On the banks of the Moselle River lies Trier, Germany’s oldest city. The city was founded as a Roman colony in 16 B.C. by Emperor Augustus, and became the favored residence of several Roman emperors which was even sometimes called “Roma Secunda”, the second Rome. Nowhere else in Germany is the evidence of Roman times as vivid as it is in Trier. Roman emperors and later bishops, electors and ordinary people have made Trier what it is today. World-class architectural monuments , many of which have had UNESCO World Heritage status, and art treasures have been preserved to tell the fascinating story of the city’s past. One of Germany’s western most cities, Trier is also close to the border with Luxembourg, and a popular place from which to explore the lovely Mosel wine area.
The oldest defensive structure in Germany, the Porta Nigra was erected in about 180 AD and given its current name which means “black gate” in the Middle Ages because of its weathered color. The Gate is the only one of four Roman gates that still stands in Trier, as the others were gradually pillaged for their stone and iron. The Porta Nigra survived because it was used as a residence of a hermit monk named Simeon. After his death he was buried in the gate and the structure was transformed into the two story Church of St. Simeon. Today, its centuries old, age-blackened stones are a must-see. If possible, plan to see the gate as part of a informational tour. Tours usually run about two hours and can be booked online or at the tourist office.
A short walk from the Porta Nigra – and a great place to break up your sightseeing with a stop at a café or restaurant – is the city’s beautiful old Market Square, or Hauptmarkt. In addition to its numerous lovely half-timbered buildings, it’s where you’ll find many fine old medieval attractions, including the 15th-century Steipe, home to the city’s banqueting house. Other highlights include the Late Gothic St. Gangolf’s Church as well as the spectacular Market Fountain, built in 1595 and depicting St. Peter surrounded by the four virtues of Justice, Strength, Temperance, and Wisdom, as well as a few mocking monster.
The huge High Cathedral of Saint Peter (Trierer Dom) can trace its foundations to the 4th century, making it one of the oldest churches in Germany. Much of what is seen today was constructed in the 11th and 12th centuries and was fully restored in 1974. Highlights include its magnificent monuments from the 16th to the 18th centuries; its rich Treasury (home to the 10th-century portable St. Andrew’s Altar, one of the great masterpieces of Ottonian art); and the skull of Emperor Constantine’s mother, St. Helena. Also of interest is the adjoining Church of Our Lady (Liebfrauenkirche) dating from 1270, along with St. Paulinus’ Church, built in 1754 with notable ceiling paintings by Thomas.
Widely regarded as Germany’s most important archeology museum, the Archeological Museum (Rheinisches Landesmuseum) documents some 200,000 years of the region’s history from prehistoric times to the beginning of the 19th century. Among its collection of more than 4,500 artifacts are a large number of Roman mosaics, ancient stone burials, and the largest hoard of Roman gold coins ever discovered. Audio and guided tours are available.
South of the Trier Electoral Palace are the ruins of the Roman Imperial Baths, or Kaiserthermen. Dating from the 4th century, the structure was converted into a fortified castle in medieval times. Despite this, much of the original Roman baths – the largest in Europe from this period – can still be seen. Highlights of a visit include exploring the extensive complex of underground rooms and passages, as well as a visit to the vast hot-water bath, once heated by six huge boilers. Fun guided tours led by costumed staff are available. Also of interest are the Forum Baths, dating from 100 AD with two hot-water baths, a perfectly preserved cold-water bath, and a museum. Another Roman site worth visiting is the Amphitheater just outside the old city walls and built around 100 AD with seating for 25,000.
The Aula Palatina, or Konstantin-Basilika, is a Roman basilica built in the time of Emperor Constantine (he resided in Trier from 306 to 312 AD) that rivals the cathedral for dominance of the city’s skyline. Fully restored and now serving as a Protestant church, the building boasts the world’s largest ancient hall, Constantine’s Throne Room, measuring 67 meters long, 27 meters wide, and 33 meters high. For a truly memorable experience, try to visit during one of its frequent concerts. Also of interest is the adjoining Electoral Palace (Kurfürstliches Palais). Built in the 17th century and now used by local government offices, its courtyard, staircase, and Baroque room are open to the public during business hours.