City Guides: Trier
A bit of history:
Trier, Germany has been in existence in some way for over 7000 years, making the ancient city the oldest in all of Germany. The city is located on the banks of the Moselle River in the Rhineland-Palatinate state. In 2014, Trier celebrated its 2030th birthday, also marking uninterrupted living since 17 BC. In its eventful history, Trier has served, among other purposes, as the seat of government for the Western Roman Empire; in the Middle Ages, it received the name “holy city”; it has survived many wars as a border city between Germany and France, and today serves as a thriving university city, home to nearly 105, 000 residents.
Trier was not always called, “Trier”. Like many cities, its name changed over time. Way back when, there was a Celtic tribe named the “Treveri” whose territory extended over a vast area, spanning from the Meuse to the Rhine. The Treveri resided in this area in the first and second centuries BC; thus, the name “Trier” was derived from the Celtic tribe’s name, Treveri. Although consistent living in Trier did not begin until 17 BC, there has been evidence of periodic inhabitation in the area for over 7000 years.
Around 50 BC this famous man you may have heard about, Julius Caesar, led his military troops to conquer the Celtic tribe of Treveri. Because the Treveri rebelled many times in attempt to gain back their land, Mr. Julius ordered his Roman troops to erect a military camp on Petrisberg Mountain near Trier. Civil war lasted for decades; with Emperor Augustus now in charge of the Roman Empire, Trier was a bustling hub in need of infrastructure for travel and trade. Highways were created and a wooden bridge that crossed the Moselle River were built. At that time, the city was named Augusta Treverorum (i.e., the Augustus city of the Treveri). It was during this time (17 BC) that inhabitants began consistently residing in the Trier area (that’s a long time ago!).
In the years following, a grid system of streets and a thriving town center began to develop. Augusta Treverorum became the new capital of the Treveri region. The Treveri tribe attempted one last time to conquer the area in 70 AD; however, their efforts failed and ultimately led to the dominance of the Romans. This led to adoption of the Roman language and culture in Augusta Treverorum.
Around 160 AD, there was a city wall built that spanned over 6 kilometers and stood over 26 feet high. Can you imagine how long that would have taken given the resources back then? Like, a really long time! A portion of the wall that acted as the northern city gate to the Roman Empire (i.e., Porta Nigra) still stands today. Around the same time as the wall was erected, a large amphitheater capable of housing over 18, 000 people was created to hold numerous events, from animal fights to gladiator combats. The erection of the amphitheater signaled to surrounding areas the importance of the city.
During this time, a circus was also built and could accommodate up to 50, 000 individuals, attracting people from all over the area. Unfortunately, no part of this relic stands today. The rest of the 2nd and 3rd centuries were relatively peaceful and allowed the city to grow and thrive; however, this peace did not last long.
In the 3rd century, there were a plethora of solider emperors around Europe who led armies that ultimately invaded Trier, as they sought to reside in the area. In 275 and 276, the raids left Trier in shambles, no longer thriving and free.
Moving onto the fourth century, Trier then had almost 50, 000 residents, making it one of the largest cities of the Western Roman Empire. It was because of its significance and population that a new construction was erected during this time. The “basilika” (which still stands today) was built and served as the Imperial Throne Room in a part of an extensive palace facility.
Near the end of the 4th century, the Roman Empire was struggling because of constant attacks from the Germanic tribes. Between 410 and 435, Trier was demolished four times by the Frankish raiders, but still remained unconquered. It was in 485 that the entire region was annexed by the Frankish Kingdom of the Merovingians. By the end of this century, there was nearly nothing left of the once-thriving city of Trier. The population decreased drastically, and power shifted from military leaders to bishops as they emerged as secular leaders.
Jumping ahead to the 9th century, there was a significant division in the Frankish Kingdom, and Trier actually fell into this kingdom called “Middle Francia”, then later into the hands of “East Francia” and finally into the German Empire. In 882, Viking warriors rampaged the city; it was completely destroyed and many perished.
Obviously, this was very difficult to bounce back from. It wasn’t until 958 that the city established a market; this symbolized Trier’s regained self-confidence. The area of the market is where Trier’s city center still lies today, called the “Hauptmarkt”.
In the 12th and 13th centuries, the College of Alderman (i.e., their original judicial system of sorts) was established, dominated by a few wealthy, aristocratic families. During this time, a medieval city wall was built that enclosed an area approximately half of the size of the previous Roman Empire wall. It was during the 13th century that the Church of Our Lady was built immediately next to the cathedral, establishing some of the earliest Gothic structures in Germany.
In the 14th century, the College of Alderman evolved from an early judicial system to a city council with political responsibilities, creating an official taxation system.
In the 15th century, the University of Trier was founded. During this time, Trier petitioned to remain a free and Imperial city; however, the Imperial Court denied the city’s request, and Trier remained the capital of the Electoral State of Trier.
The people of Trier were all freaked out in the 16th century. Not unlike other European cities and nearby regions, there were an abundance of witch persecutions during this time. Both noble and commoners alike were accused of being “witches”; over 300 people were executed between 1586 and 1596, and you likely know how (you’ve heard the stories about burning and stoning. Nasty stuff). Trier really struggled during this time, not just because of the witchy stuff, but mostly impart by their failed efforts of becoming a free and Imperial city. Trier largely lost its intrigue and prestige after their failed petition. Many of the archbishops (i.e., leaders) at the time even chose to live in Koblenz rather than in Trier.
The Thirty Years’ War then came around, promoting further distain, anguish, and damage to the city. Spanish and French mercenaries fought over Trier, leading to grief and destruction. Then the Franco-Dutch War happened, and Trier was annexed and occupied by French troops between 1688 and 1698; the French so kindly decided to blow up the two piers of the Moselle bridge. Remember back in the fourth century when the population of Trier was 50, 000? Well, by the end of the 17th century, it was a mere 4000 people.
Things started to look up a little bit in the 1700s. The Roman Bridge and the city wall were reconstructed. There was a new church built, St. Paulin’s Church. The population also doubled again, approaching 8000 habitants near the end of the 18th century. Small victories.
At the end of the 18th century, there was a fairly significant war against the French Revolutionary troops. Trier ended up being conquered by the French; however, this wasn’t totally terrible for the city in terms of growth and resources. Trier acted as the capital of the Saar Department and therefore experienced growth and modernization. In 1804, Napoleon visited the city and decided that Porta Nigra was to be renovated to returnded to its original state.
Only 10 years later in 1814, Prussian troops invaded and Trier was then integrated into the Prussian Rhine Province. In 1856, the city was connected to the European railroad and the population began to grow quickly. In 1913, another bridge over the Moselle River was constructed, allowing for easier access to the city.
Now it’s World War I time. Trier is one of the very few German cities to get bombed in the first and second World Wars. With 22 bombings and 29 deaths, Trier felt the pain of the First World War. Nearing the end of the war (1919), the Treaty of Versailles was signed, and the French assumed the occupation of Trier until 1930. The city was filled with mistrust between the Germans and the French, especially those associated with the military.
Then it’s 1933 and Hitler had already started his ridiculous, fascist renegade in Germany. Hitler was appointed Reich’s Chancellor in 1933, and he and his crazy awful Nazi Party celebrated in Trier. They got to work with their idiocy and fascist ideals immediately, arresting and torturing communists and social democrats, and boycotting Jewish businesses. In the same year, Nazis destroyed Trier’s Jewish synagogue, destroyed Jewish businesses and homes, and harassed and tortured residents. Between 1941 and 1943, more than 600 Jews from Trier were deported, brought to concentration camps, and murdered.
In 1944, Trier was once again bombarded with military presence and a series of bombings that killed 420 people and destroyed ancient relics and establishments. The whole city, minus 3000 military, medical, and technical personnel, was evacuated.
You know what happened then. World War II. The city was occupied during the war by American tanks, and was once again considered to be within the French occupation zone. In the heart of it all, Trier was bombed repeatedly. There was an important French military base developed in the area where nearly 21, 000 soldiers resided during this time.
From 1956 to 1964, Germany, France, and Luxembourg undertook the channeling of the Moselle River; this was a very large and significant infrastructure project. Around this time, a third bridge crossing the Moselle River in Trier was built. Trier’s population grew to over 100, 000 people, and the University of Trier was thriving once again.
When the European Union was created in 1995, there was an opening of European borders. Trier’s location has been advantageous, within a close proximity to many popular German cities, France, Luxembourg, and Belgium. The last of the French military presence ended in 1999; relationships between Trier’s residents and the French residents were amicable.
Today, Trier remains a beautiful and resilient central European city with much to offer.
With Trier’s rich history and scenic city center, we were very excited to visit the oldest city in Germany. Before doing any research, we only knew Trier had old Roman ruins around the city, and we couldn’t wait to check them out. Not knowing much else about Trier, we arrived for our day trip with open minds and optimism. I would say that Trier wasn’t an incredibly popular tourist destination (at least not for North Americans). Tourists tend to flock to German cities like Munich, Frankfurt, or Berlin. Suffice it to say, I’m so glad we made the short journey to Trier, and I would highly recommend making at least a day trip to this gem of a city.
We drove from Ramstein to Trier, a comfortable one-hour drive. Well, it was supposed to take an hour; however, the route we took consisted of a portion of the autobahn without speed limits, and we therefore made our journey much more quickly than we should have J. Our initial destination was the Konstantin Basilica near the city center. With convenient and inexpensive covered parking nearby, we easily found space and navigated our way through the city center from there.
Now, the Basilica has a lot of history, some of which I outlined above. It’s been around since the beginning of the fourth century and once acted as a throne room in a relatively large palace, then as a place of residence for the bishop of Trier. Today, the basilica acts as an Evangelical church.
Shortly after exiting the parking garage, the streets filled with the sound of Latino music. “Latino music?” we wondered. This was interesting for a Wednesday morning in Trier, Germany. We followed the gradual crescendo of rhythmic music until we found its source in the Kornmarkt.
Approaching the source of the music, we saw people dressed in full Marti Gras attire. Individuals of all ages (and shapes and sizes) were dressed in a variety of garish and festive costumes and outfits; some outrageous, some formal, and some adult-sized onesies (“There’s nothing wrong with that,” says the girl (me) with a well-loved leopard-print onesie). There was even a man dressed as a cow.
“How odd,” we remarked. We wondered what on earth was going on until we finally arrived at a small outdoor stage. People were crowded around the booming music and gaudy performers, most holding plastic cups full of beer or mugs full of piping hot gluhwein. Although we still had no idea what was going on, we stopped to admire this performance of sorts. Surrounding the stage there were various booths selling traditional German food, alcoholic beverages, and various South American fare. After reminiscing about our confusion for a few minutes, we found a pamphlet advertising the festival as “Koniglicher Karneval”. It was in German; therefore, this taught us absolutely nothing. More on that later.
After admiring this seemingly random and moderately confusing “carnival” of sorts, we agreed to explore the rest of Trier’s city center. We were not familiar with the city, so we decided to wander at our own leisure and to admire the buildings and shops. It was very simple to find the direction toward the city center, as there was a main street called Brotstrasse lined with shops, all of which were very busy.
Trier’s city center consisted of predominantly cobblestoned pedestrian streets, so it was a lovely walking city. We leisurely sauntered around the streets until a beautiful, prodigious (i.e., “gigantic” – I’m learning new vocabulary) cathedral seemingly came out of nowhere; and it was HUGE!
Filled with awe and curiosity, we headed straight for this masterpiece. Unlike the Petite Notre Dame in Strasbourg, this cathedral, called Trier Saint Peter’s Cathedral or Trierer Dom, was done in Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque styles. Dating back as early as the fourth century, the cathedral was comprised of many additions and renovations over the course of hundreds of years. In the center was the original, main chapel made of Roman brick. Since then, there have been many additions to the cathedral, from the addition of four basilicas and the baptistery to the addition of multiple outbuildings. Trier’s Cathedral Dom is the oldest cathedral in the country and the largest structure in Trier.
We were pleasantly surprised once again that the cathedral had no entry fee (Strasbourg’s cathedral also surprised us this way). Of course, we took advantage of this and went inside to explore.
Inside was no less impressive that the beautiful façade of the extravagant cathedral. Comprised of Romanesque architecture and a Romanesque nave (i.e., the main body of the church), Gothic vaulting, and a Baroque-style chapel for the relic of the Seamless robe of Jesus (i.e., the robe Jesus was said to have worn during or shortly before his crucifixion), we were incredibly impressed by the cathedral’s beauty.
Commencing our exploration of the inside of the church, we exited the building into the cathedral’s beautiful gardens. You can see pictures of the gardens and the view of the cathedral from the gardens in the picture below.
After admiring the cathedral’s beauty and reflecting on its lengthy history, we continued on our journey in Trier. Outside of the cathedral, vendors were setting up for the annual Trier Christmas market. Sadly, they were not yet functioning for the season; however, I snagged a couple of photos of the setup so you can imagine what it will look like in a couple of weeks. FYI: The market runs from the end of November to right before Christmas; 2015 dates were November 23rd to December 22nd.
The Trier cathedral was virtually right off of Trier’s main square, the Hauptmarkt. This once-thriving market and center for trade was still bustling with people, both visitors and locals alike. The square was wide open and for pedestrians only. Off shooting streets were also pedestrian streets lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants. We took time to capture some of the scenery from the market.
Our next stop was the Porta Nigra, the only original gate to the Roman Empire that still stands today. While the entire length of the original wall does not stand, the entry remains intact and divides the old city center from the newer city limits. I couldn’t help but picture the Romans entering through the Porta Nigra on their horses or in a carriage. Very neat!
After doing our quick sightseeing at the cathedral and the Porta Nigra, we realized that it was likely time for a snack. You can’t leave a city without trying the local cuisine!
Finding a place to eat was not difficult. Trier had a lot of cafes and delis with take-away options. A place called Schlemmermeyer was calling our names. This place was a traditional German deli that offered an abundance of local, traditional take-away options. The first thing I noticed was the meat. Like, LOTS of meat. Sausages, wurst salad, bacon salads, loaves, roast beef, gelatinized meats…. Anything you could want, and more (the “more” being the gelatinous varietals of meat parts).
Being huge fans of indulging in local cuisines, we ordered up three different meat salads. We took them to a nearby seating area in the middle of the Hauptmarkt and enjoyed. The first “salad” was a Munchner ochsen-Maulsalat (bacon, onion, pickles; pickled and sweet). I used quotations around “salad” because I’m not so accustomed to dishes full of only meat and cheese being considered a “salad”, but it was. The second salad (our favorite) was a Weisswurst-salat; this one was our favorite. It contained weiss (i.e., white) sausages, radishes, and onions in a sweet honey mustard sauce. De-lish-ous. The last “salad” we had was called Schweier Wurstsalat. It was pretty basic and consisted of white sausages, Emmantaler cheese, radish, and chives.
Happy and full, we began what was the conclusion of our day trip to Trier. We continued down another pedestrian street called Fleischstrasse that connected to the market and eventually led us back to the basilica. Of course, before reaching the basilica, we once again ran into the random carnival/show/parade/thing in the Kornmarkt. By this time, there were more spectators and even livelier music. As a matter of fact, my favorite song, “Danza Kuduro” was playing. The new stage performers were engaging the audience in a choreographed group dance to the song. I got up close and snapped a couple of mediocre pictures and shook my booty for a couple of minutes before departing. Ryan did not partake. We later found out from a friend who used to live in the area that this festival was an annual festival celebrating the beginning of Marti Gras.
While making the short walk back to our vehicle, we reflected on our short stay in Trier. We accomplished a lot in a little amount of time, but we were not able to see everything Trier had to offer, and we wished there was more time (but oh well, we’ll do it next time!). With a rich history, Roman ruins, pedestrian streets, plenty of festivals, great shopping, and a diverse offering of takeaway and sit-down dining experiences, Trier surprised and impressed us.
My favorite things about Trier were:
- The beautiful cathedral
- Enjoying a random Marti Gras festival at 10 AM on a Wednesday morning
- The food from Schlemmermeyer (SO GOOD!)
- Porta Nigra
- Pedestrian city center
- Kartoffelsuppe: potato soup
- Leberknodel: liver dumplings
- Sauerbraten (describe): marinated, pickled meat in a slightly sweet sauce made with raisons
- Dampfnudeln (describe): yeast dumpling steamed in salt water
- Bratkartoffeln: pan fried potatoes
- Zwetschgenkuchen: plum cake
- Zweibelkuchen: onion cake
- Handkase: sour curd cheese
- Himmel und Erde: dish made from potatoes, applesauce, and bacon; accompanied by wurst
- Karoffelsalat: potato salad
- Schweizer wurstsalat: salad of thinly sliced bratwurst, Emmethaler cheese, radish, and chives
- Munchner ochsen-maulsalat: salad of pickled onions bacon, and gherkins
- Weisswurst salat: white sausage, radish, onions, and pickles in a sweet mustard-vinegar sauce; served cold
- Wine: famous for Riesling, Spatburgunder, Dornfelder, Mullter-Thrugau, and Blauer Portugieser
- Check out Trier’s tourism website before visiting. They have a ton of great information about history, sites, getting around, and dining options: http://www.trier-info.de/english/
- Getting to and from Trier:
- Airports: Luxembourg (50 km away)
- Frankfurt-Hahn (75 km)
- Frankfurt (210 km)
- Train: leaves hourly from Saarbrucken, Koblenz, and Cologne
- Car – easily accessible from the autobahn; close to Luxembourg and Saarbrucken
- Christmas markets run for approximately one month from the end of the November to right before Christmas. 2015 dates: November 23rd to December 22nd.
- The cathedral has free entry