Sunday, January 25, 2009


Just north of Essen along the banks of the Rhine is the site of a former Roman settlement. The town is now called Xanten but at one time, the camp, Castra Vetera II, was the largest military camp in the Roman Empire with two full legions of soldiers. A Roman city grew up around the military camp and it flourished for several hundred years until it was finally sacked and destroyed by the Franks in about 250 AD. The present day Xanten was built not on the site of the former city but at a site on a hill about a twenty minute walk down river. Stones from the Roman city were used as building materials, but the otherwise the site remained largely undisturbed. Now it''s been thoroughly excavated and a fabulous museum has recently opened there.

Naturally, Thore came along for the visit. Together we strolled through a marvel of planning, design and inventive display techniques. Visitors follow a specific path which winds through the museum and ascends through several levels. As you walk along the path you begin at the earliest years of the military camp and move through time as the city develops into the metropolis of Colonia Ulpia Traiana. Artifacts are displayed in a way that is striking visually, but also brings the former inhabitants to life. A good example was a vitrine filled with small articles thrown into a pool dedicated to a local god of war: coins, buttons, jewelry and other small treasures. Other artifacts included gravestones that are displayed at "kid-level" and a friendly museum guard had to point out to Thore that if every visitor touched the exhibits, the natural grease (and in Thore's case, Kartoffelbrei) on their hands would damage them. She directed us to an area where some "hands on" items were displayed that we could pick up and examine.

There is also a covered Roman bath house excavation adjacent to the museum and a large archeological park that we decided not to visit, given the fading daylight and chill wind blowing off the Rhine. The nearby town has a beautiful cathedral and will be worth a visit when the weather warms up. We'll check out the park then too and have an ice cream cone, assuming Thore is allowed to eat ice cream at that point. Maybe we'll have to celebrate with a Vollkornbrötchen instead, but either way, I'm looking forward to it.


Rebecca H said...

Where did you pick up your thoroughly charming little travel companion?

Christopher T. Terry said...

Thore is the son of a former student from my first visit to Germany in 1994-95. He is, indeed, thoroughly charming. For more of his adventures, see the the keyword "Kinderbetreuung" in the blog archive.