Back in 16 BC the Roman empire wanted to establish a foothold into what is now western Europe, and they did this in what is now the German town of Trier (the oldest town in Germany).
We arrived in Trier by train from Cochem (less than an house away) as a stop for the day before continuing on that evening to Luxembourg. The 6.5 hours we had in Trier was (for us) the perfect amount of time to see the major sites. We took with us a copy of Rick Steves walking tour – which was the perfect way for us to make our way through the city self-guided and on foot. It also provided us with some interesting facts and history, though almost all the sites themselves came with an English map/guide book to help expand our understanding. We saw numerous tour groups throughout the city, but they were also going by foot with a guide and their duotang full of photos. Seemed the tourists were spending more time outside the buildings with the photos than at the sites themselves. The round trip journey was a total of 6.5 km – totally manageable over the course of a day (though not as enjoyable in the afternoon when we headed up hill to the ampitheater, in the sun). But overall Rick Steves gets points today for an enjoyable and thorough walking tour.
1. Porta Nigra (4th cenutry) – the one remaining (originally there were four) Roman gate to the city. Made of sandstone, it has blackened over time. I was so excited to see the gate that I did not see the heaping pile of dog s$%t on the grass right in front of it. But seriously a) who brings their dog to the Roman ruins to do it’s business and b) doesn’t bother to clean it up. Grrrrr…and of course this was the beginning of the day, and luggage was stored away in lockers at the train station and there wasn’t much I could do but use rocks to clean what I could and move on (I did get it clean with a euro store toothbrush later on). So Porta Nigra – cool. Dog poop – not cool. Lesson learned – watch your step.
2. Market Square – Like most German towns, there is a open market square, filled with stands selling flowers, produce etc. Trier’s market wasn’t in full swing when we walked through (and I was disheartened that the square now includes Subway and McDonalds), but there were some interesting buildings and history. The one corner included the home of the Archbishop – a powerful figure, and representative of Rome in the city. He was in charge of the Cathedral (which I’ll talk about next). But the locals didn’t love this. Across the way was the Town Hall – with a statue keeping watch over the Archbishop, and next to that, the City Church. The people of Trier built the spire of this church to be higher than that of the Cathedral (and of course, the Archbishop made sure the Cathedral then received some modifications of its own). Funny thing – the Archbishop’s residence is now an H&M. Town history aside, Trier (and later we found out, Luxembourg) is full of these painted elephants – they are all over the place, though I am still unsure of why. This one is painted like a Roman – how fitting.
3. Trierer Dom (or Dom St. Peter) is the large Cathedral in town. Built originally in 329 AD, it has been demolished and rebuilt many times in German/Roman history since then. It holds what is claimed to be the Holy Tunic, that is the robe taken from Christ before his cruxifiction that the soldiers cast lots for. The tunic is only displayed on rare occasion, though usually every 40-50 years, the last being 2012 (see story here). In the basement there are 2 crypts, one for St. Helena, who brought the Holy Tunic to the church, and another room with the tomb of last Archbishops. There is also a treasury room with a nail from the cross, and next door the cloisters.
4. Constantine Basilika – also known as the Throne room of Roman Emperor Constantine. This is the largest Roman ruin to be found outside of Rome (as well as a world heritage site). I think there was a sign that said no photography, but I can’t help that my camera, hanging on my hip in quiet mode, kept accidentally going off. The room itself doesn’t look that impressive, but the fact it has been free standing without significant renovation since 310 AD (with some repair to the roof following WWII) is impressive. Each square on the ceiling is 10’x10′ and the windows at the front of the hall are smaller in order to make the emperor look more important. Now the building is used by a protestant church, but open for tourists during the week.
5. Roman Baths – with 1 mile of underground tunnels, this project was largely incomplete. However, it remains the largest Roman baths north of the alps. The panorama (via Ray, king of the panorama) is the remaining above ground section, but the fun is in wandering the labyrinth underneath the ground. The tunnels were cold and refreshing, especially on such a hot day. However, it wasn’t until we left them that I told Ray that I felt like those tunnels would be the perfect place to harbour zombies or vampires. It was a horror movie waiting to happen. So cool, but creepy at the same time.
6. Roman Amphitheater – not used for the same degree of blood shed as the Colessum, this is still an impressive theatre (and necessary in such a significant Roman town). It held 16,000 people, though the stone seating has been replaced by grass (in the past this has also been used as a vineyard). We were able to tour the grounds and go underneath were the entertainment was kept/held/locked up, though today it’s being used for a concert! (which is a bummer when trying to take great photos of ancient “Rome.”
So there you go – a basic guide to the town of Trier. Up until now we would tour through German towns and appreciate how “old” everything was. “Look at that building, it’s been here since 1253!” I mean, compared to Canada, that is OLD. But in Trier, the building from 1253 looks oddly out of date sitting across the courtyard from 4th century Roman ruins. Ray actually caught me calling those buildings “new”, which gave way to pause and then laughter. Our perspective of time and age is definitely relative.
On a total side note – the non-smoking train station in Trier has one small smoking section. A yellow square right in the middle of the platform. Really?!? Does this make sense at all? #sigh