The true and “possibly true” facts about Trier’s historical sites

Full disclosure: Much of the following was told to me by an authorized city guide of Trier, the oldest city in Germany, but I haven’t researched all of the information. (I’ll specify where that’s the case). So why do I share it here? Because it’s juicy and interesting, and exactly the kind of hearsay I repeat to friends as I walk them through the city! Far be it from me to withhold the good stuff from our readers….


Porta Nigra and the Romans


Trier’s most important landmark is the Porta Nigra (the Black Gate), the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps, which stands 90 feet tall and was built entirely without mortar. What you won’t see is the rest of the four-mile wall that surrounded the city, because it was disassembled and repurposed for other buildings over the ages. Apparently, the gate itself was spared by the local bishop because of a wise hermit who had made it his home (says the guide).

English: Porta Nigra (Black Gate) in Trier, Ge...

Porta Nigra image via Wikipedia


Other Roman ruins include the Römerbrücke, the oldest bridge north of the Alps still crossed by traffic (the Nazis blew up other Trier bridges when retreating from Patton’s advance, but this one was captured intact), a basilica, the second-largest Roman bath complex, and an amphitheater … but there are ruins almost everywhere. At an underground passage leading from the Sparkasse building to the municipal parking garage you’ll suddenly come upon a glass window exposing part of the ancient city. But don’t expect to find a sign or explanation nearby. It’s just one of those things. You know: another Roman ruin.


Roman baths in Trier, Germany

Roman baths in Trier, Germany

Architectural decoration and protest in the Hauptmarkt


Walk down the pedestrian street in front of the Porta Nigra and you’ll come to the main town square, called the Hauptmarkt, where flower vendors set up shop and display vibrant seasonal colors throughout the year. Take a close look at the buildings and their ornamentation, because they tell some interesting stories (all of the below, according to the guide).


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See the high door and uneven alignment in the picture above? In the middle ages, the streets were dicey. Think roughians and the absence of a sewage system. By lowering ladder-like steps from high doors like these, it was more difficult for thieves to enter the home, and easier for well-to-do visitors to enter without soiling their shoes in the street.

Ornamentation was used to advertise a shopkeeper’s function, like the butcher, below…


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or to protest against the Church (the statue on the right faces the direction of the cathedral, and the covered eyes represent blindness or shortsightedness).


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Jewish Quarter


More from my (hopefully trustworthy) guide: The entrance to Judengasse, the Jewish Quarter, is accessible from the Hauptmarkt, and the large iron rings there supported a gate used to quarantine the city’s Jewish population. (An indentation on a wall nearby also marks a spot along the pilgrammage route of the Camino de Santiago [or Way of St. James, or Jakobsweg]). The Jews established themselves and were expulsed several times, at least once when the local bishop’s debts to them became too great.


Entrance to the Judengasse (Jewish Quarter) of Trier

Entrance to the Judengasse (Jewish Quarter) of Trier


Fact: Antisemitic imagery adorns the Church of Our Lady, the oldest Gothic church in Germany (located next to the main cathedral and the Christmas market), with the statues of Ecclesia et Synagoga. This sculptural representation of the Church and the Synagogue, where the Church is depicted as a glorious, crowned woman who clearly sees the way ahead and the Synagogue is a vanquished, blindfolded woman blinded to the truth, is seen throughout churches and cathedrals in Europe, even at Paris’ Notre Dame, and represents the supremacy of Christianity over Judaism. Regardless, step inside this church to see its intricately painted ceilings.

The most famous Jewish resident of Trier was undoubtedly Karl Marx, who was born to an affluent bourgeois family in another part of town.


Ecclesia and Synagoga, the closest statues on each side, seen at the Our Lady Church in Trier, Germany

Ecclesia and Synagoga, the closest statues on each side, seen at the Our Lady Church in Trier, Germany


Old wine


Trier sits on the Mosel (Moselle) River, and the area has been described as “Riesling Heaven.” The Romans used the river to transport wine 2,000 years ago, and it claims to be the oldest winegrowing region in Germany.

After passing the Church of Our Lady, look for the Weinstube Kesselstatt (a winery, wine bar and restaurant) to your right. Outside there’s a curious stone sculpture of a Roman wine transport ship which is a replica of the famous Neumagener Weinschiff now in the Rheinischen Landmuseum (Rhineland Museum), dated around 200 A.D. The original was the tomb of a wealthy wine merchant, and provides dated proof of Roman wine trade along the river.

And since you’re there, you might as well pop in and end your tour of Trier’s pedestrian area with a tasting or two!

Where to eat in Trier

Head to the Zurlaubener Ufer, the street along the Mosel River just northeast of the Kaiser Wilhem Bridge (Brucke), which used to be a fishing village separate from Trier. It is lined with ancient – really ancient – guest houses and restaurants that are perfect for soaking up ambiance as the river floats by. Afterwards, consider taking a short river cruise down the Mosel to see one of the most famous winegrowing regions in Germany.

Where is Trier, Germany?

Trier is located in the western German state of Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz) on the Mosel River. It lies just 25 miles from Luxembourg City.

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  1. So much information and history. I enjoyed all the details that one would only learn by talking to a resident like the hermit who lived in the wall and the high doors on the buildings. Thanks for all the great descriptions!

  2. I’m glad you enjoyed it! Even if you take the “facts” with a grain of salt, they add interesting flavor, right? 🙂

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