To the Romans it was proof of the immensity of their empire. To their enemies it was the manifestation of their oppression. To modern Germans, the ancient Roman border is now another cultural heritage site.
The ancient border of the Roman Empire was a symbol of huge power
Germany can celebrate its fair share of cultural highlights but recently one of those sites has been elevated to the status reserved for those of globally recognized importance. The German section of the border line of the Roman Empire, part of what is known as the "Roman Limes," has been honored by The World Heritage Committee of UNESCO.
The ancient section dating back to the 2nd century, which stretches for 542 kilometers from the region around Koblenz in the current state of Rhineland-Palatinate, through Hesse and Baden-Württemberg to Regensburg in Bavaria, is part of a border that stretched 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles) from the Atlantic coast of northern Britain, through Europe to the Black Sea, and from there to the Red Sea and across North Africa to the Atlantic coast.
The barrier that signaled the extent of the Roman Empire at its largest consists of remains of built walls, ditches, forts, fortresses, and watch towers which have survived the passage of time, war and the fall of the empire that it was built to protect.
At its most splendid, the border was enforced by ramparts, walls and ditches, close to 900 watchtowers, 60 forts, and civilian settlements, which accommodated tradesmen, craftsmen and others who serviced the military.
It completely separated the continent and kept the Roman contingent in what is present-day Germany protected from Germanic barbarians.
Border finally breached by Germanic barbarians
The border was the brainchild of the emperor Domitian (81-96 A.D.). It held off the encroachment of Rome's enemies until the year 260 when Roman troops were finally expelled from Germania by the barbarians who stormed the "devil's embankment." When the Vandals and Burgundians crossed the Rhine less than 150 years later, Roman rule finally came to an end.
With the honor of being placed on the world cultural heritage list comes great responsibility for the 150 towns and municipalities and the 20 administrative districts whose land the once spectacular border structure straddled.
With the help of the people who live on the line of history, the German Limes committee hopes to keep the remaining elements of the border in good enough order as to remain on the list. Urban encroachment onto any part of the site may render its inclusion invalid so financial help is needed to keep the Limes protected.
Following the route of the Limes from the Rhine, to the Main and down to the Danube, visitors can see where the forts and watch-towers were stationed, the next plotted with Roman precision within sight of the last.
Sites of Roman decadence in old Germania
At one of the furthest ends of the Limes lies the biggest Roman spa in southern Germany at Weissenburg in Bavaria and an extensive museum dedicated to the history of the border in Aalen in Baden-Wurttemberg, which has a magnificent selection of weapons, Roman art, relics and statues.
At Rainau-Buch in Baden-Wuerttemberg there are also the foundations of an original Roman bath in the town's open air museum. There are many reconstructions, information points and footpaths connected to the history of the Limes along the old border, making a visit feel like a real step into the past.
For those visitors who pride themselves on their personal fitness, it is possible to cycle the length of the border on the specially constructed Limes cycle track which takes in sedate flat areas and demanding hills. The route takes in the nature reserve at Rhine-Westerwald, crosses the Taunus and Odenwald regions, and winds through the Altmühl valley before ending near Regensburg on the Danube.