Historical and Cultural Tour
Image by Berthold Werner under Creative Commons License.

Historical and Cultural Tour, Trier, Germany (A)

Trier is a former capital of the Roman Empire and the oldest city in Germany, more than 2000 years old. Here you see remains of Roman culture found otherwise only in Rome. In the 4th century A.D., the city had up to 80000 inhabitants – a metropolis by the standards of that time. Romans, Germanic tribes, Vikings, the Holy Roman Empire, Prussians and Napoleon – they all left their traces on this unique town.
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Walk Route

Guide Name: Historical and Cultural Tour
Guide Location: Germany » Trier
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (A))
# of Attractions: 13
Tour Duration: 1.0 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.1 Km or 2.5 Miles
Author: Kosha Shah
Author Bio: The author is an architect and has travelled widely in India, North America and Europe with a special focus on history, art, architecture and culture. She prefers to go off the beaten path and dig into local history and legends.
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Amphitheatre
  • Imperial Baths
  • Landesmuseum
  • Basilika
  • Church of Our Lady (Liebfrauenkirche)
  • Cathedral and Cathedral City (Domstadt)
  • Bishop’s Museum
  • Porta Nigra
  • House of the Three Magi
  • Jew`s Alley
  • Hauptmarkt (Main Market)
  • Franco’s Tower
  • Karl Marx House

1) Amphitheatre

Trier’s Amphitheatre is the biggest Roman Amphitheatre north of the Alps. This prestigious building gives evidence to the wealth of the city in Roman times. With its size of 71m x 41m, the oval Amphitheatre could host up to 20,000 spectators in the audience.

Built towards the end of the 2nd century, the arena witnessed animal as well as gladiator fights. From the stage level, 13 doors led to small chambers in the side walls where gladiators waited for their fights and where animals were kept. Archaeologists found evidence that other than the 4m high wall, which was to protect the spectators, the stage was surrounded by another wooden wall, as it can be found today in Spanish bull fight arenas. In the middle of the stage, there was a moveable platform creating dramatic effects when taking up prisoners or wild animals. Below the arena was a vast cellar system where prisoners sentenced to death were kept waiting for their execution. This cellar is accessible to visitors and worth a visit. You can still find the wooden remains of a pump to remove water, built in the late 3rd/early 4th century.

In the Middle Ages, the Amphitheatre was used as a quarry. Today, due to its excellent acoustics, the Amphitheatre serves as a location for the Antiquity Festival which takes place every summer and is used for concerts and theatre plays.
Image by Mllefifi under Creative Commons License.
Imperial Baths

2) Imperial Baths

Personal hygiene was an important part of Roman life. But baths also had a social function, where people met, exchanged gossip or made political deals. In the 3rd century, the Romans built one of the biggest and most impressive baths of the Roman Empire in Trier. Entering from the west, visitors had to first cross the Palestra, a sports ground designated for ball-games or gymnastics. Then, visitors reached the baths in the following order: Frigidarium (pool with cold water), Tepidarium (pool with luke warm water) and Caldarium (pool with hot water). The cold water was heated by a sophisticated heating system consisting of six boilers heating the water up to 40° C/104° F. The water was then taken into the three pools for the bathers through an underground system of service tunnels.

However, archaeological research has shown that the baths were never used. Shortly before the works were finished, Emperor Constantine moved his seat to Constantinople and the necessary means to finalize the works were no longer available. Under the Emperors Gratian and Valentinian II, works were taken up again and the complex was transformed into housing for soldiers.

After the Roman administration withdrew from Trier in the 5th century, the Imperial Baths declined and were used as a quarry. Today, they serve as a place of gathering for the locals in summer, forming a stunning backdrop for the Antiquity Festival.

3) Landesmuseum

This museum was founded in 1877. It should definitely not be missed as it is one of Germany’s leading archaeological museums. It exhibits mainly unique findings from the Roman and Celtic settlements in and around Trier. The findings cover all areas of life – daily life, war, art, craftsmanship, religion and draw an illustrative picture how life must have been, for example, for a Roman house-wife or a soldier.

Do not miss the fabulous mosaics which come from several Roman villas excavated around Trier and the Wine Ship of Neumagen, a sculpture of a wine-bearing vessel crowning a big burial monument from 220 A.D. The museum also hosts a large collection of Roman tomb stones with interesting details about the deceased’s lives and their grieving families.

Another highlight is a model of Trier, as it looked in Roman times, where you can still see buildings like the Imperial Baths or the Porta Nigra in their original state and which gives a stunning impression of the dimension of the city at that time.

4) Basilika

The Basilika is the largest surviving Roman building to the north of the Alps and is in a remarkably good state. The outside dimensions are stunning: 67m long, 27m wide and 30m high, built with Roman bricks on the foundations of an older Roman building. Dated as 4th century the Basilika formed the centre of the huge imperial residence, which stretched from what is today the Basilika down to the area where later the Cathedral was built.

Inside, the length appears more than what it is actually due to an optical illusion. The entire hall was heated with Hypocaust, a floor-heating system comprising tunnels below the floor, and flues built into walls.

The floor was embellished with colourful marble inlay mosaics - some remains are still visible. With the collapse of the Roman control over Trier in the 5th century, the Basilika was destroyed by Germanic Franks, who used the remains of the building for various purposes and eventually built a settlement inside the roofless ruin.

In the Middle Ages, the Basilika became the residence of the Electors of the Holy Empire in Trier. It was destroyed in World War II and was rebuilt in the 1950’s. Today, it serves as a Lutheran Church.
Image by Berthold Werner under Creative Commons License.
Church of Our Lady (Liebfrauenkirche)

5) Church of Our Lady (Liebfrauenkirche)

Located beside the Cathedral is the marvellous Church of Our Lady - Liebfrauenkirche. Built in the 13th century, it is the oldest church of the Gothic style in Germany. Erected by builders from nearby Lorraine in France, where Gothic was already the predominant construction style at the time, its shows the typical geometrical austerity of the Gothic period.

The church’s floor plan resembles a twelve-petaled rose. This rosa mystica is a symbol of the Virgin Mary, and relates to the twelve tribes of Israel and the Twelve Apostles. The apostles are depicted on the twelve supporting columns, which are completely visible only from one spot marked by a black stone on the floor.
Image by Berthold Werner under Creative Commons License.
Cathedral and Cathedral City (Domstadt)

6) Cathedral and Cathedral City (Domstadt)

Around the year 315 A.D., the first church was built here on the foundations of a Roman palace. Tradition says that it belonged to Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great and one of the first Roman “celebrities” to convert to Christianity. It was enlarged and extended several times in the following decades.

This was the oldest cathedral in Germany and the biggest ecclesiastical structure outside Rome with four basilicas, a baptistery and neighboring buildings. The West front is typically Romanesque architecture. The interior consists of three Romanesque naves with Gothic vaulting. The chapel itself is Baroque and has the relic of the Seamless Robe of Jesus. It is said that Empress Helena brought it to Trier. Although its authenticity is questioned, its public exposure every few years attracts pilgrims from everywhere.

The area surrounding the Cathedral forms a neighbourhood known as “Cathedral City”. With its narrow lanes between the buildings around the Cathedral, it is worth seeing. At that time, church grounds were above worldly power and jurisdiction. So villains wanting to avoid worldly authorities, stayed around the Cathedral making it an unsafe area.

Take a look at the big granite stone next to the main entry. According to legend, the Cathedral could only be finalized after the devil had been persuaded to contribute. Once the devil discovered that he had been cheated and was not supposed to receive his reward, he supposedly threw the last pillar against the outer wall – where it lies until today!
Image by Berthold Werner under Creative Commons License.
Bishop’s Museum

7) Bishop’s Museum

This museum is situated near the Cathedral and the Church of Our Lady. Once a Prussian prison and in fact serving as a prison until the 1970’s, it now exhibits a marvelous collection of early Christian art and master-pieces.

One of the museum's jewels is a 3rd century ceiling fresco from the imperial palace which was once located in a building on whose grounds the Cathedral was later built. The fresco was discovered only in the 20th century and carefully restored.

Another highlight is a rebuilt crypt from the Benedictine Abbey of the town of St. Maximin which gives an insight into the lives of the people buried there.

There is also a collection of Roman textiles and medieval church vestments, original Early Gothic statues as well as the creations of sculptors, ivory carvers, and goldsmiths over the centuries.
Porta Nigra

8) Porta Nigra

Porta Nigra, the “Black Gate” is probably Trier’s most famous landmark. Contructed around 180 A.D., it was the northern access to the city from the ancient Roman city wall. Out of the 4 original city gates, only Porta Nigra exists today. Built of grey sandstone, pollution turned the stone black over centuries, giving the gate its later name in the Middle Ages. The gate consists of huge stone blocks cut with bronze saws powered by mill wheels and put together without any mortar but held together by iron clamps. One clamp can still be seen inside the gate near the eastern spiral staircase. In the Middle Ages, people removed most of the clamps to retrieve the metal.

Long after the decline of the Roman Empire, a hermit from Syracuse, who was on his way back from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, occupied the eastern tower and lived there until his death in 1034. In his honor, the archbishop of Trier, Poppo, erected two churches inside the building. Its dedication as a church saved the Porta Nigra from being used as a quarry in the Middle Ages, unlike other Roman buildings in Trier. The churches were torn down between 1804 and 1819. when French revolutionary troops occupied Trier and destroyed many of its sacred buildings. But traces of its Christian history can still be found inside the gate. Climb up to the second floor and enjoy the view over the city.
Image by Berthold Werner under Creative Commons License.
House of the Three Magi

9) House of the Three Magi

Further along Simeonstrasse from Porta Nigra, stop at the unusual building on the right side. This is the House of the Three Magi – Dreikonigenhaus - which was built around 1230 in the style of a Romanesque tower house. Its name derives from an epiphany painting, which was earlier in the building. It served as a residential tower for a wealthy family. Today you find a nice cafe inside, which invites you to take a break from your sight-seeing trip and enjoy a coffee in a building which is more than 800 years old.

Designed to provide protection against aggressors, its entrance was located on the first floor, accessible only by a ladder, which could be removed in case of attacks. You can still see the original entrance which is today a window. The doors on the street level are modern and were added later in the 19th century.
Image by Berthold Werner under Creative Commons License.
Jew`s Alley

10) Jew`s Alley

A little before the main market square, on the right, Jews' Alley (Judengasse) leads into the former medieval Jewish Ghetto. Some items found there during excavation, have Hebrew inscriptions which proves that there were traces of Jewish life in Trier dating back to the 1st or 2nd century. A local Jewish community came into existence in Trier by the beginning of the 11th century, and in 1235, the first houses were built by four Jews in the street which later became Judengasse.

In 1418, Jews were driven out of Trier. Their fate was much like those of other Jews in European cities in those days. Initially, it was a flourishing community with many of its members working as pharmacists, doctors or money-lenders and the Jewish quarter consisted of more than 60 houses. After their expulsion, many Jews went east. However, the local dialect has traces of Yiddish even now. When the descendants of the expelled Jewish families were allowed to come back after 1600, they settled in different parts of the city and the Jewish quarter lost its significance. Today Judengasse hosts a number of restaurants and bars, where you can spend the evening in a truly historic environment.
Hauptmarkt (Main Market)

11) Hauptmarkt (Main Market)

A short walk from the Cathedral is the Hauptmarkt, one of Germany’s most beautiful medieval market squares.

At the centre of the square is a market cross given to the town in 958. It was a symbol of the worldly power of the city, especially the right to mint coins and to hold markets. The right to hold markets was of great economic importance for the emerging cities in the Middle Ages.

St. Gangolf church (13th – 15th century) was a symbol of Trier’s civic pride. Its impressive tower hosted the fire guards of the city for many centuries.

The Steipe, built around 1430, was the banqueting house of the former city council. In the 15th century, it hosted the local court. A closer look at the herald figures on the first floor shows that those facing the St. Gangolf Church have the visors of their helmets shut, whereas those looking at the worldly buildings have the visors open. This was an expression of the enduring rivalry between the city and the church in Europe.

The Red House was built in 1684. On its facade is the famous inscription in Latin which translates as - Thirteen hundred years before Rome stood Trier. May it stand on and enjoy eternal peace.

The famous St. Peter’s Fountain was created in 1595. At its top, it displays a statue of the city’s patron, St. Peter. Other statues depict the four cardinal virtues: wisdom, justice, strength and tolerance.
Franco’s Tower

12) Franco’s Tower

Just a stone’s throw away from the central market square, is Franco’s Tower, a marvellous medieval tower house, built in the 11th century. It is named after one of its later inhabitants, Franco of Senheim, who lived there in the 14th century. It was the type of house, much in fashion during this period of wealth in the expanding market town of Trier. For the purpose of defence, the original entrance was probably located on the first floor, only accessible by a ladder which could be pulled up in case of danger. Originally five storeys high, it was reduced to 2.5 storeys in the year 1308. After extensive restoration works, Franco’s Tower is once again accessible.
Image by Berthold Werner under Creative Commons License.
Karl Marx House

13) Karl Marx House

The famous German philosopher, Karl Marx, was born in Trier in 1818 and his birth house is still there. This Baroque residential house was acquired by the Social Democratic Party of Germany in 1928 after much effort. In 1933, the Nazi Party confiscated it and turned it into a printing house. Eventually, in 1947 it became a museum and in 1968 it was integrated with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

Dedicated as a museum, it has exhibits from Marx's personal history, original correspondence and photographs. There is also a collection of some first editions and international editions of his works, as well as exhibits on the development of socialism, especially in China, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Nowadays, most visitors come from China.
Image by de:Benutzer:Stefan_Kühn/Fotogalerie under Creative Commons License.

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