Blog TWHS Visits

Lower German Limes: Xanten

Frontiers of the Roman Empire - Lower German Limes, together with the Dutch Limes TWHS, is scheduled to be nominated in 2021. Together they form the 3rd of 4 clusters of separate stretches of the Roman frontiers up for inclusion, after the already inscribed UK/German one plus the ‘western Danube Limes’ (2019) and before the ‘eastern Danube Limes’ (2022). The Lower German Limes is concentrated along the river Rhine, which acted as a natural border of the Roman province of Germania Inferior.

I had ‘been’ to its Dutch counterpart already in 2011, which was a very underwhelming experience. Both Lower German parts together are said to comprise 55 locations. Among the locations in Germany, it’s hard to say which stand out so much that they warrant a visit. I choose Xanten, which is home to 4 of the locations ánd has a well-developed archaeological park plus Roman museum within its borders.

Xanten is a mid-sized town just across the Dutch/German border near Nijmegen. In Roman times it was the site of the Roman city of Colonia Ulpia Traiana. The proposed locations include a road, a defensive structure, the late Roman fortress Tricensima and the legionary fortress Vetera. The tentative site description at the UNESCO website puts them somewhere off the coast of Somalia, but by turning the coordinates around I could trace them back to modern day Xanten. At least Tricensima is part of the Roman archaeological park, the others may be slightly outside.

The Xanten Archaeological Park is a large, open area where various buildings have been rebuilt in their original dimensions at exactly the same location as the former Roman colony. They include the city wall with guard posts, an amphitheatre, an inn and a temple. The amphitheatre has been fully re-erected, but the Harbour Temple has been reconstructed as a ruin. That is of course a bit odd if you try to imitate a city in Roman times: at that time it was of course intact and probably a colourful affair. And there is more that is missing: between these large 'monuments' lie neat green lawns. But this was a city with 10,000 inhabitants in Antiquity, so where have all the houses and shops gone?

At the far end of the park stands a large, modern building made of iron and glass: this is the reconstructed entrance hall to the Roman baths. It now houses the Roman Museum. Spread over a number of floors, it exhibits Roman findings from Xanten. Xanten has long been an important military site, so it is not surprising that army helmets, spears and swords play a prominent role in the exhibition. You can also see the reconstructed ancient Roman baths from the higher floors of the museum - this was the largest public building of the Roman city. Outside lie some stone blocks that originate from the Roman buildings, but were used in the Middle Ages to build the 'modern' city of Xanten. Some underground sewers have also been excavated.

Among things Roman, this is really a minor site. While I already expressed doubts about giving WH status to Nimes, I’d rate this at yet another level lower. Nimes at least has 2 major monuments left from Antiquity; Xanten only has a sewage system and some foundations! Nimes and Xanten are also comparable as they both were provincial Roman colonies of about 10,000 – 20,000 inhabitants. And both have recently constructed museums about life in Roman times which are quite similar in value.

Els - 31 March 2019

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Peter A. 13 April 2019

Today (13/04/2019) I visited Xanten. Original this was not my plan, I prepared Remagen for my tour Germany later this summer and I was still hesitating (searching) what to visit more, because Remagen is a small location. But Xanten was what I was looking for ! (And posible in a daytrip for me) Thnx Els for the review two weeks ago ! And two weeks ago I visited Tongeren, so for a while I have seen enough Roman sites.

Zoƫ Sheng 31 March 2019

Hey cool, I went to there once, maybe enjoyed the bouncy castle part more than the ruins ;) Also I was surprised to find a town called "Xanten" that sounds so un-German still keeping the original name and not change to "Santen".
Think it would be a nice extension to the WHS.