Once inside this fairytale, medieval city our first stop was at the Market Pump, from about 1652. Before water pipes and well organized fire brigade were commonplace, a certain number of houses in the direct vicinity formed a community around a water pump. Such a pump-neighborhood was responsible not only for water-supply and fire protection, but also for an organized neighborly help. To this end they still have an annual pump festival, called the pump fair. I think the statutes transcend time, looks familiar, doesn’t it? (Kids can’t wait for Mom to quit talking)
The focal point and jewel of the city is the Cathedral, which owes its status not to an Episcopal seat, but to its importance for the region. The church is a five-aisled basicilia with a monumental façade with twin towers. The patron is St. Viktor. According to legend Viktor and his companions, members of the Theban Legion, were executed at Birten. As Christians they refused to offer sacrifices to the Roman emperor. Their bodies are said to have been thrown into a marsh and later recovered by St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, and buried in a Roman cemetery.
There are lots of other historical buildings, architectural styles (gothic, rococo etc.) and of course the market square surrounded by open air cafes. My favorite thing to do; afternoon kaffee und kuchen and watch the world go by. But also at the end of the street we come to the reconstructed town wall and the impressive Kriemhild’s Mill, (a large windmill) which is not only one of the landmarks ofXanten, but is also a bakery and open-air café. Xanten also has a Chocolate and Confectionery Museum, where the main attraction is the chocolate well with its bottomless filling of sweet chocolate. Yum. As if this delightful town wasn’t enough to spend the afternoon seeing, we then went back outside the town walls to go tour the Roman Park.
After being in Italy a last year and experiencing the massive crowds trying to vie for a shot of this classic building or Cathedral or this statue etc., Xanten was heavenly and you truly are able to see ROME without the crowds. There were a couple of school groups visiting that day but we just timed our walk to the site they weren’t visiting and we had a wonderful opportunity to read all the signs, take pictures and imagine ourselves back in a chariot riding down the street.
For around 400 years Xanten was one of the most important Roman cities on the Rhine. Some 10,000 men, women and children lived in the impressive city, which was named Colonia Ulpi Traiana by the Emperor Trajan in A.D. 98. The fact that its area has hardly been built upon since the Middle Ages is a lucky chance for archaeology. The remains of the Roman City have been able to be protected, researched and presented in the Archaeological Park since 1977.
First thing we came across was the Amphitheatre. Like the Coliseum in Rome, this is where the “games” were held. On public holidays popular performances were animal hunts and fights to the death and then the gladiators would take the ring for their performances. Of course these pictures
show how the amphitheatre was rebuilt on the foundations of the original. In the original the three lowest, wider rows of seats were reserved for VIP’s. Wooden chairs were set up here. On the upper tiers the audience sat directly on the stone steps. The seats running right around offered room for 10,000 people.
Next up, the Harbour Temple, looks like the Roman Forum to me. This was the second largest temple in the town but it is not known to which deity it was dedicated. It was nice to be able to roam around over this temple without fighting a crowd. It gives a good idea of how to picture what Roman life was like.
Then on to the most fascinating of all, the RömerMuseum. This large, very impressive building of steel and glass was built on the original foundation walls of the entrance hall to the Large Baths. At the time, the Large Baths offered everything the inhabitants of the Colonia needed for relaxation and personal hygiene. This is where the Romans met with their neighbors and friends, exchanged news, cut deals and sometimes even made political decisions. The baths are extensive and you can walk over them on ramps and platforms and you can almost feel the steam rising. It was fascinating.
We spent hours in the rest of the museum, highlights of the exhibition include the important collection of weapons and equipment of the Roman army, statues, a long mural painting and even a Roman barge that can be viewed floating freely in the air between two stories. At the entrance to the museum is a slab of walkway with actual footprints and wagon ruts from Roman times!!
So much history packed into one small town, you can travel back to the Roman times and end up in the Middle ages before you depart. It was a wonderful visit and if you are in the area I recommend it highly!