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Visiting the Historic Sites of Trier, Germany

Visiting the Historic Sites of Trier, Germany | CosmosMariners.com

The last stop we made in Germany before crossing the border into Luxembourg was in Trier, a mid-sized town of just over 100,000. Located on the Moselle River, Trier is a typical German town, much like dozens of others you can find in the Moselle wine region. But one thing sets Trier apart: the town claims that it has been continually inhabited since 1300 BC (give or take a few years).

Visiting the Historic Sites of Trier, Germany | CosmosMariners.com

As any long-time reader of this blog knows, I can't resist a few things in life: Wild Berry Skittles, English breakfast tea, a new book, and anything old and historic. It's no wonder, then, that my family and I decided to linger in Germany for one more night for the exclusive purpose of scoping out the extent of the town's hisTRIERy (get it?! Get it?! I crack myself up sometimes).

Here's what we found:

Porta Nigra

Visiting the Historic Sites of Trier, Germany | CosmosMariners.com
My mom, dad, daughter, and I with the crowds of visitors around the Porta Nigra
So, Trier was founded in 15 BC by those conquering Romans. They were busy fellows, but in between building their empire and trying to obfuscate local culture, they liked to relax. Trier, in its heyday, was the happening place for the Roman emperors, who would come to the city for their R&R. Even Constantine--the emperor, not the comic book character--retreated here, the capital of the Roman Empire under his watch, to ponder his vast power. The city was walled back then and guarded by four gates, each of which was held together skillfully only with iron pegs.

By the medieval period, the Roman Empire and its holdings in Trier were a distant dream, and all but one of the original Roman gates to the city had been taken apart stone by stone by locals. The last one, the one that still stands today, was saved inadvertently from destruction by one St. Simeon. Back in the day, he was considered a religious recluse and spent seven years inside the crumbling, drafty ruins of the gate. (Today, he probably would've been a blogger living in his mom's basement.)

The lack of social interaction, the harsh German weather, and absence of indoor heating were not kind to St. Simeon, and the seven years he spent in the gate were his last. Others were so inspired by his commitment to the cause that they founded a monastery and church in his name within the Porta Nigra. The structure survived for another 800 years until Napoleon dismantled the church (he probably would've liked those Romans so many years before).

Today, there's not much left to the gate inside, but the massive, hulking structure is still worth exploring. It's dark, ancient facade is at odds with the 19th, 20th, and 21st century buildings just steps away, but I think that's part of its charm. The layered history of Trier--from the Romans to the medieval period to the 1800s to present--is nowhere more apparent than it is standing in front of the Porta Nigra.

Fun fact: Karl Marx's childhood home is just a few steps away from the Porta Nigra. There's a museum inside if you want to learn more about the iconic social philosopher and writer.

Trier Cathedral

Visiting the Historic Sites of Trier, Germany | CosmosMariners.com
Trier Cathedral to the left and the Church of Our Lady to the right
When you turn the corner from Trier's main square in search of the cathedral, you'll probably stop in your tracks when you see it.

The building is massive in a way that your brain just cannot comprehend on first glance. As you get closer, the cathedral looms over you. It was built by Emperor Constantine at the same time as St. Peter's in Rome, and the strong Christian faith that Constantine and his mother (Helena, who was later beatified) is clear in the cathedral's immensity. Helena, in fact, was so devoted to the idea of a cathedral in Trier, that she offered up part of her palace so that the church could be constructed in its place.

Yet, as big as it is, the original Roman structure was supposed to be four times its original size. The failing Roman empire and loss of power kept Constantine from seeing his full project through to the end.

As with all great European structures, the Trier Cathedral has had several phases to its existences: Constantine built it, the Franks let it fall into ruin, and the Normans destroyed it. It was revived once more in the early 1000s, and has been added onto over the last millenia, resulting in its Romanesque-Baroque-Gothic styling.

If you're interested in religious relics (those holy objects that the medieval churchgoers loved to collect and showcase), you'll find three here: a scrap of what is supposedly Jesus' robe, a nail from the cross, and the sandal of St. Andrew.

Church of Our Lady

Visiting the Historic Sites of Trier, Germany | CosmosMariners.com

The oldest Gothic church in Germany--but still a baby in comparison to the Roman structures in the city--Liebfrauenkirche is a gorgeous example of medieval masonry. It's located right next to the Trier Cathedral, which causes some confusion for visitors, but a quick look at the architecture (flying buttresses and sharply detailed statues on the Gothic church vs. the rounded, less decorated exterior of the Roman one) helps orient you to the difference.

In any other city in the world (barring perhaps Rome and its massive structures), this church would be the major sightseeing highlight for its intricate detailing and awe-inspiring size. Yet, amidst the other offerings in Trier, the Church of Our Lady is often skipped over in favor of visits to the Cathedral and Basilica.

Trier Basilica

Visiting the Historic Sites of Trier, Germany | CosmosMariners.com
Itty bitty person, giant basilica
The largest remaining Roman structure outside of Rome, the Trier Basilica is another gigantic cannot-miss spot in Trier. Constantine, that busiest of emperors, also built this behemoth, which could easily fit the Porta Nigra and 3/4ths of a football field inside. While it's now used as a church, during its heyday, it was used as a judicial center and would've been where Constantine's throne was placed.

Worship services are still held inside each Sunday, but you can also see the structure during set visiting hours.


After we'd explored the historic sites of Trier, we retired to our hotel just outside of town. And fittingly, we'd chosen to stay in another historic spot: the Berghotel Kockelsberg. (It was one of the only places that we could find in the area that had enough room for both of my parents, my sister, my daughter, and I.)


The hotel's been in business since the mid 1800s, but there's been a structure on the property since the 8th century. Before it was a hotel, it was a private residence, then one of the buildings of the St. Jakobus Hospital. 

Visiting the Historic Sites of Trier, Germany | CosmosMariners.com

We loved staying in such a storied location, and the views of Trier and the Moselle Valley were incredible. It was definitely the best place to begin and end our historic sightseeing in Trier!

What parts of Germany have you visited? Have you made it to the Moselle Valley yet?

Visiting the Historic Sites of Trier, Germany | CosmosMariners.com


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