In the beginning of the last millennium, the ancient empire of Rome made itself at home in the German countryside, its powerful legions effectively holding the barbarous Germanic tribes at bay.
Roman cities, towns, forts and supply roads sprang up all through Germany’s mid to lower regions, far from the empire’s seat of authority in Rome. Settlers joined the soldiers as they made their mark along such famous waterways as the Rhein and Mosel rivers, populating these major water arteries’ valleys. One of these settlements, seated on the banks of the Mosel River, is still thriving today as a major tourist destination. It is Trier.
Romans planted Trier’s roots in 15 B.C., making it the oldest metropolis in Germany. A testament to the historical fact that Trier predates any other of Germany’s cities is the many Roman edifices and ruins occupying Trier, such as the “Porta Nigra,” or Black Gate. It was built in the second century, and served as the city’s northern entrance. One of four gates into the city, this massive blackened building has become as much a dominant landmark of Trier as the Eiffel Tower is of Paris. It is also the largest Roman city gate north of the Alpine mountains.
The Porta Nigra now welcomes visitors into Trier’s pedestrian zone and “Fussgänger Zone, ” or shopping district, which is lined with a variety of stores, bakeries, cafes and restaurants.
“The shopping area is pretty and clean. (It’s) lined with nice stores, and there’s a lot of history to be seen from ancient Roman to medieval times,” said Sabine Daberko, a resident of Landstuhl who visited Trier. “Also, there are all different kinds of restaurants, like Italian (and) German, and many pleasant cafes and bars to relax in.”
The Porta Nigra is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to uncovering Roman sites within Trier. The Basilica of Constantine, from the fourth century, is the largest surviving single-room structure from the Roman era, with a remarkable length of 221 feet long and a ceiling that soars into the sky at 100 feet. The Roman emperor used this vast hall as his throne room and as a means to impress his visitors with its lavishly painted walls and sheer size.
Today, the basilica serves not as an emperor’s chamber, but as a place of worship, as it has been transformed into a Protestant church. Located at the basilica are the large remains of the Roman bath, where visitors can still see how such technology functioned to provide Romans with a means to relax and socialize.
Trier’s oldest bridge is also a product of the Romans, dating back to the second century. It holds the esteemed claim to be the oldest bridge north of the Alps that is still being crossed by traffic.
The well-preserved amphitheater still inspires awe in visitors, who can easily imagine the gladiator battles that took place in its arena.
If the actual sites where Romans walked aren’t enough to impress, the “Rheinisches Landesmuseum,” or Rheinland land museum, displays all things Roman. Aside from ancient Roman relics on view, the museum’s prized piece is a sandstone sculpture of a Roman boat loaded with wine casks. This ancient piece of art is said to have marked the tomb of a Roman wine dealer from around A.D. 220.
Trier is a time portal back into the Roman Empire. It’s also a city with a modern face, featuring fine dining and excellent shopping opportunities. Trier’s tourist office is near the Porta Nigra and features valuable information about the city’s history, museums, cultural attractions and the various tours that are offered.