Dating back to the first century BC, when it was settled by the Romans, Trier is often considered to be the oldest city in Germany. As well as being a member of the Historic Highlights of Germany (16 towns and cities located off the beaten track that are home to a rich heritage), there are six Roman monuments in Trier that have been designated as a collective UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Walking around this peaceful destination is like exploring a treasure trove, where every corner turned reveals another glistening gem from the past. Here are some of the Roman ruins that shouldn’t be missed on a trip to Trier.
The dramatic structure of the Porta Nigra is one of the first sights you’ll come across during your city break and this is exactly how it would have been for people visiting Trier in the past. This was the main gate through which most visitors would have passed and, whilst it’s a beautiful sight, the original plan was for it to be much more elaborate. The name, meaning ‘Black Gate’, was attributed years after its construction when the pollution of the Medieval period began to cover the grey sandstone.
It is free to walk under the Porta Nigra’s arches but there is a small fee to step inside the monument. If you do, you’ll see remains of a double church built to honour an 11th-century Greek monk by the name of Simeon who locked himself away in the tower, along with evidence of the metal clamps that once held the large stones together.
Although the cathedral features many additions from the Gothic period and later, the central section highlights its Romanesque origins. Some of the original walls are still intact and there is evidence of granite columns in certain parts of the complex. If you dig deeper, though, there are even more Roman ruins to be found underneath the cathedral. The remains of a palace from the times of Emperor Constantine the Great can be seen, as well as those alluding to a vast complex that once stretched into the market square.
Next door to the cathedral, the Liebfrauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) is another historic beauty worth discovering. It stands in place of the southern part of the Roman double church that once stood on this site and is thought to be the earliest Gothic church in Germany.
The Romans have left their legacy of grand theatrical displays in the form of amphitheatres all over Europe. The Colosseum is obviously the most famous, but there are plenty of others scattered around the continent too. Trier’s gladiatorial stage cannot claim to be as extravagant as Rome’s but it could still hold around 20,000 people at any one time.
The remains of the entrance gate, as well as the underground gladiator and animal quarters, can still be seen today. The arena is used for the annual Antiquity Festival and the occasional open-air concert.
Another popular part of Roman culture (and one of which we have plenty of evidence remaining) is public bathing. Trier has one of the largest and most elaborate Roman bath complexes in the world, much of which is accessible if you choose to take a tour. This was not just where people would come to bathe, though. Business was also conducted here and, surprisingly, the range of treatments included rudimentary massages, hair removal and skin therapies. There were even gambling and drinking areas.
The most impressive area of the Kaiserthermen (Imperial Baths) is the hot water pool, large enough to be used as an outdoor performance venue in the modern day. You can also walk along the tunnels that would have contained heating pipes to see how the water and pool floors were kept to temperatures around 40 degrees.
Also known as the Aula Palatina, the basilica was once the throne room for Emperor Constantine the Great. It was commissioned by the man himself around the 4th century and is the largest single-room Roman building in existence. It wasn’t always just a one-room structure though. In the days of Constantine, there would have also been an entrance hall and other smaller buildings surrounding it.
Now used as a Protestant church, it features amazing acoustics that reverberates the sound of the organ for seven seconds after the note is played. A trick of engineering (windows closer to the middle being smaller) makes the space seem even bigger than it is.
Trier can be reached from a number of major German cities, such as Cologne or Frankfurt, but it’s also a great destination for a city break in its own right. If you would like to see the boundless array of Roman ruins for yourself, call us on 0800 988 3369 or contact us online.