Roman Ruins and the Birthplace of Karl Marx
Trier is the oldest city in Germany. Situated on the Moselle (Mosel) River, not far from Luxembourg, the city is a treasure trove of Roman ruins. Known as the “Rome of the North,” Trier served as the key city of the Roman northern territories.
Some Trier History
Trier’s original Latin name, Augusta Treverorum, reflects its founding in 16 B.C.E. by the Roman emperor Augustus. But the area had been occupied by the Celts for many centuries before the Romans arrived. Trier was an important location for the Celto-Germanic Treveri tribe (reflected in the city’s French name: Trèves), which had a shrine on a spot that is now in Trier.
Augusta Treverorum served as the capital of the Roman northern territories of the Western Roman Empire for over 400 years. For a time, it was the capital of the Roman province of Gallia Belgica and was later known as Treveris. The city was the main center of Christianity north of the Alps, and was the residence of at least eight Roman emperors over time. As Roman power ebbed, the Franks took over the city in 459. Later the territory became part of Charlemagne’s empire. In the twelth century, Trier became an important center for the bishops and archbishops, who were also electors in the Holy Roman Empire.
At various times, Trier and its surrounding territory were caught in a tug-of-war between French and German forces. As a result of the Napoleonic Wars, Trier became French in 1794. But with the final defeat of the French in 1815, Trier became German once again, within the Kingdom of Prussia. It has remained part of the German nation ever since. Like many German cities, Trier also suffered damage during World War II. Today the city is located in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz).
The city celebrated its 2,000th birthday in 1984!
Trier is a very walkable town, with most of its key sights located within easy walking distance of the old city center. But there is also a special tourist mini-train (called the Römer Express) that takes visitors on a 35-minute tour of Trier’s Altstadt (old town).
The city (pop. 103,000) is easily reached by rail or auto (via either the A64 or A602 autobahn). Trier caters to tourists by offering a good selection of hotels and restaurants. Located only about six miles (10 km) from the German-Luxembourg border, Trier is also a good place from which to take a day-trip to Luxembourg City.
Scenic Sights and Attractions
Trier is best known for its Roman past and its many archaeological and architectural attractions, but it is also the birthplace of Karl Marx. Some of the city’s chief attractions are…
- Porta Nigra | Trier’s landmark “black gate” is the only one of the original four city gates still standing. The sandstone structure survived only because it later became a church. There’s not much to see inside today, but you can climb up into the complex and get some nice views of the city. Next to the Porta Nigra is the City Museum (Stadtmuseum Simeonstift) and the Trier information center.
- Hauptmarkt | Trier’s market square is the city’s true center. The Hauptmarkt is a major junction and a lively, colorful marketplace, marked by a replica of the original stone cross that dates back to 958 (now in the City Museum). From here you can stroll down several pedestrian streets in various directions.
- Dreikönigenhaus | The House of the Three Magi is about half-way between the Porta Nigra and the Hauptmarkt. Its unusual Moorish design (a colorful renovation supposedly true to the original design) stands out from all the neighboring architecture. Originally built in 1230 as a Romanesque tower house (Wohnturm), the building has undergone many changes in the centuries since then. The “floating” door on the right was once accessible only via a retractable wooden stairway (for security). Today, there is a café on the ground floor.
- Trierer Dom | Trier’s St. Peter’s Cathedral (Hohe Domkirche St. Peter zu Trier), like the city itself, is the oldest in all of Germany. Destroyed and rebuilt many times, the cathedral, built on the foundation of a Roman building, was once much larger than it is today. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the cathedral was damaged by WWII bombing raids and underwent an extensive restoration from 1960 to 1974.
- Liebfrauenkirche | The Church of Our Lady, completed in 1235, stands right next to the cathedral and is the oldest Gothic church in Germany.
- die Mosel | Most of the city of Trier lies along the curving south bank of the Moselle River, which is navigable between Koblenz (on the Rhine) and Metz (in France).
- Konstantinbasilika | The Constantine Basilica was actually built as a Roman throne room. Today a Protestant church (the only one in Trier) and a UNESCO World Heritage site, the building is the largest single-room Roman structure to be preserved from ancient times. The pink rococo Elector’s Palace next door, facing the Palace Garden park, was built in the 18th century.
- Palace Garden | Stroll through this beautiful garden park on your way to the RLM archaeological museum (below) and the nearby Kaiserthermen (Imperial Baths).
- Rheinisches Landesmuseum (RLM) | Trier’s excellent archaeological museum on Weimarer Allee has exhibits of Roman artifacts and artworks from the region. There’s also a café if you’re hungry or thirsty.
WEB > RLM Trier (in German)
- Kaiserthermen | The imperial Roman baths near the RLM were the largest in Trier. You can tour the large complex, including the underground areas. Admission: 2.10 euros. Tip: Get a discounted “Kombiticket” that admits you to several other baths and Roman sites in Trier.
WEB > Kaiserthermen (in English)
- Karl-Marx-Haus | Only a 10-minute walk south from the Hauptmarkt, the house in which Marx was born in 1818 is now a museum and study center. Admission (4 euros) includes a free audioguide in English or other languages. Also see our Karl Marx biography.
WEB > Karl-Marx-Museum (in English)
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