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Trier: Germany's Oldest City?

Porta nigra - Trier's iconic landmark


City view from the Porta nigra
Photo taken during a visit in the 1980

My recent visit to Trier was just a stopover en route to Luxembourg. I had to change trains in Trier anyway, held a flexible ticket, so I dumped my luggage into a locker at the station and went for a walk. Including a coffee break, this visit summed up to three hours in total. Not enough to do this city justice.

However, this was not my first visit. I had covered most of the “tourist stuff” previously and planned this as a superficial re-visit, walking a bit and stopping at a couple of sights, in particular the cathedral and the Roman basilica, in relaxed pace.

Trier claims to be Germany’s oldest city. They have a competitor for this title, which is Kempten in the Allgäu. Both cities are proved to be older than 2000 years. No one can know exactly after such a long time.

Fact is that Trier already existed as a town before the Romans came. It was the central settlement of the celtic tribe of the Treveri, whom it owes its name to. The Latin Augusta Treverorum eventually became Trier. Legends date its foundation back to around 2050 B.C. but… these are legends. In 16 A.D. the Romans founded their city in its place. It soon grew into the largest city north of the Alps. Roman emperors used it as one of their residences.

Detail of Porta nigra

The Romans have left their marks. There are few places north of the Alps that have preserved such remarkable ancient Roman monuments. There are the spas (Kaiserthermen and Barbarathermen), there is Constantine’s basilica, the Roman bridge. Part of the imperial palace is visible underneath the cathedral and the adjacent Church of Our Lady. The monumental northern town gate, Porta nigra, the “black gate”, is Trier’s iconic landmark. It can be reached in 10 minutes’ walk from the central station.

The main street, practically the same as the main street of the Roman city, leads straight to the central market square (Hauptmarkt).

Along the way, the Romanesque Dreikönigshaus is worth a closer look. It is the rare example of a townhouse from the 13th century.


A baroque gate on the southern side of Hauptmarkt leads to the church of St Gangolf, the parish church of the city centre.




Already in the 3rd century A. D. Trier became the seat of a bishop, later archbishop. The Archbishops of Trier belonged to the most influential clerics as well as territorial rulers in the Holy Roman Empire. As one of the seven Electors they took part in the election of the Kings.

The cathedral certainly tells of their status and their ambition!

The cathedral’s most precious and most venerated relic is the so-called Holy Robe: It is said to be the very garment that Jesus wore before his crucifixion, the very one that the soldiers threw the dice for. (Again, well, who knows – but if you tell a legend often enough and long enough, it becomes truth.)

The relic is kept in a special chapel behind the main altar. At special occasions it is presented to pilgrims inside the church, the last time in 2012.




A short walk leads from the cathedral to the baroque palace of the Electors and Archbishops.

The palace is surrounded by gardens, nowadays a very popular public park.

It's a pity that I got no free table at the little cafe!

A much older and more interesting building, despite its plain looks, is attached to the palace: the so-called basilica of Constantine.



This building was erected in the 4th century A. D. Originally it served as the aula of the Roman palace and was used, for example, for audiences with the Roman emperors. Later centuries changed and finally almost destroyed it, until it was rebuilt in its allegedly original shape in the mid 19th century. Since then it has been the parish church of the protestant community of Trier (which came into existence in this ultra-catholic city only in the Prussian era, i.e. the 19th century). The present shape is a simplified rebuilding after severe damage in World War II.

All I wanted after this was a rest and a coffee, and then a supermarket to buy a supply of water and Apfelschorle. So I meandered back to the central station to catch my train to Luxembourg.

Posted by Kathrin_E 16:35 Archived in Germany Tagged mosel trier rheinland-pfalz

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We have friends who live in Trier (actually in a village on the outskirts that has been swallowed up by the town and developed to provide nice family housing). We have visited several times but only seen a bit of the city each time. Nice to have this comprehensive overview :)

by ToonSarah

Thanks for your interesting story about this amazing city, Kathrin! Alles erdenklich Gute!

by Vic_IV

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