When one thinks of Germany, the first thought isn’t usually associated with Romans. So, I suppose it might come as a surprise when I tell you that Trier, Germany’s oldest city, once served as Roman territory.
Trier, dating back to the 1st Century, can be found along the Moselle river in the Western part of Germany. Since it was one of the largest cities of the Roman Empire it is considered the ‘Rome of the North’.
This city is just bursting with history. Because of its large collection of ancient Roman structures still standing, it has been recognised by UNESCO as a world heritage site. Doubly impressive when you consider that 40 per cent of the city was destroyed during the Second World War. A walk through its old parts will take you on a virtual tour through Roman’s second-biggest Emperor.
Let’s take an in-depth look at this treasure trove of ruins that serves as a testimony of Roman civilization.
Trier Imperial Baths
The Imperial Baths, standing for 1600 years, are arguably some of the biggest and most impressive of all Roman bathing facilities outside of Rome. They are among the most outstanding inventions of Roman architecture.
To put the size of the baths into perspective, the hot water bath is large enough for a present-day theatre complete with a stage, orchestra and 650 seats. Romans bathed nude, with men and women rarely being separated.
Bathing was not the only activity that went down here. This complex was used by the Romans for a bigger portion of their social lives.
Some visited hairdressers, some took part in hair removal practices and others had massages. I must add that I am pleased to learn about the extinction of these massages as some were done using fermented urine.
This subterranean labyrinth where also used by the Romans as a place to conduct business, much like that of modern-day businessmen on the golf course.
Gambling and drinking were also a favoured pastime. The in-house library was frequented by those looking to relax.
The grass surrounding the complex served as a sports ground, while the underground tunnels lead you to hidden chambers and cold water baths.
The fall of the Roman Empire saw this bathing complex being turned into military barracks.
Beyond the medieval city wall lies the Roman Amphitheater.
Once the land of cruel games, public executions and gladiator combats, it served as the Romans’s biggest form of entertainment. Today, grass covers the public staircases, once used for the seating of some 20 000 guests.
This is probably one of the most hair-raising of all sights, especially when venturing into the underground chambers of the Amphitheater. It is dark, filled with an overflow of water, and has a walkway passing through the tunnels. Prisoners as well as wild animals like African lions or Asian tigers were once kept here.
A gaudy soundtrack imitates the events that once took place above. Cheers of the spectators screaming for blood echo through its walls, bouncing about like a ping pong ball.
Here, muscle-bound gladiators once cast spells on their opponents they were about to battle to their death.
Today, this space is used for open-air concerts and the famous Antiquity Festival.
Trier Saint Peter’s Cathedral
Saint Peter’s Cathedral demands your attention. Probably, because of its grand design and the fact that it dates back 1650 years.
It is Germany’s oldest church and Trier’s largest religious structure. Its long-standing history is of utmost significance to its unique architecture.
It has passed through different eras, each of which is evident in certain elements of its design. Although parts of the structure were destroyed, a big portion of it still remains, and over the years has been gradually built on.
The structure you see today has been built on the foundations of original Roman buildings, which can still be seen by the Roman central centre with its original walls rising up to a height of 26m.
The huge fragment of a granite column next to the entrance to the Cathedral is another indication of the Roman origin of the building.
The West front in five symmetrical sections remains typical of Romanesque architecture under the Salian emperors.
The interior is made up of three Romanesque naves with Gothic vaulting, a Baroque chapel, four basilicas, a baptistery and three crypts.
The Holy Robe Chapel houses the relic of the seamless robe of Jesus, said be to worn by him shortly before his crucifixion. It is kept in an annexe and shown to the public only infrequently,
Beyond that, the Cathedral also has one of the Holy Nails from the Cross. Could Jesus have been crucified in close proximity? We wonder.
The Porta Nigra stands proud in the city centre and once served as the Roman city gate. It is the famed emblem of Trier, and one of the most preserved of all Roman sites.
The gate, built in 180CE is a remarkable work of art. Its solid construction can be attributed to the longevity of some 7200 blocks of stone used to create it. The biggest block weighs up to six metric tons.
Traces of its varied history are still evident in the walls that are held together by iron clamps. The ancient pointed stone surface on the upper floor, used as the church interior, was fully plastered.
As the erosion of this layer progresses, wall fittings, presumably from the medieval period are becoming visible, unveiling more mysteries about this remarkable site.
The fall of the Roman Empire saw the city gate being used for a variety of other purposes.
Firstly, In the 11th century, it served as an abode for the monk Simeon. Secondly, on his death, the city gate was converted into a church. Thirdly, in 1803 under Napoleon’s rule, the church was dissolved, and orders were given to restore it to its ancient design.
Today, this gate welcomes tourists from all over the world, that come to marvel at its magnificent design.
Roman Imperial Throne Room | Aula Palatina
The Aula Palatina, or more commonly know as Constantine’s throne room is the largest surviving room structure from Roman times.
To give you an idea of its size, it is 32,6m wide, 71m long and 36m in height. It is unique in design, creating an optical illusion that further enhances its size. In the same fashion, its windows become progressively smaller towards the middle.
It was built in AD 310 and was once part of a greater palace complex. Other smaller buildings, like a forehall and a few service buildings, were attached to it.
Later, during the middle ages, it was used by the Archbishop as his administrative centre, then in the 18th century used as the first and now, the oldest protestant church in Catholic trier.
The Romerbrucke bridge, crossing over the Mosel is one of Germany’s oldest bridges and is still operational.
Because it was built between 144 and 152 AD and well preserved, it forms part of the UNESCO world heritage site.
It has nine pillars, built mostly from basalt rock from the Eifel mountains, and deeply embedded in the riverbed. A cross signifying Jesus’ crucifixion can be found above the bridge.
This article was first published on THE SOUTH AFRICAN.