On the south side of Vrijthof is the Spaans Gouvernement, a building that owes its name to Emperor Charles V, who ruled here as king of Spain. This historic building was originally a half-timbered house, but was remodelled following Charles V’s arrival.
The history of the Spaans Gouvernement goes back to the start of the fourteenth century. At that time, the building belong to Johannes Fraybart, canon of the Chapel of Saint Servatius. Over the course of that century, the duchy of Brabant acquired ownership of the building, and the dukes stayed here when visiting the city.
On 14 October 1520, Emperor Charles V visited Maastricht for the first time. Much fanfare heralded his arrival: the secular and spiritual elite of the city plus 4,000 marksmen brought him to the Spaans Gouvernement. On that occasion, part of the building was drastically remodelled.
A marlstone façade was added, with a stone plinth on a marl base. The first floor was given three late-Gothic round arch windows with carved coats of arms. The central window depicts the double-headed Habsburg eagle, holding the shared coat of arms of Habsburg and Castile. The other two windows are topped with the pillars of Hercules, with an imperial crown on the left and a royal crown on the right. Above these pillars is a band on which is Emperor Charles V’s motto: PLUS OULTRE. Meaning ‘further beyond’, this motto symbolizes the huge area over which he ruled at the start of the sixteenth century, stretching all the way to the Strait of Gibraltar.
The building was originally timber-framed. We know this from a drawing by Valentijn Klotz. The drawing dates from 1670, but illustrates what the building looked like in the late Middle Ages.
In the 1970s, the Spaans Gouvernement was remodelled and fully restored. Since 1973, it has housed the Museum aan het Vrijthof. Alterations were made to accommodate the art and antiques collection of the Wagner-de Wit Foundation. The renovated rooms were furnished in the manner of seventeenth and eighteenth century interiors.
In the 1990s, the front was painted red. More restoration and extension work was undertaken between 2010 and 2012, followed by the opening of Grand Café Soiron. Since 2019, the Fotomuseum aan het Vrijthof has been based here.