IRENE's TRAVELOGUE

JUNE/JULY 1999

TRACING ROMAN GERMANIA I

The Trip
Bad Ems
Bad Kreuznach
Köln/Cologne
Mainz
Saalburg
Trier
Xanten
Abtei St. Hildegard  Lennep  Remagen/Linz

MORE TRAVEL
Tracing Roman Germania 2002
Tracing Roman Germania 2003 in the works
Ancient Rome as seen in the year 2001
photos
ships - click here Steinhalle - click here

MAINZ — MOGUNTIACUM

If you travel by car and are staying in Wiesbaden or Frankfurt, leave the car at your hotel. In Mainz you can do almost anything on foot. Mainz is a 10-minute train ride away from Wiesbaden, half hour-plus from Frankfurt. My advice is to get off the train in Mainz-Süd, one station beyond the main station (Hauptbahnhof), coming from Wiesbaden. If you come from Frankfurt, it's the first station after the train has crossed the river. A block East from the station is the Antique Maritime Museum, and the excavation of an amphitheatre is going on around the corner. And from there you can venture into the old town and to the other museums and end up at the main railroad station. We did this very leisurely on our second trip to the city. One day would leave you a bit short though if you have never been there, there is so much to see and visit in Mainz.

Addendum 2005: Several links have disappeared into cyberspace, new and better ones have shown up.

I could not find a history of Mainz on the Internet in English. For German speakers, there is the Stadtgeschichte on the website of the Landesmuseum Mainz. There is also Initiative Römisches Mainz with many interesting pages.

So let me summarize: The first Roman evidence is of a camp set up by Drusus in 13 BCE on top of a hill above the river, across from where the Main flows into the Rhine. This castellum remained there for over 300 years. A second camp was built next to a Celtic settlement which is said to have been called Mogon, after a Celtic god, and was named Moguntiacum by the Romans.

Mainz gradually became the center of the military and civilian life of the Middle Rhine region and to some extent the Upper Rhine region too. It was a flourishing trade center – amply proven by the many tombstones found, which always portray the occupation of the deceased. Part of the Rhine fleet had their headquarters in Mainz too. It is now believed that all this happened very early on, and that the bridge across the Rhine river was built already in 27 CE. In 90 CE, Mainz became the provincial capital of Upper Germania, and appropriate buildings were constructed. Mainz flourished until the end of the fourth century, after which raids by the Alemanni, the Vandals, and others led to its destruction.

First interest in the Roman buildings and monuments started with the humanists, and after 1800 excavations and collections began in a serious fashion. Ludwig Lindenschmit, the conservator of the 1844 established “Altertumsverein” (Antiquities Society) was instrumental in the founding, in 1852, of the Roman-Germanic Central Museum which remains in the forefront of research and restoration—the remains of the South Tyrolean “Ice Man” were preserved here recently. Parts of the large collection are now displayed in the Landesmuseum (Regional Museum) and in the Antique Maritime Museum, of which more below.

Mainz came into its own again again in the Middle Ages, it's Cathedral partially dates back to the 12th century. The city was destroyed about 80 percent in WWII, but many buildings have been lovingly restored. An exception is the 14th century St. Christoph church which is preserved in its bombed-out state as a remembrance of the war. Mainz is now the capital of the State of Rheinland-Pfalz.

Walk through the old town and enjoy its diversity in style, and its many fountains! I also recommend to visit the renovated church of St. Stephan which has windows designed by Chagall.

and now a tour through Roman Mainz

Addendum 2008: For German speakers, there is a comprehensive Wikipedia page: Moguntiacum; non-German speakers may enjoy the images.

Not many buildings and monuments remain, but the museums make more than up for that.

My favorite by far is the Museum für Antike Schiffahrt, the Museum of Ancient Shipping. Here is an extensive selection of images on another website (no text). See also my photos.

This museum came about in the following manner: In 1981/82, during excavation work for an extension to the downtown Hilton hotel, five Roman ships were discovered, about 7.5 meters below street level. The area seems to have been a part of the ancient harbor where old ships were dumped. As they were leaking and sinking into the water, they would turn, usually to the left. Only those parts of the ships that where covered by the river sediments did survive. The ships have been dated to the 4th century. From their shape they must have been military vessels and it is assumed that they were abandoned when in 406 CE the Germans crossed the Rhine, and the Romans had to give up their territory. The finds were in bad shape, because before their discovery, heavy equipment vehicles had been moved about the site and crushed much of them.

The Roman Germanic Central Museum created an Antique Maritime Research division, which began the conservation of the ships. This is described in the museum catalogue and involved an incredible process of preserving the wood and piecing the boats together again. Work is still ongoing.

It was then decided to create a separate museum. State and Federal funds were successfully sought, and the city of Mainz acquired a structure which had been a market hall at one time. Its glass roof gives the exhibition hall an airy look. The Maritime Research Division has put its emphasis of research on the Roman Empire with its extensive maritime operations, and the museum reflects this too in reproductions of maritime scenes, such as those from the Trajan's Column in Rome. The museum displays the restored boats as well as life sized reproductions, and models of other types of ships. Conservation work on the boats is done even during museum hours, and one can overlook another work area, where, while I was there, someone was working on a ship model. Here is a walk through the museum.

In front of the Hilton Hotel main entrance sits a replica of a discovered boat.

The museum also had a book for sale on Vegetius, with the text of his «Praecepta belli navalis» and a German translation, as well as illustrations and annotations to the work.

When we had excited the train station earlier, we spotted a wall display of newspaper clippings about an amphitheatre discovered in 1997/98, after an extensive search for it. We inquired at the museum and were sent up a small road across from the museum that leads to the back entrance of the station. The site is between the station and the 17th century Citadel: see photos. This year, residents of Mainz have been invited to be trained and to assist with the excavations: see a letter (in German). Due to its location, it seems to me that only part of the theatre foundations will be able to be recovered.

2003 addendum: There is now an official website, THEATRVM MOGONTIACENSIVM, Das römische Theater zu Mainz.

Across the old town, there are two museums who display Roman finds.

The Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum (Romano-Germanic Central Museum) is housed in the baroque Elector's Palace, and at first the Roman section looks rather musty. It has a lot of reproductions and reconstructions, but on closer look, it provides an excellent overview of the Roman Empire, its customs, its military and its trades. Adjacent and across from the museum are reproductions of the 3rd century Davidius Victor Arch and of the 1st century Jupiter Column erected in honor of the emperor Nero. The original was found in the harbor in 1907, too badly broken to be reassembled, but sufficiently complete to create a reasonable reproduction: see photo. A modern wing to the museum houses an excellent collection of prehistoric and pre-Roman artifacts, not only from the region but also from the Mediterranean.

The Museum's collection of Roman and Gallic stone monuments can be viewed at the Rheinische Landesmuseum (Regional Museum) a couple of blocks West, on the same avenue. There, they are impressively assembled in the Steinhalle (Hall of Stones), see photos. This museum also displays a nice collection of Gallo-Roman pottery and glassware, see photos, especially the chain handle glass decanters from the 3rd and 4th centuries, typical for the Rhein area, and Mainz in particular – there is some indication that they were produced in Mainz itself. There is also a section dedicated to the Roman Bridge across the Rhine.

On our way back, we used the Stadtexpress to Koblenz, a double decker train. From its upper deck, we had a marvelous scenic view of the river and the many castles above it: see photos.

The section of the river between Mainz and Koblenz is the most scenic one of the Middle Rhine, and a boat trip down or up the river would be a real treat…

© Irene B. Hahn 1999

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