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Trier in a day

I’ve always been interested in ancient history, and for several years now I’ve wanted to see some of the Roman ruins in Germany. However, it never managed to get to the top of Christopher’s and my “to visit” list. So, since I had a few days off over Easter, I decided to do a city-break to the German city of Trier, near the Luxembourg border. It’s a bit of a back-water now, but nearly two thousand years ago it was Augusta Treverorum, the capital of the northern region of the Roman Empire, and second only to Rome in importance for a while. It is said to have the “most complete Roman ruins north of the Alps”, and when I heard that it made me even more determined to pay a visit.

I booked a short city break (work is so manic at the moment, I can’t take too much time off) which gave me one full day in Trier.  I wondered if I was being over-ambitious trying to do it all in one day – after all, there are seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites scattered throughout the modern town, all of which I wanted to see. My first action on Wednesday morning was to go to the Tourist Information Office to pick up a  map and guidebook. The guidebooks in German and French were entitled “Trier in a day” which gave me confidence that I hadn’t bitten off more than I could chew. Then I found the English-language version of the same guidebook. Its title was “Walking tours through Trier, from 30 minutes to 3 hours“. Clearly they don’t expect the British (or Americans?) to devote a whole day to ancient ruins!

The Imperial Baths in Trier

I thought that trying to do it all in 30 minutes would be  bit much, even for me! However, I managed to see it all in easily within the day, including three sets of Roman Baths (the one above was the fifth largest in the entire Roman Empire and is still very impressive today), an amphitheatre, the cathedral (which has a Roman core structure), the archaeological museum (with the biggest collection of Roman artefacts in Germany) and my two favourite buildings, the basilica and the main gate.

Constantine's Basilica

This is Constantine’s Basilica, also known as the Imperial Throne Room. It was built around AD 310, and is now the largest surviving single room from antiquity, at around 67m long. You can get a sense of scale from the people in the photo  – it’s huge, and very very impressive. It’s now a Protestant church, and although it must have been quite badly damaged during the War, about half of it is completely original.

The Porta Nigra in Trier

Finally, this is the North Gate to the city of Augusta Treverorum. It’s called the Porta Nigra or Black Gate for obvious reasons.  It’s the largest surviving Roman city gate in the world, and the sandstone blocks aren’t actually mortared together – they’re held in place with iron clamps embedded in lead. Of course, over time the iron rusts, so the need for ongoing conservation explains the ugly scaffolding. My hotel directly overlooked it – that’s the hotel in the background on the other side of the main road. The dining room was on the first floor, with picture windows overlooking the gatehouse, so it was a great place to sit over dinner with a glass of wine gazing out at the flood-lit monument.