan-European flavour and fittingly the city was chosen for the signing of the February 1992 treaty that created the EU from the former EEC and paved the way for the Euro common currency.