Twice each week during the holidays, townspeople and visitors alike turn out for festive parades, complete with floats and lively dancers. But some of Valkenburg’s most popular attractions lie below ground, in the area’s renowned caves. Here, fascinating Nativity scenes carved from marlstone draw attention.
While busy Christmas shoppers crisscross the quaint city streets of Valkenburg in search of the perfect gifts for everyone on their lists, a tradition of a different sort is taking place beneath their feet. Located in the southeastern part of the Netherlands, this scenic area is famed for its enormous marlstone caves and underground passageways—the result of the mining industry that took place here during the twelfth century. Although open to tourists throughout the year, the caverns and catacombs hold a special surprise at Christmastime.
In olden times, the mined stone was used in the construction of town walls, castles, and churches. More recently, artisans have found that marlstone also offers the perfect medium for carving unique, intricate figures. To that end, they have created an entire world, below ground, that illustrates the Christmas story and related events in beautifully etched detail.
As if showing the way to the displays (left), this carving is a fine example of what visitors to the Valkenburg caves can expect to find. Although the tone of these scenes is quite reverent and awe-inspiring, there is also much merriment here—a spectacular and much-anticipated Christmas market is hosted in the caves each year, as well.
Photography Anneke Gambon
More about Valkenburg and the Netherlands can be found in our November/December 2015 issue, available for purchase online.