Roman buildings in centre of antiquity


he Roman buildings in Trier and the Christian buildings that rose from their foundations – the cathedral and the Liebfrauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) – have been on the World Heritage List since 1986. Trier, which was founded in 16 BC under the name of ‘Augusta Treverorum’, is the oldest city in Germany. As a centre of antiquity, it is an extraordinary testimony to the 400 years of Roman rule the likes of which cannot be found in any other German city. The UNESCO Roman buildings include the Porta Nigra, the Aula Palatina, the Imperial Baths, the Amphitheatre, the Roman Bridge, the Barbara Baths and the Igel Column outside the city gates. It takes at least a whole day to see them all.

The Porta Nigra in Simeonstrasse is a popular starting point for city tours. But it is also worth taking a closer look at the best-preserved Roman city gate to the north of the Alps. The Porta Nigra was built in around 170 AD, when the Romans liked to use large blocks in the construction of public buildings. The largest of these sandstone blocks weigh six tons. They came from the Kyll valley, were cut to size using mill-powered bronze saws, put together without mortar and secured with iron pegs that had been cast in lead.

The Porta Nigra in Trier, Moselle valley

View of the Porta Nigra in Trier, Moselle valley

After 1028, an unusual resident moved into the city gate when the Greek monk and hermit Simeon had himself walled into the east tower of the Porta Nigra. After his death in 1035, he was buried on the ground floor and later beatified. In his honour, Archbishop Poppo of Babenberg built two churches opposite one another in the Roman gate, which were only demolished in the 19th century on Napoleon’s orders. The city gate first became known as the ‘Porta Nigra’ (black gate) in the Middle Ages when the sandstone had been discoloured through the effects of weathering and the environment.

The gate is the centrepiece of many stories and anecdotes dating back to the times when Rome ruled the world and Emperor Constantine steered the fates of the Empire from Trier. These are wonderfully and humorously told by actors in full Roman centurion costume as part of one of the entertaining themed guided tours of the city. As you climb up and down the stairs during the themed guided tour, you meet all those who have passed through the doors of the Porta Nigra: emperors and warriors, bishops and barbarians, those immured alive and devilish demons.

The Amphitheatre in Trier, Moselle valley

View of the Amphitheatre in Trier, Moselle valley

Bathing was one of the favourite pastimes of the ancient Romans – the three bath complexes they left in Trier are testament to that. The Imperial Baths are the newest. Construction began in the early fourth century, with a view to building one of the largest baths complexes in the Roman Empire. The Caldarium or warm bath room is so big it can now hold theatre productions for audiences of up to 650 people. But there was never any bathing here. The emperor went to Byzantium and left the baths as a shell. Scientists are still trying to work out whether the decorations and technical facilities in the Imperial Baths were actually left incomplete.

The first Roman emperor to practise Christianity was Constantine the Great. He put an end to the grisly persecution of Christians and helped the religion gain global recognition. The Aula Palatina was the emperor’s throne room and demonstrated his greatness and power. The hall, which is 67 metres long, 27 metres wide and 33 metres tall, is the largest preserved building from ancient times. The Prince-elector’s Palace, one of the loveliest rococo palaces in the world and erstwhile seat of the Prince-electors and Archbishops, is positively diminutive by comparison. Prussian King Wilhelm IV gifted the basilica to the protestant community as a place of worship. The walls throw back echoes of the sounds of the massive organ a whole seven seconds later. Next to the cathedral, the Aula Palatina with its extraordinary acoustics is now a venue for major concerts including the annual Moselle Music Festival.

Trier’s Roman past as an ancient city becomes an authentic experience in the various themed guided tours and in the modern information centres complete with film animations and media guides.

The Roman Imperial Baths in Trier, Moselle valley

The Roman Imperial Baths in Trier, Moselle valley

Entertaining toga guide in Trier, Moselle valley

Entertaining toga guide in Trier, Moselle valley

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Amphitheater (UNESCO World Heritage)

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