While Trier is not as well known as Rome (the eternal city), this fairly quaint city with a population of slightly over 105,000 has been historically significant and played a big role in the Roman Empire. It’s been said to be the oldest city in Germany, and the city was even founded before Rome was. There’s even a famous inscription on the Red House in Trier Market in Latin letters that says:
ANTE ROMAM TREVIRIS STETIT ANNIS MILLE TRECENTIS.
ERSTET ET ÆTERNA PACE FRVATVR. AMEN.
This roughly translates to “Thirteen hundred years before Rome, Trier stood / may it stand on and enjoy eternal peace, amen.” In spite of the apparent Roman influence, this city still has a remarkable small-town feel to it and it’s unmistakably German as well. Mixed in with all the nice German architecture is some relics of Roman history long passed like the Porta Nigra (pictured above). The Porta Nigra was supposed to be part of a wall enclosing Trier from all four directional sides (north, south, east, west), with the Porta Nigra being the gate to the northern wall. This was during the times where the Roman Empire was expanding its territory. They came, they say and they conquered the lands for the Treveri tribe, forming the city of Augusta Treverorum and what would be the capital of the Praetorian prefecture, the largest administration division of the Roman Empire.
After the Romans moved the capital, its Roman influence moved along with it and was even further lost when it was absorbed by the Holy Roman Empire (you can say it was kind of a reboot of the Roman Empire, but with the Catholic Church ruling all the lands as opposed to an Emperor like with the Roman Empire). With the Romans long gone, the walls and the gates were taken apart brick by brick to be used in other buildings and structures. Porta Nigra was destination for the scrapheap until the Greek monk Simeon moved in and would stay there as a hermit until his death. With that, the Porta Nigra was made into a monastery of sorts to honor him, inadvertently saving it from demolition. It changed hands again in 1802, when Napoleon marches in hot off conquering Europe and orders the monastery built around it to be destroyed, reverting it to its original Roman form for the main part.
Nowadays, the Porta Nigra is the Roman city gate north of the Alps that is the best preserved. It overlooks the Main Market Place (the Hauptmarkt), which is the main pedestrian walkway of Trier that houses many shops and some famous buildings, such as the Steipe and the Red House (where the Latin inscription about Trier resides). The area isn’t too big and it’s like walking through Union Square in New York, but some old monument such as the old Roman Baths and the St. Peter’s Cathedral still remain mixed in with the more modern structures. As of late, Trier and some other cities within the Luxembourg (a small country to the west for those who can’t remember their maps well) region were doing these art exhibits, where they would place differently painted elephants in random places out on the public streets, adding some panache to the place.
With its busy shopping center (Germany tends to have the best shopping of Europe, so stock up for your trip!) and nice beer-garden styled restaurants, it makes for a nice day trip into town. Germans always love their beer, so you can always stop by any restaurant or biergarten and order a Bitburger, one of the more popular beer brands in Germany (strangely enough, they’re not one of the chosen breweries for Oktoberfest in Munich). Complete that with a nice goulash for some good dining!
The town is small enough to be done in one day since everything is close together and in walking distance (there are buses anyway), so I’ll count off the top five attractions to see:
- St. Peter’s Cathedral – The oldest church in Germany. It’s been said that the skull of St. Teresa (the mother of Emperor Constantine) is located here.
- Porta Nigra – A beautifully preserved artifact straight from the Roman Empire. Sure, it’s not like visiting Rome, but it’s still awe-inspiring in its own right. You can even go up in it and see the cloister-like hallways that were converted during its time as part of a church (and if you’re lucky, a guide dressed as a old Roman guard/centurion).
- Imperial Roman Baths – These were used as spas/sports club back in ancient times. It’s been said that the Imperial Baths are best seen with an official tour guide, as you’d be able to see many places that are normally inaccessible to the public. A lot of the structure of the baths are underground.
- Basilica of Constantine – Once the seat of the bishop of Trier (who ruled over the land from the French border to the Rhine river) and having survived World War II, it’s now part of the Evangelical Church of Rhineland. It’s been said that the tunic that Jesus Christ was wearing is displayed here, albeit only every few decades.
- Church of Our Lady (Liebfrauenkirche) – This is the oldest (French) Gothic style church in Germany. While some Roman artifacts remain, they’re typically being excavated underground and not open to the public.
Visit the official Trier Tourism site (in English) for more information on sights to see and information on how to get around/arrive at the city. For information on city public transportation (bus), consult the VRT website.