Uday k Chakraborty feels that Roman legacy adds an interesting twist to Germany’s landscapes
Often travelling reveals unknown facets of places we visit and my recent visit to the scenic parts of Germany is one such experience. Apart from their beautiful natural setting, two cities I visited also boast of many architectural structures like streets, gates, aqueducts, defensive walls, baths, temples, arenas and graves from Germany’s Roman past. Indeed, such traces are also available in many other German cities but none of them are as romantically situated as the Regensburg or Trier.
Roman legions, German kings and wealthy merchants left behind a multitude of magnificent buildings in Regensburg. The city’s medieval centre is among the most beautiful in Europe. Regensburg is a city you can enjoy, but which you cannot understand if you don’t know its history.
In the second century AD, it was a significant Roman camp, Catsra Regina, and later, the capital of the Empire. This is where the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire held the Imperial Diet. Much later the people of the city sent the beautiful young Barbara to cheer up the old, dejected Emperor Charles V. The result of their union, Don Juan de Austria, saved Europe from the Turks in 1571.
The soul of the city is the river, the broad, somewhat sluggishly moving Danube. It passes gurgling beneath a stone bridge, supported by fifteen stout columns and fifteen beautiful arches. It was indeed a calculated venture of the city’s people: a weather-proof crossing, the only one for miles, which made the city wealthy-for centuries.
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Testimonies to that time
With that money, the inhabitants built many interesting buildings which now stand testimony to that time – the Town Hall, the Gothic Cathedral and above all their own houses. Unlike to the traditional wooden buildings put up in other cities of Germany, they built large stone constructions with thick walls and interior courtyards, real patrician palaces. This is why Regensburg now boasts of the most beautiful ensemble of medieval buildings in all of Europe.
And, traces of that hey days are scattered throughout the walking-only city even today, some in its original form and the rest meticulously restored. These include the Roman Gate complete with the wall, the medieval stone structures, the Reichsaal where the imperial diet was held, wonderful churches, the Franco-Gothic cathedral over 350 feet high, the splendid buildings of the imperial ambassadors. Some buildings show off with rectangular, crenellated towers up to 164 feet high – almost a skyscraper at that time. What visitors walk though and view with increasing delight is history set in stone. On the other hand, all these patrician residential houses are part of normal city life, where people are working, living and enjoying daily life.
A treat called Trier
Trier, the oldest city in Germany, sits spectacularly on the Moselle River valley. A treasure trove of Roman ruins, it was founded by the Roman emperor Augustus in 16 BC. Known as the Rome of the North, it served as the capital of Northern Kingdom of the Roman Empire for over 400 years, followed by Franks (Germanic) and French people in different time.
It is a town where walking is the norm as well as a pleasure. Most of its key sights are located in and around the old city centre. Lazy ones can, however, a special tourist mini-train on a 35-minute tour of Trier’s Altstadt (old town). At the centre of Altstadt is the Hauptmarkt which is a lively, colourful marketplace, marked by a replica of the original stone cross that dates back to 958 AD.
Trier’s most important landmark is of Trier Porta Nigra or Black Gate, which is the only one of the original four city gates still standing. It is a unique piece of architecture from the early Roman period. I took time to move around it not only to take a touristy look but also to absorb its history and beauty. About half-way between the Porta Nigra and the Hauptmarkt is Dreiknigenhaus or the House of the Three Magi. Its unusual Moorish design stands out from all the neighbouring Teutonic architecture.
Trier Dom or St. Peter’s Cathedral is the oldest in all of Germany. Destroyed and rebuilt many times, the cathedral was built on the foundation of a Roman building. Although quite impressive, visitor would learn that it was much bigger and grander in Roman time. Adjacent to it, Konstantinbasilika or the Constantine Basilica is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today a Protestant church, it was actually built as a Roman throne room. The building is the largest single-room Roman structure preserved from Roman times.
No self-respecting Roman City in those days could do without a Bathhouse. Trier’s Kaiserthermen or Imperial Roman baths, including the underground areas, is worth exploring, though it is no longer in usable condition.
Our natural last stop was Rheinisches Landesmuseum, the archaeological museum with exhibits of Roman artefacts and artworks from the region. And, sitting in Germany we understood how much of Europe’s history is indeed shaped by the Romans in their time.