Bamberg’s different layers
Town of Bamberg, Germany
From the top of the town, I look out across Bamberg. It’s another one of those beautiful German settlements that has such a rich history but is often overlooked by the average tourist in favour of the larger and more famous cities.
The layout of Bamberg is important for not just architectural reasons, but for what it shows about the society here over the past millennium. With this vantage point, it’s easy to see how the older part of this Bavarian town is split into three main areas. A river, which forks (before merging again) creates a natural boundary between each of them.
I’m standing currently at the highest part which is best described as the ‘noble’ section. This is where the churches, the castle and the associated buildings were constructed as early as the 10th century. The large impressive cathedral dominates the layout – inside are the tombs of at least one pope and one emperor.
At one point, when the Duke of Bavaria, Henry II, became King of Germany in 1007, he wanted to turn the town into a grand seat of government. His goal was to have a ‘second Rome’. (It’s not the first place I’ve been to with this goal – if everyone had achieved their aims, there would be at least a dozen ‘second Romes’ around Europe.) Nonetheless, it was a period of huge prosperity for Bamberg and the quality and the quantity of the old impressive buildings around me prove that.
Down the hill and across the river is the urban section of Bamberg. It’s an island in the middle of the river and was founded in the 12th century as a market, residences and businesses. In some ways, it was the link between the nobility and the ordinary people, where commerce could take place within easy sight of the rulers.
On the other side of the island, the town spreads out into a much larger area. This is an interesting part of Bamberg because you can still see today the market gardens that were set up here from the 12th century onwards. From the streets, it looks like there are just houses – but behind the houses, on many of the blocks, are large hidden gardens. This is where crops were (and still are) grown by the residents who overlook them.
It is easy to explore Bamberg by foot and, if you start at the train station and head towards the cathedral, you will pass through each of the different sections. The main sights are up on the hill and on the island at its foot. Make sure you don’t miss the Bamberg Cathedral the Old Town Hall, the Neue Residenz and its gardens, and Michaelsberg Abbey.
Bamberg is also a wonderful town to wander around and the architecture in the older parts is beautiful. From the river, you’ll be able to ‘Little Venice’, which is a collection of fishermen’s houses from the 19th century.
Another particularly famous aspect of Bamberg is the beer. It has a rather unique style of brewing that leaves some of the beers with a smoky or bacon flavour. The small pubs in the area at the base of the cathedral hill will happily serve you a glass – and it’s a good way to finish up a visit to this wonderful little town.