Poor Trier

The German city of Trier was once known as ‘the second Rome’. It was once a mighty city and there are many reminders of that. Just not for me.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Trier, Germany

Poor Trier. The city in the west of Germany was once one of the greatest in Europe. Now it’s just been relegated to a transit stop on my journey, a quick bit of sightseeing squeezed in between trains.

In the early part of our modern calendar, in the third and fourth centuries, Trier was known as “the second Rome”. Such was the importance and grandeur of the city that successive rulers would make it their base as battles for territory raged across the region.

Impressive buildings were constructed – a basilica, an ampitheatre, baths, and fortified walls to protect them all.

trier, germany, sightseeing, things to see, trier
trier, germany, sightseeing, things to see, trier

I pull my luggage along behind me through the cobbled streets of the old town and it clacks noisily as the wheels hit the stones. Poor Trier, I had decided the city wasn’t even worth me leaving my bag in a locker at the train station.

That’s not to say the city is not worth the visit. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The ancient roman monuments have been well-preserved and around them charming examples of traditional German design have been built. The reworking of some of the religious buildings in the 11th and 13th centuries have also stood the test of time and are highlights of the city centre.

trier, germany, sightseeing, things to see, trier
trier, germany, sightseeing, things to see, trier

The interesting part of Trier is not large, though. At the train station I had picked up a map with a suggested walking route to see the main sights. It was less than two kilometres long. Hence I had decided to lug around my bag with me.

trier, germany, sightseeing, things to see, trier

It is like an anchor, though. My arm strains to pull it along and my mind is unable to forget that this is just a quick stop.

I want to climb the Roman ruins at one point but feel too weighed-down. I want to explore the little paths through the trees of a park but don’t have the energy to shift the bag onto my back.

We trudge through together, my luggage and I, never truly committing to Trier.

trier, germany, sightseeing, things to see, trier
trier, germany, sightseeing, things to see, trier

Would I treat Rome the same way? No. So why be so dismissive of “the second Rome”?

I suppose it’s not a matter of being dismissive. It’s more about not taking the time to delve beneath the surface.

The facade of Trier is impressive and shows the evolution of the city through the Romans, the Gauls, the enlightenment and, most recently, the Germans. To get beneath all of that, to understand the history this place has seen, is not a task for even a whole day.

It has taken two millennium to become what it is now… who am I to think I can appreciate all of that.

Poor Trier? No, poor me.


This site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List!
I'm on a mission to visit as many World Heritage Sites as I can. Only about 800 more to go... eek!

7 thoughts on “Poor Trier”

  1. Well, the pictures don’t look half bad, I gotta say -I didn’t even know Trier had that much to offer! Then again, as a German, I have a habit of neglecting the country I’m from when it comes to travelling. Not that that’s a German trait -it’s just me. I will do the sight-seeing when visiting a German town I’ve not been before, but often I find places lack the atmosphere, and then I get bored. Atmosphere for me means that a place not only has a history, but a present -it’s gotta have a heart-beat, you know, a pulse, a life, variety, provoke emotions, and so on. Sometimes places can’t transfer their history to me convincingly -they’re just pretty facades, resting on their laurels. Although your post indicated that Trier didn’t quite manage to make you fall under its’ spell (did I even hear you utter an “It’s not you, it’s me!”;)?), I’m actually intrigued now! So, good post, and Trier: watch out, ’cause you’ll be seeing me!

    • Ha, well I’m glad I’ve managed to inspire you to check it out. Let me know your opinion and, from a German’s perspective, whether you think it has a pulse these days. I’d love to know if I should go back sometime and give it more of a chance.

  2. I think a lot of Germany gets overlooked like this. It has been at the center of Europe for a long time and there is tons of history everywhere, but the modern day is a bit more sedate and not high energy like Italy. This is just the Germans relaxing and enjoying things.

    Trier is small and a bit out of the way, but still cool. Although not many of them, it looks like you captured the main sites.

    • That’s the problem with a big country with so much history – it all kind of gets spread out a bit and there aren’t as many focused tourist sites – like Italy, for example. Trier was a nice little taste of that part of the country, though.

      • Italy feels enormous and spread out to me too. But somehow it comes off as having “so much to see” while most of German tourists seem to be content with Munich and Berlin. I know this is a bit of rant on my part, but as we have said there is plenty of Germany that is awesome. There is just less of the mental background than in Italy.

  3. The “beneath” of Trier is also impressive. You mention the good shape of the Roman ruins. The main gate, the Porta Nigra, is the former haunt of a hermit, Greek monk Simeon, and when he died and was sainted, a cathedral was built over the site and covered the Roman gate for almost 1,000 years! When Napoleon, who hated the church and loved Rome, came along, he stripped the church off to expose the grandeur of the now best-preserved Roman gate in the world. Thus, this part is no longer the “beneath.” Under St. Matthias Kirk is an honest-to-goodness catacomb (recently discovered and apparently not looted!). Beneath the 2nd of the three Roman bath complexes (I forget if it’s the “market baths” or the Barbara baths?) is an impressive archaeological dig, covered with more “recent” (I.E., medieval, Renaissance and early modern) buildings, and which has been converted to a museum of the RheinRomantik painting and lithography (landscapes like the Dutch Realists or the Hudson Valley School of NY, with castle and church ruins as the main themes). Somewhat impressive on the outside, but belying the amazing interior, the Rheinisches Landesmuseum Trier is filled with Roman sculpture, ceramics, coins, mosaics, etc.–as you pointed out, it was Constantine’s northern capital! Another thing that rarely meets the eye, once a year in the winter they have a lit-night walk through that several kilometers you mention which is well worth the trip.

    • Thanks for all the extra info, Kenneth. That’s really interesting!
      I have to say that I have been back to Trier since I wrote this story and did manage to see some of the things you talk about. The stuff below the ground in that Roman ruin area is really cool. I loved the gladiator arena too. They had some pretty fancy technology for their time!


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