Germany Holidays: Trier, Roman splendour in northern Europe

For a relatively small city, Trier is absolutely packed with architectural highlights, many dating from the era of Roman occupation in the first four centuries AD. It boasts without doubt the finest collection of Roman heritage north of the Alps, befitting its status as Germany’s oldest town.

During the fourth century Trier was one of the residences of the western Roman Empire and also the seat of the Gallic Prefecture, which governed the territories of that empire all the way from Britain to Morocco.

Located on the Mosel, around two hours south of Cologne, the city is very close to the border with Luxembourg and probably doesn’t get the recognition or visitor numbers it merits because it is slightly off the beaten track in tourist terms. However a visit there is well worth the effort.

Trier’s most imposing building is the Porta Nigra, the gate which formed part of the Roman walls and was the main entry point into city. The name is a direct translation from the Latin for ‘black gate’, but it was originally built in the second century AD out of grey sandstone and has been blackened by atmospheric conditions over the passage of time. From the Middle Ages through to the end of the 18th century this elaborate structure was part of a church but Napoleon ordered it to be returned to its Roman form in 1804 and it has been unchanged ever since.

Around 150 years after the Porta Nigra was built, construction started on the Konstantin Basilika.  This was originally the throne room of Constantine, who was actually living in York in the UK when he was proclaimed Emperor in 306 AD on the death of his father. Constantine is renowned as the first Emperor to convert to Christianity. His Basilika is now a rather austere Protestant church, having been restored following bomb damage sustained during World War II. It remains the largest single-room Roman structure still in existence.


Also dating from the same period are the Kaiserthermen (Imperial Baths) which are now the largest surviving Roman baths outside Rome. Whilst not on the same scale, Trier also boasts a second surviving complex of baths, the Barbarathermen, built in the second century, of which only the foundations and underground system remain.

Completing the wealth of Roman remains are the Amphitheatre, where crowds of 20,000 would come to watch gladiatorial contests, and the 2nd century Römerbrücke, Germany’s oldest bridge, built with rock from the nearby Eifel mountains which is still supporting it nearly 2,000 years later.

All these sites, together with the magnificent Liebfrauensbasilika (Germany’s oldest gothic church) and the Trierer Dom (which can trace its origins back to Roman times, making it Germany’s oldest church, even though the current structure dates from the 12th and 13th centuries) were granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1986.

Meanwhile the largest preserved collection of Roman coins, over 2,600, in the world can be found in the Rheinisches Landesmuseum, situated close to the Kaiserthermen.

All these sites are open to visitors and the majority of them are free. So if you want to transport yourself back to a time when the Roman Empire was at its pomp and marvel at the structures that were built nearly 2,000 years ago, then Trier is worth visiting. – Mark Arrol


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