City Visit: Trier, Germany - Part 1

On one of the last weekends in June, we realized we needed to head out of Mannheim for a bit. Last minute planning, and sky high travel prices in Europe during the summer meant that we were looking to go somewhere within driving distance. We ended up choosing Trier on the Moselle River, a small city very close to the German border with Luxembourg. For only a two hour drive from Mannheim, it was a nice city escape.

We had heard a lot about Trier, especially because of the sheer number of Roman ruins that still remain. The city was founded over 2000 years ago by the Romans as a strategic point along the Moselle. The town grew into a buzzing metropolis, complete with city walls, an amphitheater, two bathing houses, and aqueducts that conducted water into the city. Fun fact, the aqueducts transported over 23,000 cubic meters of water per day for a population of about 80,000 people. Today, the population of 101,000 uses less water than this, delivered by much more modern means. Roman engineering was pretty impressive; it never ceases to amaze us.

View of the city of trier. The bridge is one of the oldest bridges crossed by traffic north of the Alps and dates from the Roman times.

While we were there, we visited a couple of the more popular Roman ruins: the Imperial Baths, the Port Nigra, and the Cathedral. In all, there are about 9 sites with Roman ruins open to the public. They are all part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site that spans almost the entire town.


Ancient stone walls 

The imperial baths were seriously impressive. It was an important aspect of Roman life to go to the baths. There were hot baths, cold baths, swimming pools, massages were available, people could get their hair done, or play sports. While the upper levels are ruins, the underground support structures are still mostly intact. These tunnels heated the floors of the baths and provided access for support personnel. Today, the tunnels are open to explore. As you descend into them, their dark, damp nature is the first thing you notice. These tunnels are taller than one would expect, probably 15 feet or so tall, lit intermittently by small windows cut into the ceiling. These small shafts of light were enough to illuminate the tunnels just enough so that visitors didn't stumble.  

Above ground, you can see the remains of the public parts of the baths. The self guided tour points out where the swimming pools were, where the hot and cold baths were located, and you can venture almost all the way out to where the sport area was. There are areas where the ancient floor has fallen away, allowing one to look down into the tunnels. Today, moss and other plants have mostly taken over. I always find it amazing that no matter how much man changes and manipulates the land, given enough time, nature will always find a way to reclaim it. And these ruins were a fantastic example of that.

One of the passages between different parts of the bath house

Long, narrow tunnel underground

Moss and Lichens are reclaiming what was once theirs

One of the larger tunnels unerground

Window on the upper level of the bath house

Kaiserthermen Roman Bath Ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Porta Nigra

The entire city of Trier used to be surrounded by a wall in Roman times. The wall was the seperation between city and country, between life and death (quite literally, the cemeteries were all located outside of the city walls). Part of that wall still exists in the form of the massive city gate. Today, the stone is blacked from years of dirt, and parts are missing, but this is one of the largest city gates that I have seen. After the Roman empire fell, the gate was turned into a unique 2 story church. On the lower level was the church for the commoners while the upper level housed the church for the elite. During this period, towers and additions were made to the original city gate. However, after Napoleon invaded Trier, he ordered that the stones from the Porta Nigra be used as building materials for other buildings. As a result, many of the additions made in the medieval times are long gone. Unfortunately, due to a music festival in Trier that weekend, we were unable to get a full picture of Porta Nigra, but here is one that shows what it looks like from the outside.

First level of the Porta Nigra. During mideival times, this was a church for the commoners. Notice the carvings in the stone that were carved into the old roman structure

City Side of the Porta Nigra. Source

One of the side passages of the Porta Nigra

View of the inner courtyard of Porta Nigra.


Interior of th Basilica. It was massive!

The last of the Roman ruins we visited in Trier was the Basilica. In Roman times, it is thought that it was the throne room for the emperor. It is a large, emtpy building, with double rows of windows that let it lots o natural light. Today, it is a protestant church and contains a simple alter, some seating, and an organ. When we were there, the organ was being tuned, and it never ceases to amaze me how beautiful an organ sounds filling an ancient stone building.

The Basilica is part of the Trier UNESCO World Heritage Sites

modern Organ in an Ancient Roman Building

Street Musicians playing outside of the BASILICA. they were crazy good!

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The day we visited Trier, there was a music festival going on. There were 8 or so different stages set up all throughout the town, along with countless wine stands, beer carts, and food trucks. No visit to a city with a festival is complete without getting some of the street food and a beer or two to enjoy! It was definitely an interesting juxtaposition to be standing in the 2000 year old Porte Nigra, and look out over the town crowded with people. Presumably, festivals have been happening for thousands of years here, but most of them probably did not contain modern staging and sound equipment. If only those walls could talk.

Picture of the city looking down from the Porta Nigra

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