Guide to Trier

Visit the Oldest City in Germany

Trier, Germany
GNTB/Foto-Design Ernst Wrba

On the banks of the Moselle River lies Trier, Germany's oldest city. It was founded as a Roman colony in 16 B.C. by Emperor Augustus and is now one of the country's top destinations.

Nowhere else in Germany is the evidence of Roman times as vivid as it is in Trier. Discover ancient history in Germany with these top sites in Trier.

History of Trier

The first traces of man in the area around Trier date from the early Neolithic period.

But the city truly flourished under the Romans under Julius Caesar in 58 to 50 BC. In 16 BC the Romans founded the city of Augusta Treverorum which became the foundation of modern Trier. It was the favored residence of several Roman emperors and was even called "Roma Secunda", the second Rome. 

 A mint was established, along with a stadium and amphitheater. The magnificent Trier Cathedral (Trierer Dom) and Imperial Baths (Kaiserthermen) still survive today. The massive city wall built in A.D. 180 sought to protect it, but like most great cities, it swelled and fell many times. In the 5th century, Trier was under Frankish rule and becoming increasingly Catholic. This was foiled by the Vikings who conquored the city and destroyed many of the churches and abbey, ending this period of history.

Close to the French border, the effects of the Thirty Years' War had harsh effects on the city. The French took over the entire area  and Napoleon arrived in 1804.

In 1818, Karl Marx was born in Trier. During the First World War Trier became a French garrison city with its major, Charles de Gaulle. The Second World War resulted in more destruction. 

And yet, so much of the city survived all of this. It celebrated its 2025th birthday in 2009. It is a university cut with new students and ideas flooding in each year; not to mention the thousands of tourists.

What to Do in Trier

Porta Nigra

The highlight of Trier is the Porta Nigra (“black gate”), or you can simply act like the locals and call it "Porta". The Porta Nigram  the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps, dates back to 180 A.D. and is included in the UNESCO world heritage list. The gate looks much the as it did when it was built, besides the inevitable wear of decades and a reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. Visitors can walk where the Romans did and take guided tours from a centurion in summer. Today, this is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps.

Cathedral of Trier

The High Cathedral of Saint Peter in Trier (Hohe Domkirche St. Peter zu Trier) was originally built by Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman Emperor. Fitting of the oldest city, it is the oldest church in Germany. The Cathedral of Trier houses great works of art and a holy relic that draws many pilgrims: the Holy Robe, the garment said to be worn by Jesus when he was crucified. Since 1986 it has been listed as part of the UNESCO World Heritage attractions in Trier.

Imperial Baths

Baths were an important part of Roman life and this tradition has extended into German life. Visit the ruins of one of the grandest Roman baths of its time, and the largest surviving Roman baths outside Rome.

The Kaisertherme was built 1600 years ago, complete with an underground water heating system. 

Main Market of Trier

The Main Market (Hauptmarkt) was the heart of medieval Trier. It is home to picturesque half-timbered houses, the city church, the cathedral, a medieval fountain and the Jewish quarter of Trier. A centerpiece is the Market Fountain from 1595 of St. Peter surrounded by the four cardinal virtues of good city government: Justice, Strength, Temperance, and Wisdom as well as monsters and - oddly - monkeys. Also take note of the replica of the original stone cross that dates back to 958 and is now in the City Museum.

Karl Marx House

Visit the birthplace of Karl Marx, who was born in Trier in 1818; the house is now a museum, displaying rare editions of Marx’s writings.

The House of the Three Magi

Dreikönigenhaus, or The House of the Three Magi, showcases a fanciful Moorish design that stands out from its sober neighbors. It has undergone many changes throughout the ages, but still provides some unusual eye candy and a café on the ground floor.

Archaeological Museum

The Rheinisches Landesmuseum (RLM) offers some of Trier’s most impressive Roman artifacts and artworks from the region.

Trier Travel Tips