How to spend a day in historic Trier
Trier is the oldest city in Germany, founded somewhere around 400 BCE. It became a prominent Roman border town when the Romans conquered the town and established a roman colony here. It’s heighday came after the Imperial reforms of Diocletian when the city became a residence of the Western Roman emperor. The town housed as much as 100,000 people by then, almost as much as today.
It’s the Roman remains that attract most visitors to Trier. It is by far the best Northern European town to view Roman remains. So most of our listed highlights are connected to the Romans in one way or another.
The most famous and iconic of all the Roman remains in Trier is the Porta Nigra. This large Roman gate was part of the huge wall around the city and one of the four main entry gates of the city. It was probably built after the Frankish incursion of 275 and likely by Constantine in the early 4th century as the building was left unfinished as were his baths.
A Greek monk lived in the ruins of the Porta Nigra in the 11th century. After his death the gate was transformed into a church in his honor. It was Napoleon who ordered this church to be torn down when he conquered the city and to restore the gate back to its original Roman state.
Dom St. Peter zu Trier
Trier Cathedral is the oldest church of Germany and probably built upon the site of an earlier Roman church. The cathedral was probably started by Constantine, but much of his building was destroyed by the Franks in the 5th century, it was rebuild several times since then but its Roman and Romanesque origins are still visible as are large parts of the original Roman brick walls.
The Konstantinbasilika or Aula Palatina was commisioned by the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great around 310 CE. The original building was sadly destroyed by an Allied air raid during the second World War. But it has since been rebuild and is one of the best places to give you an idea of what a late Roman basilica would have looked like. Pay special attention to the windows in the apse, they give the optical illusion that the apse is much bigger than it really is. This sophisticated effect is created by lowering the line of the apse windows and making them smaller than the ones in the nave. It’s a good example of the fact that during this period the quality of the architecture of the Roman provinces would surpass that of Rome itself.
The Rheinisches Landesmuseum is an archeology museum displaying many of the stunning Roman finds from the city. They have huge mosaics, statues, tombs and much more. But the complete collection spans a wider timeframe. So, there are also artifacts from the prehistory until the late middle ages on display.
The Roman amphitheater in Trier was erected during the 2nd century. It could house some 20,000 spectators for gladiator shows and other events. Although the seating is mostly covered by grass now, you can still get a good idea of the whole place. The Arena floor has been rebuild and you can enter the remains of the underground where the gladiators and animals would have been kept.
The Kaiserthermen or the Imperial baths were also commissioned by Constantine in the 4th century. The baths were only later finished as Constantine had to leave to the East where he would found his new capital Constaninople. Valentinian would finish them but on a smaller scale than originally intended. The design is fairly similar to the earlier St Barabara Baths which can be found 1 km to the east.
Just beyond the St Barbara Baths lies the ancient Roman bridge over the river Moselle. This is the oldest standing bridge of Germany. The remaining Roman parts are the pillars of the bridge, these are still the original ones from the second century. The upper part has been restored several times.
The only building without Roman links on our list is the Liebfrauenkirche. Although the church is built on top of an earlier Roman double church and some of the Roman foundations are used for the huge Gothic pillars of this building. This early 13th century church is one of the earliest Gothic churches in Germany.