It’s not a place that’s on the itineraries of many visitors to Germany. Google top tourist attractions in Germany, and Trier is often absent or way down the list. Berlin has the cool factor, Munich has Oktoberfest, and Heidelberg oozes romantic charm. Perhaps it’s a branding issue. Trier’s unique features should place it much higher on Germany’s must-see lists, especially for history buffs. During our cycle trip, we spent a “rest day” in Trier and discovered a city with remarkable history, incredible monuments and laid-back joie de vivre. Here are some of the amazing things we learned about Trier.
Trier is Germany’s oldest city
The city was founded by the Celtic tribe of the Treveri in the 4th century BC. It was conquered by the Romans, under Julius Caesar in 58 to 50 BC. The beginnings of Trier as a permanent Roman settlement are linked to the creation of infrastructure around 16 BC under Emperor Augustus. The town became known as Augusta Treverorum, the City of Emperor Augustus in the land of the Treveri.
Trier was the Rome of the North
By the 4th century, Trier was the most important Roman city north of the Alps, and one of the capital cities of the Western Roman Empire. Its population at that time, estimated to be between 75,000 and 100,000 was almost as large as today’s.
Trier has more Roman structures than any European city outside Rome
The Roman legacy leaves Trier with an incredible assortment of ancient structures. When we cycled into Trier, we crossed The Roman Bridge that spans the Mosel River. Its decking and arches were renewed in the 18th century but its nine pillars are almost 2000 years old and support modern day traffic. Think about that! It’s the oldest standing bridge in Germany. Trier’s most famous Roman structure is the Porta Nigra (Black Gate), part of the town’s ancient fortification built 161-180 AD. It’s impossible to miss, just north of the market square.
Trier has Nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites
The Porta Nigra and Roman Bridge are two of them. Another, the imposing Trier Cathedral is Germany’s oldest bishop’s church and stands on the former palace of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. The Cathedral still contains sections of original Roman walls and houses a holy relic: the Holy Robe, a garment said to be worn by Jesus when he was crucified. Next door, the Basilica of Constantine, the emperor’s throne room, is the largest surviving single-room structure from Roman times—60 m (200 ft) long and 30 m (100 ft) high. It used to be covered in mosaics and gold leaf, but now it’s an austerely grand Protestant church. As I sit in a pew, I imagine the awe and intimidation of those who walked its enormous length for an audience with the emperor. Not far away lie more UNESCO sites—the ruins of the Imperial Roman Baths and the Roman Amphitheatre.
Trier has the largest collection of ancient Roman coins
Had it not been for the blustery weather we may not have entered the excellent Archaeological Museum (Landesmuseum). My favourite exhibit is the Trier Gold Hoard, the largest collection of gold coins ever found from the Roman imperial era. The hoard contains over 2650 coins and weighs over 18.5 kg (40 lb). They were discovered at a Trier construction site in 1993.
Trier has great architecture from many eras
I’ve focused on Trier’s Roman roots but architectural treasures from many periods are found throughout the city. The 13th century Liebfrauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), also a UNESCO site, is Germany’s oldest Gothic church, and the 18th century Kurfürstliches Palais (Electoral Palace) is considered one of the finest examples of Rococo style.
Trier has a lovely pedestrian zone and market square
My brain can only absorb so much mind-boggling history. Time for a stroll through Trier’s pedestrian zone. It’s lined with boutiques, cafes, restaurants and international retail establishments all tastefully housed in beautifully restored old buildings. In medieval times, Trier’s main market square was used as the trade centre and it’s still the focal point of the old city today. We stop for a drink at a stand-up wine bar in the square, the canopy barely shelters the sizeable crowd from the rain; no one seems to care.
Trier has really great Kaffee und Kuchen
Wonderful kaffee und kuchen (coffee and cake) is a common theme on our Germany trip, but Trier seems to have even more charming spots to indulge in tasty treats than what we’d experienced so far. The crummy weather has us sampling a few too many.
Trier is the birthplace of Karl Marx
I mentioned earlier that Trier is not that well-known by international tourists. A notable exception is the Chinese who are coming to Trier in large numbers for the 200th anniversary of the birth of native son Karl Marx. Marx is a controversial figure among Trier residents and Germans in general, but the municipality has acknowledged his profound influence on human history with the Karl Marx House Museum and special exhibits. Emotions ran high this year when Trier, after much deliberation, accepted a gift from the Chinese government in honour of the bicentenary—a 5.5 m (18 ft) statue of Karl Marx.
All this stuff is walkable
Trier is an easy city to visit. It’s compact and not crowded. All the sites I’ve mentioned above are walkable. The Tourism Information Centre, right next to the Porta Nigra, is a good place to start and they have daily walking tours in English.
Trier also makes a great start or end to a Mosel Cycling trip.
Next: We’re back on the bikes along the Saar River from Trier to Saarbrücken