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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Roamin' With the Romans in Trier

Porta Nigra, the lasting symbol of Roman power

Inside Germany's oldest cathedral

The Hauptmarkt

A flower seller on the Hauptmarkt

Time for lunch

The bar at the Kesselstatt

The smoked fish and smoked fish plate

Coffee in an old wine cellar

View from Porta Nigra

 Ok, centurions, gird your loins, grab yourselves by the togas!  The battles are won, the Frankish rabble scattered like stray dogs at a Korean barbeque! We’re off to shrug the tempestuous turmoil and savagery of conflict and get some R&R  (that’s rollicking and rolling) at the wine center of the northern empire, Trier.
            What can we say about Trier?  Everything.  It’s such an old, cobblestone city, dating back to well before the Romans.  Population is just over 100,000 and the location, right on the Mosel River, has played a big part in making this a center of wine commerce for thousands of years, right up to the present.  Really great wine was another good reason.
            Officially, the city dates from 16 B.C.E., making Trier the oldest city in Germany, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest there were settlements here long before.   Under Roman rule, the city really came into its own and the remnants are still the highlights of any visit. 
It’s not exactly Roman, but a good place to start, and one of the stars of your visit, is the Dom St Peter.  It was, however, built on a Roman foundation and contains what some believe to be the robe of Christ. When it was originally constructed, the cathedral was about four times the size it is now, but attacks by the Franks and Normans smashed it down to what you see today. There are relics galore in the Dom’s museum, including what is reputed to be one of the nails from the cross, now encased in gold and jewels. Tarry awhile.  Enjoy the magnificence of the towering ceilings and the majestic serenity.  You can drink later.  It’s the oldest cathedral in Germany, dating from near 330 C.E. Sometimes I think of Trier as a city of churches.  There’s the Dom and the Lieberfrauenkirche, The Church of Our Lady next door, with its fabulous gothic architecture. There’s an old Roman palace, now a protestant church (Aula Palintina), and dozens more.
Most famous of all the Roman ruins is Porta Nigra, or Black Gate. If you get to Trier, don’t miss this one.  There are also Roman baths, and an amphitheater.
Shortly after you leave the Dom, heading for the Porta Nigra, you’ll find yourself in the center of a huge walking plaza, Hauptmarkt, fully equipped with, food, drink, shops, and always a festive air. On the way, you’ll walk from the Hauptmarkt, down the Simeonstrasse.  No vehicles allowed!  About half way there, glance to the right at the House of the Three Magi.  Looking like something out of the Arabian Nights, you can’t miss it.  Dates from the 13th Century.  That big hunk of dark stones and open portals at the far end of the street?  That’s the Porta Nigra. You can buy a ticket and visit both the Gate and the museum next door.  Climb the stairs; look out the highest windows for a spectacular view of the city.
Time for a break.  Time for lunch.  Head back toward the Dom.  Right across from the Dom is the perfect lunch spot, the Weinstube Kesselstatt, or Cauldron/ Kettle Place.  At lunchtime the weinstube is bustling, but the service is fine and the food wonderful.  Check out the wine–by-the-glass list over the bar.  Ask a barista to suggest something.  She'll probably off you a sip to try.  The waiters are also knowledgeable and speak English.  Try the local platter of smoked fish and smoked meats over salad.  It’s enough for two big eaters or three reasonable people.  It’s also a delight to just stop in the weinstube for soup or wine.  The décor is striking.  A large wine press and dark barrels stacked along the walls draw me back again and again.
Sated?  Time to pick up the pace.  Karl Marx was born here in 1818 and his home is now a museum.  To get there, you’ll have to wander out of the very center of town, but not very far.  Within easy walking distance of the Dom and the Hauptmarkt are the Roman baths, the amphitheater, the Roman museum, Aula Palintina, and the Roman bridge over the Mosel, dating to 150 C.E..  Short paragraph, but a long time, if you really want to give things more than a passing glance.  There are also stop-and-go buses that hit all the highlights.
All that walking and it’s time for Kaffee und Kucken.   Reverse course and trot back to the Haupmarkt.   I can think of no more interesting place for coffee and cake than in an old wine cellar.  It’s right near the House of the Three Magi, but on the opposite side of the street, underneath the Karstadt Department Store.  The entire city is an underground warren of wine tunnels and cellars.  Most cannot be visited except by appointment.  But, in this café, you can sip, nosh, and enjoy seeing the cellars, minus the wine.
            Even my glittering words do not do justice to Trier, a city of never ending discovery and enchantment.  Makes you want to paint a picture, write a book, light a candle, make a wish.  I think I’ll settle for another glass of wine.

Note:  You are probably used to seeing historic dates as B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D.  B.C. is English. A.D. is Anno Domini in Medieval Latin, translated as: in the year of our Lord.  B.C.E. stand for before the common era and C.E. stands for the common era.  C.E. has been used at least since 1708 and B.C.E. since 1856.  Short answer:  B.C. = B.C.E. and A.D. = C.E.

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
    The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.