Trier, the most impressive ancient city in Germany

The Rhineland has some amazing sights. Just 1.5 hrs drive from my river cottage is the city of Trier. First settled by the celts, then the Romans 2000 years ago, it is the oldest city in Germany with a magnificent ancient gate or monument, the Porta Nigra

Located in the Middle-Mosel valley with a scenic landscape and bordering mountains, Trier, or “Augusta Treverorum” when founded by the Romans, had a great historical importance. The city is also underscored by the numerous ancient and medieval monuments, of which eight have been designated as World Heritage site by UNESCO.

Trier, Germany, oldest city
The cathedral and the Liebfrauenkirche. View from the Skybar

With the construction of the first Roman Moselle bridge, Emperor Augustus founded Trier in 16 BC. But even then, the city’s origins date back to pre-Roman time. It was once the Treveri, a celtic tribe, that settled the area

Stadtansicht von Braun & Hogenberg (1572) by Wikimedia
City of Trier 1572 (by Wikimedia)

The importance of the city in the Roman Empire grew rapidly. A fortification, an amphitheater and thermal baths were built. Subsequently, Trier rose to be the thriving provincial city in the 3rd century. At times, various Roman emperors resided in Trier, especially Constantine the Great, which made the city the capital of the Western Roman Empire. In its ancient heyday, Trier had around 80,000 inhabitants, making it the largest city north of the Alps.

Ancient Romans built the city of Trier with a grid. This method of land measurement is called Centuriation. The Grid Plan dates back to antiquity, and originated in multiple ancient cultures, including Greece. Today city planners in the US apply this model when building neighborhoods.

Roman imperial city grid model of Augusta Treverorum in the 4th century. (per Wikimedia)
Roman imperial city grid model of Augusta Treverorum in the 4th century. (per Wikimedia)

With the invasion of the Teutons, and the destruction of the city by the Vikings, Trier lost its importance. With the seat of the bishop, however, Trier flourished again in the Middle Ages.

A special attraction today are the numerous Roman and medieval monuments, especially the city’s landmark, the Porta Nigra.

The Porta Nigra is the the symbol of Trier. It is the best preserved Roman city gate north of the Alps and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Porta Nigra was built from approx. with 7200 stone blocks around AD 170 and is still preserved today due to its massive construction.

Porta Nigra Trier

With the end of the Roman Empire and changing times, the gate was used in many ways: In the 11th century, the building served as a dwelling for a monk name Simeon, who lived as a hermit. With his death, the Porte Nigra was converted into a church complex, which is another reason why it has been preserved to this day. The following centuries were characterized by renovation and maintenance measures. Under Napoleon’s rule, the church was dissolved in 1803 and a restoration of the ancient form was ordered. Measures to restore and maintain the Porta Nigra are still taking place today

Once we walked through this gate or monument we saw the central Information and Tourist office. There we took an English tour at 1 pm that lasted about 1.5 hours.

Trier marketplace

Most historic buildings are concentrated in the pretty, compact inner city with pedestrian zones and numerous squares that invites to stroll, shop and relax.

Marktplatz Trier

As a University city and regional cultural and economic center, Trier is still a lively city today. We learned that Luxemburgers come to shop, and people who live in Trier go to work there. Trier is also known as the birthplace of Karl Marx.

One of the few surviving buildings-castles of Germany is the house of the “Three Kings”. Located in the historic city center which connects the Mark and the historic gate of Porta Nigra. This original building in a colorful Moorish style was erected in 1230 a.D.

House of the Three Kings to the left, and the Trier Palace (right)

We disbursed from the Group at the grounds of the Trier Palace (Kurfürstliches Palais) and the the charming Baroque Gardens or Palastgarten. The Palace was closed for tourist at that time, so we stayed outside and enjoyed a number of attractive ponds and fountains and flower beds that were surrounded by beech hedges of various heights.

Walking back towards the Cathedral we took the SkyBar up to the top and stayed there for 15 minutes. It gave us a great photo opportunity above the ancient city.

The Cathedral of Trier, also called Saint Peter, is one of the oldest churches in Germany and can trace its foundations all the way back to the 4th century. Most of the building was constructed in the 11th and 12th centuries and fully restored in 1974.

St. Peter’s Cathedral

The Holy Tunic is a relic, which is kept in the Trier Cathedral and is said to contain fragments of cloth that Jesus Christ wore when carrying the cross. The authenticity of the sacred Tunic is controversial. Its eventful history and sometimes unfavorable condition of storage has led to a textile-archaeological examination in 1973/74. At that time however, it could not be exactly determined its origin and age.

It was time for a break and eat a snack, so we walked back to the Porta Nigra gate. As we took a seat outside at the Trier Museum Restaurant, we recapped our amazing tour and the history of Trier. While taking in our refreshment and eating a Wurstsalat, we sat there and admired the Porta Nigra one more time. It was late afternoon when we decided to drive back to our place.

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