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Travel

Wonders of World Heritage: from the island of Reichenau to Steingaden

Our last route to the Wonders of World Heritage takes us through southern Germany. We visit an island in Lake Constance, an archaeological underwater monument, and a small church that has become an icon of art history.

We begin our journey on the largest island in Lake Constance, the Monastic Island of Reichenau. Saint Pirmin, a Christian missionary, founded a Benedictine monastery on this green island in the eighth century. Over the next 300 years, it became one of the most powerful monasteries in southern Germany. The island, a World Heritage Site since 2000, testify to the important religious and cultural role that Benedictine monasteries played in the Middle Ages.

The three Romanesque churches on the island are also World Heritage Sites. The largest and oldest of these is the former abbey of St. Mary at Mittelzell, but Benedictine monks left behind a treasure trove of artistic gems in the Church of St. Peter and Paul in Niederzell. The monumental frescos in the alter space of this church date back to the 12th century, but the frescos in the Church of St. George in Oberzell are even older - they are the only complete surviving examples of tenth century church paintings north of the Alps.

Prehistoric pile dwellings on Lake Constance

Prehistoric pile dwellings on Lake Constance

Our next World Heritage Site is underwater: the prehistoric pile dwellings in Unteruhldingen on Lake Constance. These piles of wood are the last remains of the houses that once stood on stilts in the lake. This special type of house construction was an early form of settlement in Europe, providing inhabitants with protection from both enemies and animal predators.

The pile dwelling village in Unteruhldingen is considered one of the most important fixed settlements from the period between 1300 and 800 BC, the late Bronze Age. A number of the pile dwellings were reconstructed from 1922 onwards, following archaeological excavations. Today they offer an insight into the pre- and early history of village life on Lake Constance. Since 2011, a further 17 pile-dwelling sites in Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria have been added to the list of these World Heritage prehistoric pile dwellings, making 111 in total.

The Pilgrimage Church of Wies

The Pilgrimage Church of Wies is considered the very epitome of the Bavarian Rococo

The eighth and last route on our tour of Germany's World Heritage Sites ends just outside Steingaden, around 150 kilometers east of Lake Constance. The small Pilgrimage Church of Wies stands in the middle of a green meadow beneath a spectacular view of the Alps. The church was commissioned in 1745 by the Steingaden monastery. The gold-plated, festive stucco garlands adorning the interior of the church are unrivalled in their detail and opulence, while the ceiling painting in the dome that crowns the elliptical church space is beautifully serene - and world famous. Today the Pilgrimage Church of Wies is considered the very epitome of the Bavarian Rococo. As the young Abbot Marinus, who commissioned the church, said, "In this place lives happiness, here the heart finds peace."

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