Take Porta Nigra, in Trier for example. Trier is the oldest city in Germany, founded by an Assyrian prince over 4000 years ago, and then crowned as a remote capital of Rome almost two thousand years later in 16 AD. With Trier located near the northern edge of the roman empire, the "Black Gate" would at times mark the boundary between Pax Romanus and maurauding Barbarians. Originally one of 4 city gates built in red sandstone, it earned its black hue - and its name - as it darkened over time. It survived through the ages because it was turned into a church and monastery in 1035. If its walls could talk, it could tell you about visits of Roman emperors, sanctified monks, and Napolean Bonaparte. That's history.
THEN WANDER from Porta Nigra down through the streets of Trier, through the Hauptmarkt (where shop keepers have been peddling wares since around the birth of Christ; where a monument to king Henry I is set) to the oldest Christian church in Germany - St. Peters Cathedral - or the Cathedral of Trier. Commissioned by Emperor Constantine as an array of cathedrals in the new Holy Roman Empire, it was set originally in Roman stone. Walk to the front of the Apse, and there in the Ambulatory, locked in a chest, is said to be a seamless and untorn tunic worn by Jesus Christ himself. Lady Helena - wife of Constantine - claimed to have found it on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. She brought it back to the church for which she had donated her own palace grounds to be built.
A part of history but not relegated to it, a plaque in the lower level crypts names all of the bishops and archbishops of the church in a continuous line, starting from AD 250 until today. The plaque still has room for 50 or so names, another 500 years, give or take. The choir was practicing for evening services as we toured the building. History isn't just an event in the past, it's an unfinished story. Indeed, on the clock tower is the inscription NESCITIS QVA HORA DOMINVS VENIET - You do not know what time the Lord is coming.
WHERE A ROMAN EMPEROR RESIDES, then one might also find Roman Imperial Baths. I find the under-floor heating in our own home a mechanical marvel (built: 1945), but the Romans had it almost two thousand years earlier. In a credit to their ingenuity and industriousness, the imperial baths siphoned off part of the Mosel river into a complex of subterranean tunnels, where brick furnaces and slaves were to keep the water at a constant 120°F for Roman patrons two stories above their heads. What is the bigger marvel, that it was such a an amazing operation, or that it still stands for children to run through today?
One one hand, Trier is just another historic European city. On the other hand, it is still a living and breathing text book of the all of the epics of Western Civilization. Four thousand years of human achievement, collapsed down into a single afternoon's stroll.
History is amazing.
|The Hauptmarkt under evening lights.|
|Ancient marble Roman foot?|
|Ornate Electoral Palace|
|Trier from above - view from Porta Nigra.|