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Trier Travel Guide

Porta Nigra, Trier (© Folscheid | iStockphoto.com)
Porta Nigra, Trier

Introduction

Trier (Trèves in French, Tréier in Luxembourgish, Augusta Treverorum in Latin ; pop. 101,000) is a city in the valley of the Moselle River, 10km from the border of Luxembourg and 50km away from Luxembourg City.

Trier is the oldest city in Germany, as well as the oldest seat of a Christian bishopric north of the Alps. In Roman times, it grew to become the largest city north of the Alps, and served briefly as the capital of the Western Roman Empire in the 4th century.

Karl Marx (1818-1883), the co-founder of communism, is probably the most famous son of Trier.

Market Square, Trier (photo by Berthold Werner - Creative Commons Licence)

History

Founded in 30 BCE, Trier was known to the Romans as Augusta Treverorum ("City of Augustus in the land of the Treveri"). The city was part of Gallia Belgica of which it became the capital in 16 BCE. It was situated at the boundaries of Germania Inferior to the north-west, and Germania Superior to the south-east.

Trier became a bishopric as early as the second half of the 3rd century, with Saint Eucharius as its first bishop. It is during this troubled period that a revolt broke out, and that the provinces of Britannia, Gallia and Hispania split from the Roman Empire to create the Gallic Empire (Imperium Galliarum form 260 to 273). Its first emperor was Marcus Cassianius Latinius Postumus, who set up his capital in Cologne. His successors, Tetricus I and Tetricus II moved the capital to Trier.

In 275, the city was destroyed by the Alamanni from southern Germania. From 293 to 395, Trier had become the largest city north of the Alps, and was one of the residences of the Western Roman Emperor, notably Constantius II, Valentinian I and Theodosius I. Emperor Constantine (306-337) expanded the city and built such monuments as the Palastaula (known today as the Constantine Basilica) and the Imperial Baths. Magnus Maximus ruled the Western Empire from Trier between 383 and 388.

Various Germanic tribes invaded the region from 350 onwards. Trier was sacked and captured by the Franks (possibly in 413 and 421), and became definitively part of Frankish territory (Francia Rhinensis) in 475. As a result of the conflicts of this period, Trier's population decreased from an estimated 80,000 in the 4th century to 5,000 at the beginning of the 6th century.

Timber-framed houses, Trier (© Patrickwang | Dreamstime.com)

Trier was located at the heart of the Merovingian Frankish kingdom, then of the Carolingian Empire. After the split of the empire between Charlemagne's 3 grandsons in 843, Trier became part of East Francia, what would become Germany. The Archbishop of Trier became one of the seven Electors of the Holy Roman Empire.

One of the most important figure of Trier's medieval history was Baldwin of Luxembourg (c. 1285-1354), Archbishop Elector of Trier and Archchancellor of Burgundy, who was also the brother of Emperor Henry VII and the granduncle of Emperor Charles IV. Thanks to his family influence, he expanded the territories of Trier, built several castles and brought prosperity to the city.

In 1473, the University of Trier was founded, only 87 years after the University of Heidelberg - the oldest university in Germany. However, the university was suppressed in 1798, and only reopened in 1970. The electoral archbishopric was also dissolved by the French in 1794.

Attractions

Trier possess some of the best preserved Roman buildings in Northern Europe. The impressive Porta Nigra ("black gate"), a Roman city gate, is unequaled north of the Alps. The same can be said of the ruins of three Roman baths. The Constantine Basilica was constructed by Emperor Constantine (280-337) as an imperial palace, with notably a 67m long throne hall. Nowadays it is used as a Protestant church. Also note the Roman amphitheatre and the Roman bridge.

Trier's medieval architecture is not to be overlooked either. The Cathedral of Trier (Trierer Dom in German - pictured right) was built over the foundations of Constantine's church, parts of which can still be seen. The present edifice combines Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque elements. It is said to be home to the Holy Tunic, a piece of garment presumably worn by Jesus when he died.

The Church of Our Lady (Liebfrauenkirche in German) served as the city's cathedral prior to the above. It is inspired by the great Gothic cathedrals of France.

St. Matthew Abbey (Abtei St. Matthias in German) is a monastery built on a medieval church, where the only apostle north of the Alps is presumably buried.

The Baroque buildings of Trier have nothing to envy to their predecessors, as St. Paulin Church and the Electoral Palace (pictured right) of Trier demonstrate.

On the banks of the Moselle, two old treadwheel cranes stand as witnesses of the technology of the past. The oldest, the Trierian Moselle Crane (Trierer Moselkrahn) dates from 1413, while the more recent one, the Old Customs Crane (Alte Zollkran) was built in 1776.

The city also has a few interesting museums, like Rheinisches Landesmuseum (an important Roman archaeological museum), the Städtisches Museum Simeonstift (local history), the Toy Museum of Trier, or the Ethnological and open air museum Roscheider Hof.



Cathedral of Trier (© Pan30osa | Dreamstime.com)
Cathedral of Trier




Electoral Palace, Trier (© Kristina Mahlau | Dreamstime.com)
Electoral Palace of Trier

Access & Orientation

By car

Trier is located on the E44 motorway between Luxembourg City (50km) and Koblenz (130km). The E422 from Saarbrücken (95km) converge with the E42 a few km north-east of Trier.

By train

Trains from Luxembourg City take between 40min and 1h, while those from Koblenz make the journey in 1h30min to 2h. Saarbrücken is approximately 1h15min away.

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