If the Rhine is the super-waterway of Europe, the Mosel (or Moselle) is its quieter, more laidback sister. On a Peter Deilmann cruise that sailed along the Mosel from Koblenz to Trier, I was enchanted by a river journey resplendent with medieval hillside castles; quaint cities and towns with a small-town feel; Roman ruins; friendly locals; Baroque and Renaissance architecture; and vineyards cascading down to the river.
River cruisers often visit the Porta Nigra, or Black Gate, on a tour of major Roman ruins in Trier.
Simply put, this is Germany the way Americans hope to discover it. Many Mosel cruises call, or even embark and disembark passengers, at Trier—reportedly Germany’s oldest city. While an ancient settlement flourished here as far back as the third century B.C., Trier was officially “founded” by Roman Emperor Augustus around 16 B.C.
Geographically, Trier lies in a valley between hillsides of sandstone. It’s also in the heart of Germany’s wine country, famed for its Riesling grapes, and is close to the Luxembourg border. But the remnants of Trier’s past are what entice many river cruisers.
During the Roman era, the city was a key commercial center with a population of 50,000 and, at one point, served as the capital of the eastern Roman Empire. Fortunately, many Roman and Medieval historic buildings survived World War II, some in remarkably good condition; many of these are designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Among them is the massive Porta Nigra, or “black gate.” Dating from the second century A.D., this three-story structure is considered the best-preserved Roman city gate north of the Alps. Advise your clients to start their sightseeing here, as the gate leads to the highly walkable downtown core.
In addition, they should head for the tourist information bureau near the gate for maps, visitor’s guides, books, gift items and helpful advice on how to see all the city sites. I opted for an introductory trolley tour that departed from the front of the visitor’s center. In just an hour or so I received an overview of the entire city, took photos of several major sites and then selected which sites I wanted to revisit later on foot.
Despite its population of 100,000, Trier has the friendliness of a small town. The colorful Hauptmarkt (main market square) boasts Renaissance, Baroque and Neo-Classical architecture and a 1595 fountain. Depending on which day your clients visit this and other picturesque spots downtown, they might encounter a local market or live musical entertainment. I visited while a vibrant flower market was underway. Advise clients to look for a small baroque gate on the south side of the square—it’s the entry to the lovely St. Gangolf city church, dating from the 14th century.
From the Hauptmarkt, it’s an easy saunter to Trier’s impressive Romanesque Cathedral and the adjacent Gothic-inspired Church of Our Lady. Tell your clients that once inside the Cathedral, they’ll view remnants of Emperor Constantine’s original church inside the central core. Lying outside the entry door on the church’s south side, they’ll also discover a huge granite pillar from the emperor’s church.
Cruisers will discover local produce and flowers for sale in downtown Trier.
Another “must-see” is the Constantine Basilica, the former rectangular throne hall of Roman Emperor Constantine, just a few blocks from the Cathedral. Now a stark church, this structure is 220 feet long, 90 feet wide and 98 feet high. It’s supposedly the largest surviving single-room structure anywhere in the former Roman world.
For a total contrast in architecture, your clients might walk to the nearby 17th- and 18th-century Electoral Palace with its bright pink rococo-styled architecture and attractive gardens.
The palace is also near the city’s famed Roman Archaeological Museum, adjacent to a well-preserved medieval city wall. The museum boasts artifacts, funerary monuments and mosaics retrieved from Trier’s Roman sites, along with a large model of Roman Trier.
Another highlight is the collection of 2,300 rare Roman gold coins, likely hidden away for a rainy day by a wealthy Roman citizen. The coins were lost for centuries and then discovered during a 1993 city construction project.
Within walking distance of the museum is the Imperial Bath site, or Kaiserthermen, built in the fourth century A.D. While visitors will undoubtedly “ooh” and “aah” at the towering above-ground structures, be sure to advise them to head underground to the catacombs.
If clients are up for a somewhat longer walk, suggest they grab a map and head uphill from the baths to what remains of the Roman amphitheater; it seated more than 20,000 in its heyday and was the site of gladiator and wild animal fights. While most ornamental masonry is long gone, this first- and second-century site is well maintained with its former seating areas replaced with grass. Some underground tunnels remain for visitors to explore.
Your clients might also visit the Karl Marx museum, the house where the founder of scientific socialism was born in 1818. The Mosel, too, is a highlight; because riverboats dock along its banks, cruise guests often stroll the tree-lined, grassy areas adjacent to the river.
Depending on where the vessel docks, clients might view the Old Crane, used in 1413 to offload cargo from river vessels. And tell them to look carefully at the bridges; one historic Mosel bridge amazingly still has five original piers from the Roman era.
Folks from Trier are friendly and many speak English. I dined in a local restaurant on my last night, enjoyed a fine meal, then left my jacket on my chair before leaving. I remembered it upon returning home to Florida, and e-mailed my hotel, the Park Plaza Hotel, whose staff contacted the restaurant, retrieved the coat and mailed it back to me. That’s superb service.
Post-cruise tours vary by line, but a two-night post-cruise package in Trier for Peter Deilmann Cruises’ guests is priced at $360 per person double or $530 single. Additional nights are $120 per person double, $180 per single. Other lines also offer similar post-cruise options.
For more information on all the sights and attractions in Trier, visit www.trier.de/english. For many visitors, it’s a lovely place to explore history along the banks of the Mosel.