In AD 9, the largest army of the Roman Empire suffered unprecedented defeat at the Teutoburg Forest where Publius Quinctilius Varus famously lost 3 legions along with accompanying auxiliary troops. This episode – long remembered in Rome and etched in Augustus’ memory – brought about a change in Roman strategies in Germany. Rome by and large abandoned further expansion in Germany and, instead, constructed the limes Germanicus, a defence system of bank, ditch, wall and forts which developed over time. This involved a massive concentration of the army in this area and, with that, the acculturation of the native populations as troops interacted with locals. For this reason, there is a plethora of Roman archaeological sites, both domestic and military, along the limes. In this beautiful part of Europe often overlooked by tourists, we will explore extraordinary museums, such as the Romano Germanic museum in Cologne and the Museum fur Antike Sciffahrt in Mainz, stunning houses such as the Ahrweiler Villa and the Villa Nennig, along with the limes itself and Rome’s strategies for controlling its borders. We end with the Aachen, the stunning capital of the Holy Roman empire with its unique cathedral.
Meet the group at our hotel in Cologne. Time permitting, there will be an evening walk where we might admire the skyline dominated by Cologne’s famous cathedral.
Heading north, we arrive at Xanten where the Roman town of Colonia Ulpia Traiana has been reconstructed. The city was constructed by the army in order to service the legion and the auxiliary troops stationed here; the latest incarnation was built ex novo in the Trajanic period – after the previous city was destroyed in the revolt of the Batavi. The result was one of the largest colonia in the Roman empire and included all the amenities associated with a Roman city, including baths and an amphitheatre. The archaeological park at Xanten today is a recreation of this colonia on the site of the archaeological site; though somewhat controversial, it offers us the chance to experience Roman buildings as they must have been.
Today, we explore the impressive remains of Cologne, the erstwhile Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium. We start with the excellent collections of the Romano-Germanic Museum which has an excellent collection of artefacts from the Roman colony and is built over a section of a Roman road as well as an impressive elite domus which contains a wonderfully preserved mosaic of Dionysus. After lunch we visit the hidden gems dating from the Roman period, including the Roman sewage system which bears witness to the Roman army’s remarkable engineering skills.
Boppard - Braubach
Today we visit the extensive Ahrweiler villa which was built in the 1st century AD at the height of the empire and transformed in the crisis ridden late antique period into a smelting plant. The imposing remains, which have survived thanks to a 5th century AD landslide preserving the villa, are testament to the wealth of the German elites in the early imperial period, as well as the struggle they faced from the 3rd century onwards. We explore the ruins as well as the excellent museum which preserves artefacts from the site. Then on to Boppard, a UNESCO listed town lying in the picturesque Rhine Gorge, with a medieval core. From here we travel by boat on a beautiful part of the Rhine to our next hotel in Braubach.
Zugmantel - Feldberg
We reach the limes – the 500km boundary fortified with great banks and ditches overlooked by 900 watchtowers and patrolled from 60 forts. We start with an exploration of the remains of a fort in Zugmantel built in the Flavian period as part of the Upper Germanic-Rhaetian Limes and today located in an atmospheric edge of a wood. Next to fort, which has been reconstructed, is a vicus, a settlement which grew next to the fort, a spill over from the fort which may have included locals who lived near the army to provide support for it. We proceed to the UNESCO listed site Saalburg, where we explore a spectacularly reconstructed cohort fort, as well as an excellent museum. We end the day at the limes in Feldberg which preserves remain of a bath house, granary and praetorium.
Mainz - Trier
A drive along the Rhine, takes us to Mainz, ancient Mogontiacum, the founded at the end of the 1st century BC by Drusus as a military fortress and capital of Germania Superior. We start the day at the world class Museum fur Antike Sciffahrt established in order to display the remains of 6 remarkably well preserved ships found in the Rhine in 1981, two which have been reconstructed. Four of the ships, are a type known as the navis lusoria, a nimble, shallow draft ship used for transport troops previously only known from written sources. In the museum, we see other artefacts from the classis Germanica, the Rhine fleet. After lunch, we visit the Temple of Isis in Mainz, which shows how cosmopolitan the province was in the Roman period. Afterwards, we have free time where you might visit the Gutenberg Museum before we head to Trier.
Today is the first of our days in Imperial Trier, the erstwhile Augusta Treverorum which became prosperous in the 4th century when it was made capital of the Prefecture of Gaul. The city is a UNESCO listed site for its spectacular Roman remains, the most significant in German. Trier also has wonderful Gothic remains, some of which we will explore in the Museum am Dom, which is UNESCO listed for its wonderful collection of early art and illuminated manuscripts. We proceed to the Rheinsches Landesmuseum, which contains one of the best collections of ancient artefacts in Germany, including the Trassem gold hoard from 1600 BC. In the afternoon, we view Constantine’s Basilica, built by the emperor Constantine as part of a palace complex and which remains the largest extant ancient hall.
This morning we spend the morning in Trier, visiting the famous Porta Nigra whose remarkable preservation is due to its transformation into two superimposed churches, as well as the Kaiserthermen Baths whose impressive remains were built in the 4th century. We proceed to the funerary monument of Igel, decorated with remarkable detail of wool merchant’s lives before driving to the Villa Nennig where see the remarkably well preserved gladiatorial mosaic – the most important north of the Alps – which belonged to the atrium of a Roman villa built in the end of the 2nd century. We end the day with a visit to the and the impressive reconstruction of the Villa Borg, a villa rustica whose pars dominica and pars rustica both survive.
Trier - Aachen
We drive to Aachen, where Charlemagne was crowned in 800 and his preferred residence. A city redolent of Germanic identity, it is where the Holy Roman Emperors were crowned from the 9th to the 16th centuries. In a tour which started with the imperial period, continued to the late antique period, it is fitting that it end with the Holy Roman empire. In the morning we take a walking tour of the city and visit the Treasury, richly endowed by Holy Roman emperors, including Charlemagne himself. It includes the Aachen Gospels and a diptych of Christ from the Carolingian period, as well as the Lothar cross from the time of Otto III. We end the day at the incredible UNESCO listed Cathedral of Aachen, built at the order of Charlemagne to resemble the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna and to challenge the Basilica of San Giovanni in Lateran in splendour.
We explore the Gothic Rathaus before our tour comes to an end.
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Local Travel - Local travel aboard a private air-conditioned coach
- Meals - Meals as per the itinerary, wine and tea or coffee with dinner
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in program; tips included
- Field Notes
- Hotels - Accommodation in hand-picked hotels.