The Trip
Bad Ems
Bad Kreuznach
Abtei St. Hildegard  Lennep  Remagen/Linz

Tracing Roman Germania 2002
Tracing Roman Germania 2003 in the works
Ancient Rome as seen in the year 2001
Trajan look-alike, click here for more Trajan look-alike, click here for more


Xanten is a bit out of the way unless you go there by car. If you use public transportation, and go to Xanten from Cologne, you have to change trains in Duisburg. Again, once there, you can do everything on foot in the small old town, and walk or take the little tourist tram from the market place out to the Archeological Park.

The name Xanten derives from Ad Sanctos, in memory of Christian martyrs. The name first appeared in the 8th century, when a church was built over the graves. St. Victor Cathedral now stands on the site. One could put this down to legend, but in 1933 a double grave was found underneath the choir of two men – probably in their 30's – who showed signs of a violent death. The grave was dated to between 358 and 363 CE, and was part of the Roman cemetery.

The name reads ze Santen  in The Nibelungenlied as being the birth place of Siegfried.

Roman Imperial Plated Coins - click here for article
Trajan coin - courtesy of Doug Smith
Trajan - Fourree??? denarius - 114-117 AD - 2.8g
Colonia Ulpia Traiana was founded by Marcus Ulpius Traianus (Trajan) around 100 CE at the site of an unknown settlement dating to before Roman times. It was situated close to the fortress of Vetera (Birten), which has often cropped up in the books we have read in the Roman History Reading Group. It may have been planned to provide housing for veterans from Vetera II. Like Colonia Agrippina, it flourished into the 4th century, and similarly was invaded around 355 CE, and then reconquered by Julian the Apostate. The Rhine river used to run right by the town, but the river bed has shifted away from it since.

Xanten later became a cathedral town and received its city rights in 1228 from the Archbishop of Cologne. In the 14th century, the southern half of the city belonged to the See of Cologne, the northern part to the County of Cleve. The many disputes between the archbishops and the Counts of Cleve finally led to the Soester Fehde (the Soest feud), which the Pope resolved by granting the entire city to the Count of Cleve.

Xanten suffered much in WWII, but the Cathedral and many buildings were restored. There is a website in German (click on Inhalt) with a historical time line, and this leads to a number of pictures. It is certainly an extensive site. And here are my own photos. Very interesting is the windmill which is built right into the old town wall. Once, there was a moat around the town, and the double gate of the Klever Tor has a bridge between the two gates. The Cathedral is the largest in the Lower Rhine area after the Cologne Dom – compared with the latter though it looks small. The church houses wonderful stone sculptures as well as a number of 15th and 16th century altars, mostly combinations of painted panels and elaborate woodwork. Don't miss it if you ever come to Xanten. wiki page.


Xanten itself was built next to the Roman colonia, actually on top the Roman cemetery. Thus the Roman site, while used as a stone quarry for the church and town of Xanten, remained otherwise undisturbed. Systematic exploration began in late 19th century. The whole area where the colonia was situated is now protected by the State of Nordrhein-Westfalen, and excavations are still going on. About half of the former town has now become an Archeological Park, and its size is impressive. About 10,000 people are supposed to have lived there. Most of the structures to be viewed in the park consist of reconstructions of old buildings and sites for educational purposes. I'm still not sure in my mind whether I like this or not, but it certainly creates a lot of interest in history that might otherwise have gone untapped. A wall goes around much of the park with two gates, and a street system is laid out. The two biggest structures are the partially rebuilt Harbor Temple and the Amphitheater. The latter is the site of the annual summer festival, and when we were there, the stage for the opera Carmen was constructed. There is also a Guesthouse, where you may order food according to the recipes of Apicius if you feel so inclined – we weren't: it was a very hot day, so we didn't want to experiment. Part of the building is used as a demonstration of Roman living, showing various types of rooms and furniture, the bath house and a latrine, and there is also an herb garden. A plan of an insula is laid out with shrubs, and there are sections of the water conduit and the sewer, as well as of a grain mill. There is also a small house in which one can play Roman board games and make coins, etc. Next to the amphitheatre there sit the replica of a crane. There are also remnants of the thermae. Overall, the place is one huge educational facility. Here are the photos I took.

Note 2005: there was an interesting site in English: Archaeological Park - Xanten, Germany, which has disappeared. I'll try to find it again. You could click on various points on the map and got computer generated pictures – and you could do the same within the individual pictures – some with explanations underneath. There was also a history of the CUT to read.

Back in the old town, next to the Cathedral, is the Regional-Museum, which displays the usual, and not so usual, artifacts, see photos, as well as a large model of the CUT.

This concludes my tour through Roman Germania…

© Irene B. Hahn 1999

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