Frontiers of the Roman Empire - Lower German Limes
Lower German Limes is part of the Tentative list of Germany in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.
The Lower German Limes was the north-eastern border of the Roman province Germania Inferior along the Rhine between the North Sea coast in the Netherlands and the Rhine south of Bonn where the Upper Germanic-Rhaetian Limes starts. The German part consists of 25 components and includes the remains of forts, legionary camps, civil settlements, cemeteries and roads. Most of the structures have been preserved underground. Original remains are visible at the Archaeological Park Xanten, the Haus Bürgel in Monheim, the Cologne Praetorium, and in Iversheim.
Map of Frontiers of the Roman Empire - Lower German LimesLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
The nomination of the Lower German Limes is scheduled for 2021. The German part of this TWHS includes 25 components, some of which have multiple locations. However, not much is left of the Limes section along the Lower Rhine today, only very few original remains are visible, most remains have been preserved underground. Hence it seems more than questionable whether the Lower German Limes could add anything significant to the already inscribed parts of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire.
The Dutch nomination website provides the entire nomination dossier including maps. Based on this information, I have identified the following locations of the German part, where original remains are visible:
- Xanten Colonia Ulpia Traiana (CUT) (id 27), an archaeological park
- Monheim Haus Bürgel (id 35), remains of the original walls are visible in walls of the later medieval and modern estate
- Cologne Praetorium (id 37), the former Palace of the Roman govenor; remains are shown in an underground museum
- Iversheim (id 43), remains of six lime kilns
I visited Xanten and Iversheim in summer 2020. The Praetorium in Cologne was closed due to construction works (until 2021), the area is being redesigned into an archaeological zone. And the Haus Bürgel didn’t seem worth the detour.
Xanten was once one of the largest and most important Roman settlements in the Germanic provinces. The archaeological park encompasses the boundaries of the historic Colonia Ulpia Traiana. It is a large but almost empty area. Near the main entrance, some buildings have been reconstructed: the city wall, an amphitheater, a Roman hostel and craftsmen's houses, as well as the ruins of an harbour temple (it's a bit strange to reconstruct a temple as a ruin, isn't it?). These reconstructions certainly serve their purpose of illustrating life in Roman times, but for a WH enthusiast only the original stuff counts, of course. And that is rather sparse in Xanten: a few excavated foundation walls and remnants of sewers and water pipes in the outdoor area. And most importantly, the foundations of the vestibule of the Great Baths, which can be visited in the basement of the Roman Museum. The museum isn't bad, but it displays more or less the same items as other Roman museums. In recent years I have visited quite a few of these local museums along the German Limes, so that I am no longer very enthusiastic about them.
The lime kilns in Iversheim were more interesting, although I wouldn't say the site is overwhelming or a must-see. The kilns are remains of an early industrial facility, operated by the Romans to produce quicklime from local dolomite. Quicklime is a major component of mortar, which was required in large quantities for stone buildings. The site is rather small: six kilns in a row, each about 3 meters in diameter (photo). Four kilns are covered by a protective building, a fifth kiln has been reconstructed and put into operation in order to recreate the burning process as it was in Roman times; the last one is not visible.
The site has limited opening hours, from May to October on weekends and public holidays. I spent a bit more time there than actually required for a proper visit. I had a nice conversation with two volunteers from the local historical association that runs the site. So far they rely on donations, but hopefully after inscription they will receive more support from the administrative authorities to further maintain the site and extend the opening hours.
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.
Read more from Els Slots here.
Renominated under the same name but with a different id
2015 Added to Tentative List
The site has 25 locations