Our seventh route in south-west Germany boasts World Heritage Sites from a range of historical epochs, revealing the cultural legacy of the ancient Romans, the monks of the Middle Ages, and industrial era steel workers.
We begin our journey in one of the oldest cities in Germany, Trier. In 16 BC, the Emperor Augustus laid the foundation stone of the city on the Moselle river, which was to become the capital city of the western Roman Empire in the fourth century. With ancient monuments such as the Imperial Baths, the Amphitheater, or the famous black city gate, the Porta Nigra, Trier provides an extraordinarily rich insight into Germany's Ancient Roman history. The Roman architecture and the Cathedral of St. Peter, with the adjacent Church of Our Lady, have belonged to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1986. The cathedral is over 1,700 years old, making it the oldest church in Germany. Small wonder that the building presents virtually every architectural style in European history.
Our next destination is a monument of industrial history located just a little further south: the Völklingen Ironworks, founded in 1873, where the blast furnaces, coke ovens, overhead monorails and gas blower halls loom in the sky like rusty dinosaurs. In the last century, thousands of steel workers sweated over the glowing blast furnaces, but today visitors to the ironworks can see concerts and art and technology exhibitions. In 1994, the Völklingen Ironworks became the first modern industrial monument in Germany to become a World Heritage Site. The well-preserved integrity of the industrial complex makes the Völklingen Ironworks unique in western Europe.
A good 160 kilometers further west, we reach Lorsch Abbey. Founded as a small monastery in the eighth century, it rose to become a privileged abbey in the ninth. Many rulers visited the abbey, and a number of medieval German kings were buried here. An ostentatiously decorated gate hall in the pre-Romanesque style – the so-called King's Hall – is the only building to have escaped unharmed from a catastrophic fire in 1090. The gate hall was probably built in the ninth century and is one of the rarest monuments from the period of Carolingian rule. Together with the other archaeological remains on the site, Lorsch Abbey has been a World Heritage Site since 1991.
The imposing Speyer Cathedral awaits us a little further south. The imperial cathedral is the largest surviving Romanesque church in Europe. It was built during the reign of the Salian dynasty, which provided Germany's emperors from 1027 onwards. Numerous wars have turned the building to rubble and ash since the 17th century, but it was consistently rebuilt, so the cathedral also illustrates 200 years of monument conservation methods in Germany. Speyer Cathedral became Germany's second World Heritage Site in 1981.
The last stop on our route is the Maulbronn Monastery Complex, a former Cistercian abbey that has been a World Heritage Site since 1993. Many reconstructions of medieval monastery complexes are based on this site, as it is the best-preserved monastery north of the Alps. It displays an extensive palette of architectural styles: from the early, austere monastery church in the late Romanesque style to the richly adorned early Gothic dining hall.