A Swiss butterfly in Slovakia: Strečno and Terchová

End of August 2021, I am on the road, to Berlin via Slovakia and Poland. My route: Munich, in Slovakia: BratislavaTrnava NitraŽilina – Strečno and Terchová – Dolny Kubin, then in Poland: Wilkowisko – Cracow – Szlarska Poreba – Wroclaw, and finally Berlin. 

It is raining, when I leave “my” Central Hotel at Žilina after a quiet night. I am heading north-east to the Mala Fatra mountains. After a few kilometers, I notice a signboard pointing to Strečno. I turn right and follow the signs.

 

The mysterious Strečno castle in the mist

After some more kilometers another signpost points upwards and says: “panoramic view of the Strečno castle“. A narrow road takes me up into the hills. I reach a large parking area, leave my car here, walk to the panoramic view point and here it is, the Strečno castle surrounded by mist. 

The fortification is located 12km east of Žilina and was first mentioned in 1316. To beat the resistance of the locals, the Habsburgian emperor Leopold I destroyed Strečno in 1698. It was reconstructed after 1990 and opened as a museum in 1995.  

The Strečno castle sits on a steep cliff above the river Vah…

… and the village.

The viewpoint has been carefully set up…

… with a small restaurant, where I have a coffee break.

Kids must love this place with all the kitschy stuff and the playgrounds.

There is even a (plastic) cow on a rusty van. Well, I imagine crowds of families with kids spending a Saturday or a Sunday afternoon here.

After this wonderful break, I continue my way to Terchová.

 

Pozor – zebra na ceste

Pozor means “watch out” and “na ceste” means “on the road”. 

Well, there is not exactly a “zebra” here. Just a pedestrian crossing. I do like this Slovakian humour.  

Nearby is this small hotel. I admire the adventurous cabling. 

 

Terchová – a mountain resort that venerates Jánošik born here

Juraj Jánošik was the Robin Hood of Slovakia (he is also venerated in Poland). The museum tells his story. 

Born in 1688, he participated in insurrections. When his father was killed by Habsburgian tax collectors for not having paid his taxes in time, Jánošik started to rob noblemen and merchants distributing the goods to the poor. He is said never to have applied violence. He was arrested and executed in 1711, though a good lawyer defended him claiming that he had never committed a murder and was driven by the wish to help the poor in the mountains (Müller, p. 220).

Terchová is a mountain resort that invites to hike in the area, even in the rain.

A wooden lookout is located above the village.

I return to my car and continue my way to Dolny Kubin.

 

Crossing the Mala Fatra

To cross the mountain range of the Mala Fatra, my car has to climb up to a pass. I look back, where Terchová is located between green meadows and soft hills.

Then I look westwards in the direction of Dolny Kubin. 

I understand that touching… 

… this wonderful stone will bring me luck. I do wish to continue my tour safely and to enjoy wonderful days with my friends in Poland.

The nearby farm invites children to meet their animals. Nice.

The Mala Fatra seems to be a welcoming region inviting to relax and hike following the tracks of Jánošik, the local Robin Hood.

 

To recapitulate: This is my route through Slovakia

Today, I drive from Žilina to Dolny Kubin with two stop overs to see the castle Strečno and Jánošik’s village Terchová.

 

Sources:

  • André Micklitza, ” Slowakei”, Michael Müller Verlag 2019
  • Frieder Monzer, “Slowakei”, Trescher Verlag 2018

A Swiss butterfly in Slovakia: Trenčianske Teplice and Žilina

End of August 2021, I am on the road again, to Berlin via Slovakia and Poland. My route: Munich, next in Slovakia: BratislavaTrnavaNitra – Žilina – Dolny Kubin, then in Poland: Wilkowisko – Cracow – Szlarska Poreba – Wroclaw, and finally Berlin. 

Now I have a lunch stop at Trenčianske Teplice and then I stay overnight in Žilina. 

 

Lunch stop at Trenčianske Teplice

My friends have told me about Trenčianske Teplice, a health resort in the Strážovské Vrchy mountains. I cross the mountains and reach the shady valley of the Teplička that later flows into the Váh river. The village Trenčianske Teplice is a health resort with larger and smaller hotels and spas, surrounded by hills that promise nice hiking. 

I park my car near the church.

I stroll through the wide pedestrian area. I am hungry, it is lunch time.

At Zuzi’s, I eat Bryndzové Halušky, the national dish of Slovakia. It is potato dumplings (a bit like gnocchi) with sheep cheese and bacon. It tastes interesting and after the meal, I am no longer hungry. However, I would not eat Bryndzové Halušky too often… my apologies, Stefan. 

Trenčianske Teplice is surely a  nice place to stay – I would love to hike in the surrounding hills (well, I am not the spa type of person). 

I enter my parking ticket – and the parking meter asks me to pay 50 Euros for about two hours. I cancel, ask in the restaurant nearby, the young waitor accompanies me and shows me the right button to press. Now I have to pay 50 cents. Much better. Thank you!

I leave Trenčianske Teplice and follow the Váh valley on the highway that connects Bratislava with Žilina. Near Žilina, the valley gets narrower. To reach the exit “Juh” (south), I have to drive through endless tunnels and have to cross one bridge after the next, until I reach the city.

 

One night at Žilina with some time to stroll through the city centre

I have booked a room in the hotel Central Park on Sad SNP. I oscillate quite a bit, until I find the entry to the dead end street and to the hotel. Now I understand – “SNP Sad” means “SNP garden”. My hotel Central Park borders the “railway garden” or “railway park”  and is located on a dead end street. All very promising for a quiet night. 

I walk through the park and reach the Andrej Hlinku square, where some political propaganda about Europe is going on.

Above the square is the Trinity Cathedral, located on the hill. It is under restoration. It is dark inside, I cannot see anything. 

The statues of Methodius and Cyril with their orthodox cross greet me on the way up to the Cathedral. The Byzantine cross has decorated the coat of arms of Žilina since 1378, as I read on Wikipedia.

The gem of the pedestrian city centre is the Maria square. 

The statue of Maria dominates it.

Restaurants invite to sit down and have a drink or dinner. People enjoy walking around and sitting on the benches. I feel like in a Mediterranean country, though it is pretty chilly now. 

The pretty old town hall is still in use. The coat of arms decorates the roof. 

The church of St. Paul the Apostle is being renovated as well. 

Small streets lead away from the Maria square and invite me to stroll around.

Some interesting Art Nouveau houses on the way. 

Nearby I find the New Synagogue, which is now a cultural centre. It was built in 1928-31.

Why all is so much renovation work going on in Žilina? Later I find the answer: Žilina has been nominated for European Capital of Culture in 2026. This may be the reason. In 2026, the Holy Trinity Cathedral and Saint Paul church have to demonstrate that the city is worth the honour. Perhaps I should return in 2026 to explore these churches and to visit more sights at Žilina; I now read about the Romanesque Church of Saint Stephen the King from the early 13th century that is decorated with frescoes.  

I have dinner on the Maria square and return to my Central Park Hotel. It is quiet and I sleep well. An excellent choice!

 

A look at the map

From Nitra to Žilina I drove about 180km, along the Nitra river,across the Strážovské Vrchy mountains (which is a pleonasm, as “vrchy” means peaks or mountains) and then along the Váh river.

SourceElevation map of Slovakia

Sources:

  • André Micklitza, ” Slowakei”, Michael Müller Verlag 2019
  • Frieder Monzer, “Slowakei”, Trescher Verlag 2018

A Swiss butterfly in Slovakia: Nitra

End of August 2021, I am on the road again, to Berlin via Slovakia and Poland. My route: Munich, in Slovakia: BratislavaTrnava – Nitra – Žilina – Terchová – Dolny Kubin, then in Poland: Wilkowisko – Cracow – Szlarska Poreba – Wroclaw, and finally Berlin. 

Nitra is my next destination. It was here that during the Great Moravian Empire, Cyril and Methodius translated the bible to the Slavic language in the late 9th century. Their successors were expelled later and introduced the Slavic bible in Macedonia and Bulgaria. Cyril and Methodius are venerated in Slovakia, though the country is a Roman catholic country today. The orthodox cross is on the coat of arms of Slovakia.

I had selected the hotel 11 because of the terrace with the view of the castle hill. Coming from Trnava, I settle and first have a coffee on the hotel terrace, enjoying the great view of the castle hill with the cathedral, the religious centre of Nitra.

 

Overview of my tour as a Swiss butterfly through Slovakia

Source: Elevation map of Slovakia

 

The historic castle hill of Nitra with St. Emmeram Cathedral

I climb up the castle hill using the Samova street and crossing the Pribina square with the Pribina statue and the beautiful baroque palaces.

Pribina is the first known ruler at Nitra that is of Slavic origin (around 860). 

Passing the monument reminding of Cyryl and Methodius, I reach the Maria column that parallels the belfry of the cathedral.

Graceful angels are surrounding Maria.

The cathedral is behind the fortification wall. 

Inside the cathedral, I climb up the stairs – and I notice this new kind of holy water. 

Yes, we go through a pandemic right now and disinfectants are important.

The cathedral consists out of three churches. At the highest point is the Baroque church.

I like the trompe-oeuil painting with the people at the window. 

In the lower church, this beautiful Gothic fresco of the death and coronation of the Virgin Mary has been uncovered during the restoration works of 2005-2014. 

On the opposite side of the fresco, I admire the representation of the deposition from the cross and the burial of Christ (Johannes Pernegger, 1622).

The third church hides behind the Gothic church. It is of Romanesque style, from the 12th century.

I look back at the cathedral from outside.

Behind the fortification walls, I find a bar with this beautiful view of the city and the mountain Zobor.

 

Strolling around in the pedestrian area in the lower city centre

Nitra has set up its pedestrian area with care. You can shop here and restaurants invite to sit down.

This Renaissance Revival building from around 1880 was the town hall and is now the regional museum. 

Nitra is proud of its singing clock. My Müller guidebook says that the melody plays at midday, but I heard it several times in the late afternoon, while having dinner.

Near the pedestrian area, I visit the Synagogue built around 1910 combining Moorish, Byzantine and Jugendstil elements. 

I enter and admire the solemn atmosphere with the cushions on the floor that invite to pray. 

On the way to my hotel, I come across the Baroque Ladislaus church that is part of the Piarist monastery. The Piarists founded their catholic order in the early 17th century to teach children and youth. 

 

The warm summer evening on the terrace with the footballer’s wine and the view of the castle hill

I return to my hotel 11 to enjoy the warm summer evening on their terrace. At the reception bar, I select a wine from Hamšík winery. Hamšík is THE football player of Slovakia. While playing football in Italy, he learnt about wine and wineries and now, he sells his wine that is famous in Slovakia. What a great plan for his future, when he will no longer be a football star.

With my glass of wine I sit on the balcony of the hotel 11 and enjoy the view of the castle at twilight…

… and then at night. 

I stay here until midnight. I know, this is the last warm summer evening… rain is announced for the night. The ugly summer 2021 that I have experienced in Basel will catch up with me again now.

 

Drazovce – the pretty church Saint Michael north of Nitra on a hill

After a good breakfast at my hotel 11, I buy some Slovakian wine in the shop nearby. Then I leave the city in search of the small Romanesque church Saint Michael from the early 12th century at Drazovce. It turns out to be difficult to find the village and the church.

First, my GPS takes me south to another place called also Drazovce. I notice that after a few kilometers and return to Nitra. My GPS now guides me north on the express way to Drazovce-Nitra. However, the exit to Drazovce is closed due to construction work. It takes me quite some time to find the detour to the village. I park my car in the village, follow a small foot path and find this chapel full of atmosphere. It was worth the effort!

From here, I have a magnificent view south, to Nitra with the Castle hill and the Cathedral.

Before I drive north towards Teplice, I stop to take another photo of this marvellous church above the rock. 

Thank you, my Müller guidebook, for having pointed me to the chapel Saint Michael.

Perhaps I will return to Nitra one day to visit the castle hill with the cathedral once more, to climb the mountain Zobor and to taste wines at the vineyards around Nitra. 

 

Sources:

  • André Micklitza, ” Slowakei”, Michael Müller Verlag 2019
  • Frieder Monzer, “Slowakei”, Trescher Verlag 2018

A Swiss butterfly in Slovakia: Trnava

End of August 2021, I am on the road again, to Berlin via Slovakia and Poland. My route: Munich, in Slovakia: Bratislava – Trnava – Nitra – Zilina – Dolny Kubin, then in Poland: Wilkowisko – Cracow – Szlarska Poreba – Wroclaw, and finally Berlin. 

This blog is about Trnava.

I leave Bratislava on Sunday morning. On the motorway, it takes me about 45 minutes to Trnava.

I am interested in this small city of about 70’000 inhabitants, because for centuries it was the Christian centre of the Hungarian kingdom, from 1541 to 1820; actually the Turks had occupied most of Hungary and what was left of Hungary at that time was about the area of Slovakia.

Furthermore Trnava has a nice pedestrian area and the city wall has been well preserved. 

I park my car near St. James church (belonging to the Franciscan monastery). It is Sunday and parking is free.

The loudspeaker transmits the service to the street; some guests listen to it outside the church. 

The Trinity Square is the focal point of Trnava city centre. It is dominated by the Renaissance town hall belfry from 1574. 

The Trinity church that gives it name to the square, is in the street nearby. It is a baroque church from 1729.

In addition, the elegant theatre built in 1831 borders the Trinity Square. It is the oldest theatre in Slovakia.

Numerous restaurants invite to sit down and enjoy the warm Sunday morning. The concrete block belongs to a shopping mall, not really my taste.

Pretty two storey houses and some palaces line the pedestrian streets. Here I am looking back at the Trinity Square and St. James church.

Turning 180 degrees, I can see Saint Nicolas church, the main church of Trnava, between the carefully restored palaces. 

Also here, the service is transmitted outside.

Once the service has finished, I enter Saint Nicolas church with its gothic appearance.

Saint Nicolas church was built in 1440 and served as the cathedral of the Hungarian archbishopric of Esztergom.

Behind Saint Nicolas church, the city wall has been restored with care and the park invites to sit down in the sun.

Amidst the beautifully restored houses, some are sorely decaying.

Not far from here I find Baroque Saint John’s Basilika, the church of the university of Trnava, built in the 17th century. 

There is a Jewish centre with the Synagogue and a coffee place.

Trnava is a welcoming small city that I enjoyed to discover.

To round off my walk in Trnava, I have lunch in the restaurant right across Saint Nicolas church – salad with chicken – and then continue my way to Nitra. 

Sources:

  • André Micklitza, ” Slowakei”, Michael Müller Verlag 2019
  • Frieder Monzer, “Slowakei”, Trescher Verlag 2018

A Swiss butterfly in Slovakia: Bratislava

End of August 2021, I am on the road again, to Berlin via Slovakia and Poland. My route: Munich, in Slovakia: Bratislava – Nitra – Zilena – Dolny Kubin, then in Poland: Wilkowisko – Cracow – Szlarska Poreba – Wroclaw, and finally Berlin. 

After a wonderful day with my long year friend(almost sixty years) in Munich, I continue my way to Bratislava. On Friday night, August 20th, I park my car under the Opera in the city centre. Nearby, I have booked a room in the hotel Art William at Laurinska street. The hotel hides in the yellow building with the arcades – a lady speaking Russian (and enjoying it) helps me to find the entry.

The hotel  was good for sleeping quietly, as the windows open to a courtyard. However, I  had to live with the somewhat sloppy service (breakfast out  of plastic boxes, room not cleaned up). 

 

After having arrived in the evening, I explore the city centre, a pretty and busy pedestrian area

Leaving my hotel, I find myself in the middle of the pedestrian area of Bratislava. 

The Ulica Ursulinska is the first street branching off from Laurinska. 

Here this shop invites me to buy flowers.

At the end of Laurinska, the “man at work” attracts tourists to make selfies. What a wonderful humour. 

There are many more such statues in the city centre.

Beautiful palaces line the streets such as the Rokoko Mirbach palace near the main square.

The Hviezdoslavovo námestie borders the pedestrian area. The memorial commemorates the poet and literature translator Hviezdoslav (1849-1921) who helped shape the Slovak language.

The square looks more like an alley. The people enjoy the warm summer evening under the trees. Many restaurants are inviting for coffee with cake or for dinner.

Now I am in Ulica Kapitulska and look into Farska, towards Kostol Pvysenia Svateho Kriza (Resurrection Church). I like the two lizards.

Night falls. I am at the main square (Hlavné Námestie) with the old city hall (the tower is from the 13th century). Just next to the city hall is the baroque church of the Jesuits. The Maximilian fountain (also called Roland fountain) has been constructed in 1572 by order of Maximilian II, king of Hungary.  

It is getting dark. The warm summer evening invites people to sit sit outside, which makes me believe that I am somewhere in Italy. 

In the dark, the network of streets confuse me. I discover this view of the city hall tower “from behind”. 

Then I find Saint George adorning this elegant courtyard.

Back in Ursulinska, I have a cold drink in a cosy courtyard. 

 

Back in the city centre by daylight

In the morning and at daylight, I return to the city hall approaching it from “behind” through the courtyard.

From here the city hall tower can also be seen. Some open air performance seems to take place.

Across the city hall is this art nouveau building; I took the photo with the Maximilian fountain in the foreground.

Also on the main square, Napoleon leans over the bench, cross-armed. Another one of the charming statues.

Michael’s gate is under restoration. The gate originates from the 14th century and was renovated by Maria Theresa in the 18th century. It is the only gate of the Bratislava fortification wall that remains today. 

 

Saint Martin’s Cathedral

Saint Martin’s Cathedral is bordering the city centre. The expressway, built in the 1970’s, cuts brutally between the old city centre and the castle hill. The relatively modest church was the place, where 18 kings of Hungary were crowned in three centuries, and therefore a copy of Stephan’s crown tops the belfry.  

The neighbourhood of Saint Martin’s Cathedral was the Jewish quarter with the Synagogue, all destroyed, when the expressway was built. The exhibition commemorates the former Jewish settlement. 

The church has an unostentatious appearance inside. As a protestant (used to unostentatious churches) I would say, the atmosphere invites to meditate.

The statue of  Saint Martin had once been part of the altar from the 17th century. The altar, including Saint Martin, was removed, when the cathedral was purified from baroque elements to appear in gothic style again. Later, the beautiful Saint Martin, dressed like a Hungarian hussar, returned to the church. He is cutting his coat to give half of it to the beggar.

 

Climbing the castle hill

A tunnel allows to get to the castle hill. It is separated from the old town by the express way that leads to the hanging bridge with the “Ufo”, which is topped by the restaurant high above the Danube and above the busy traffic.  

The entrance to the castle area is open.

From the terrace, I enjoy the view of the city centre of Bratislava with Saint Martins Cathedral and the Danube. You can see well, how the express way cuts into the heart of Bratislava.

The castle hill has an old tradition. It had been used by the Romans. It withstood all attacks during medieval times and was restored by Maria Theresa for her son-in-law Albert von Sachsen-Teschen. Then the castle decayed. It was restored again after 1945, to the appearance of the 17th century.

Behind the castle, the well-groomed baroque garden invites to sit down.

Another option for a rest are the “castle” chairs below the castle.

I leave out all the museums offered inside the castle to avoid being exposed to Covid. 

I find a cosy coffee place near the statue of the witch and then return to the city centre.

 

The Grassalkovich palace is where the president resides

To the north of the city centre, the Grassalkovich palace has been beautifully restored to become the seat of Slovakia’s president.  

The park behind the palace is open to the public.

Maria Theresia is venerated here. Majestically she rides the horse.

 

The Elisabeth church, also called blue church: Joyful Jugendstil

My guidebook proposes to visit the Elisabeth church or “blue church” to the east of the city centre. 

Built around 1910, it is a fine example of the Hungarian Jugendstil. 

It is not the only Jugendstil building in Bratislava, but it is said to be the most beautiful example – and I like it.

 

Good-bye Bratislava

After a delicious dinner with an excellent local Slovak wine of Miro Fondrk, I end my day in this small court yard in Ursulinska drinking a fruit juice made out of lemon and kiwi.

Stefan, your home town is marvellous! You must have missed it, after having left it in 1968. Great that you can visit it again.

 

Some background information about the history of Slovakia

Until 470 A.D.: Celts, Romans and Huns

  • 100 B.C.: Bratislava is a Celtic settlement at the so called amber trade route.
  • Until 370 A.D.: The Romans have temporary settlements in the area.
  • Until 455: The Huns invade the area.

Until 10th century: The Slavs arrive, are then ruled by the Avars, become independent (king Samo, Nitrava) and then part of the Great Moravia State. It is now that Cyril and Methodius, requested by Moravia from Byzantium, translate the Bible to Slavic. (Though Slovakia is a Roman catholic country today, the orthodox cross is part of the coat of arms. In addition Cyril and Methodius are venerated in the country).

  • 5th century: In the migration period, the Slavs arrive. There was a fortress at Bratislava.
  • 6th century: The Avars arrive and subdue the Slavs.
  • 623/24: The Slavs stand up, guided by the Franconian merchant Samo. Samo becomes king of the Slavs and rules until 658/58. After his death, there are no reported chronicles.
  • Around 800: Two major empires, Nitrava and Moravia, are reported.
  • 833: Moravia subdues Nitrava. The Great Moravian State is a Christian Empire that reports into Franconia and then reaches out to Byzantium. 
  • 864: Byzantium sends the brothers Cyril and Methodius to Nitra. They translate the Bible to Slavic to make it accessible for the population. The Pope approves Slavic for liturgy, along with Greek and Latin. Cyril dies in Rome and Methodius is appointed as the Moravian archbishop (870-885). After his death, the priests sticking to the Slavic liturgy are expelled. They move to Macedonia (Clement) and Bulgaria (here supported by tsar Boris I). 
  • The Great Moravian State exists until 906.

906-1918 Today’s Slovakia is part of Hungary and, after the defeat of Corvinus by the Turks, it is what remains from Hungary, inherited by Habsburg that step by step reconquers Hungary from the Turks

  • Around 900: The Hungarians immigrate and, in 906, conquer, what is Slovakia today.
  • 1241: The Mongolians invade and attack the fortress of Bratislava. It withstands their attacks. 
  • 13th century: Jews and Germans settle.
  • 1521: Slovakia switches to the protestant religion (and will move back to the catholic belief in the 17th century).
  • 1526: The Hungarian king Corvinus is defeated by the Turks.
  • 1536: The area of Slovakia is more or less all that remains from Hungary. By inheritance it belongs to the Habsburgians that make Bratislava the capital of Hungary. 
  • 1563-1830: The coronation of the (Habsburgian) kings takes place in Saint Martin’s church at Bratislava.
  • 18th century: Maria Theresa enjoys residing in Bratislava and promotes the city. Palaces in the city centre tell us about this. 
  • 1731: Emperor Joseph II moves the Hungarian capital back to Budapest and Bratislava is now a “suburb” of Vienna. 
  • The Slovak self confidence continues to exist. Several times, the Slovaks rise against the Habsburgians – without success. In 1787, Antony Bernolák creates a unified Slovak script. However, the Hungarian upper class enforces Hungarian as official language, also for schools. In September 1848 there is a major Slovak uprisin. 

1918-1992: For 70 years, Slovakia is part of Czechoslovakia, though being independent during the Second World War

  • 1918 Czechoslovakia is founded with Prague as the capital. Though part of this country, Bratislava feels more related to Austria or Hungary.
  • 1939-1945 Slovakia is independent, guided by president Josef Tiso.
  • 1945 Czechoslovakia is established by brutal force and Slovakia becomes a federative republic.
  • 1948 Slovakia loses the status as a federative republic.
  • 1990 Slovakia becomes a federative republic again within Czechoslovakia.

1992 – today: Since almost 30 years, Slovakia has been independent with the capital Bratislava. 

  • 1992 Slovakia becomes an independent state. 
  • 2004 Slovakia joins the Nato and the European Union.
  • 2009 Slovakia introduces the Euro.

 

Sources:

  • André Micklitza, ” Slowakei”, Michael Müller Verlag 2019
  • Frieder Monzer, “Slowakei”, Trescher Verlag 2018
  • Wikipedia entries about Slovakia, Great Moravia, and the Glagolitic Script

Around Basel: Augusta Raurica from the craft house to the temple of Grienmatt

So far we have explored the Roman city of Augusta Raurica, first its history and the city centre. Then we moved on to more “remote sights” and investigated the Roman Castrum and the show room under the church at Kaiseraugst.

Now, we visit the other more “remote” sights of Augusta Raurica, including the animal park.

On the plan of the Roman remains, our next destinations are: 10 (craft house), 14-17 (brick manufacture, town wall, tomb, east gate, animal park), 18 (cloaca and cellar), 12 (outer amphitheatre) and 11 (Grienmatt temple). Further remains of the town wall can be seen south of (12) crossing the motorway.  

 

Source: Tourism map on homepage of Augusta Raurica

 

The craft house complex (Gewerbehaus, 10)

Next to the noisy main road (Kantonsstrasse), the ruins of three houses have been preserved, one being a former fullery (Tuchwalkerei) and one a former restaurant. Panels make the ruins come to life. This is what the craft house complex might have looked like in Roman times…

… and these are some of the ruins that remained from the restaurant.

The craft house complex was bordering the old Roman road connecting Rhaetia with Gaul. I start to dream of the passers-by that entered the restaurant here to have a beer (“cervisia” in Latin) and a meal.  

 

The brick manufacture (Ziegelei, 17)

Ruins of a brick manufacture are in the residential area Liebrüti.

The Romans used baked clay for tiles and bricks. They were particularly useful for their heating installations. The Romans had standardized the production, as the explanatory panel explains.

The factory is closed. I look at the ruins through the mirroring glass.

 

The tomb (Grabmonument, 15)  

A few meters south from Liebrüti is the area with the tomb (15), the east gate (14) and the animal park (16).

These are the remains of the tomb.

As the panel explains, the tomb monument was round, about 5m high and covered, a bit like a tea kettle.

Next to the tomb I admire, how the Romans built their bridges. Some sandstone building blocks are on display.

Again, everything is documented carefully to bring the ruins to life.  

 

The east gate (Osttor, 14)

This is what the east gate once looked like. Constructing the defensive wall around Augusta Raurica had started in the late first century AD, but the walls had never been completed. Even the east gate was not really a gate, but just two towers.

This is one of the two towers.

 

South of the residential area Liebrüti and close to the brick factory, part of the eastern fortification wall has been preserved.

South of the amphitheatre (12) the motorway cuts through the town wall. On the southern bank of the motorway, one part of the fortification wall has been carefully marked, just in front of a traffic sign.  

 

I have to admit, it took me some time to identify the wall across the scrubs. Furthermore I have to admit that I must have passed by this historical monument hundreds of times in my car without noticing it. Again I am impressed, how well marked it is and how well explained it is on the panel that I now discovered on the way to the outer amphitheatre.

 

The animal park (14)

Near the east gate, the small animal park must be the kids favourite. It is a collection of ProSpecieRara animals that allude to the animals the Romans once had. The black pigs love the warm sun.

The geese walk around their pond, chattering at me. The Romans valued them much, because their chattering once saved Rome (387 B.C., when Celts tried to conquer the Capitoline Hill, the geese chattered and warned the citizens of Rome).

There are some Roux du Valais, a species of sheep that was saved from extinction thanks to ProSpecieRara. They look at me from behind the fence. 

 

The peacock seems to have a nap. Pretty complicated to lie down with all these feathers.

I have visited this charming small animal park so many times. I have watched the kids admire the animals so many times. And only recently, I have discovered the pink panel that explains the origins and the use of the animals. For instance, rich Romans held a peacock in their garden, because it is a beautiful animal. They also liked to eat the meat and used the feathers as a fan or as decoration.

 

Yes, every time I return to Augusta Raurica, I discover something that I have not taken notice of so far. The archaeologists have done an encompassing job of documenting it all.

I meet the guardian looking after the animals. I ask him, whether he is an archaeologist that also looks after the animals (perhaps it is his hobby), and he answers: “No, no, there also “normal” people working for the Augusta Raurica Foundation, not only archaeologists.” Nice.

 

Water channel (cloaca) and cellar(18)

These panels in the middle of the open field point to the water channel (cloaca) and to the cellar under the former Roman baths in the upper city centre. In the background we see the modern residential area Liebrüti.

Not much is visible from the central baths built in the 1st century AD, only the channel that drained the water from the baths. The floor is made from sandstone and the walls are covered with limestone, as the panel explains.

The cellar under the former baths belonged to a house that was here, before the baths were built. The niches were used to place goods.

 

History Path

Not far from the water channel and the cellar, I reach the Roman history path. I enter through the gate…

… and see a long, long path, lined with more than 30 panels laid out along a time line. The panels explain, how Augusta Raurica evolved as part of the Roman empire. 

To study the panels will be the focus of another visit. 

 

“New” amphitheatre outside of the city (12)

From the history path, it is not far to the amphitheatre that was built outside of the city centre of Augusta Raurica in the 2nd century AD.

There is a picnic place here – the archaeologists think beyond archaeology. I do not know of many amphitheatres with picnic places – this is unique. I took this photo on a sunny November day; I liked to observe the families with kids enjoying their barbecued sausages amidst the ancient ruins.

 

Temple Grienmatt (11)

My last stop today is the “Temple Grienmatt”. Well, “Grienmatt” is not the Roman name. “Grienmatt” can be translated to “pebble meadow”, as “Grien” means “pebbles” in Swiss German.

The panel says that it is difficult to interpret this temple. It seems that the cows do not notice, how reputable their environment is.  

 

Thank you, Munatius Plancus, for having founded Augusta Raurica, and thank you, Augusta Raurica Foundation and archaeologists, for telling us about it

I now have looked at Augusta Raurica in five blogs:

I have to thank you, Lucius Munatius Plancus, for having founded Augusta Raurica (even, if it is not completely sure that you have founded it and even, if Roman warriors do not really wear pink leggings with golden laces, as presented in the city hall of Basel…).

Furthermore I thank all the members working for the Augusta Raurica Foundation that have made the ancient ruins come to life, carefully preserving them, documenting them, making them accessible to visitors, and – making them fun for visitors by setting up picnic places and organizing events for families, for children and for all those that are interested in our Roman ancestors. Not to forget the guardians that care for the animals in the small animal park which is certainly a kids favourite.

 

Sources:

Kaiseraugst again – the show room under the church St. Gallus

Whenever I return to Augusta Raurica, I find something that is new to  me. Recently I have discovered the Roman sewage channel and the nearby the show room under the Church St. Gallus.

It was by looking at the brochure about treasure hunting for children, that I found out about the Roman sewage channel. 

Source: “Finde den Schatz – Schnitzeljagd im Kastell Kaiseraugst”, brochure for children acquired in the museum of Augusta Raurica

When I visited the sewage channel in June 2021, I also found the entry to the show room with the bath and rests of the church from late antiquity.

 

The Roman sewage channel

The sewage channel emerges from the fortification wall above the Rhine river, near the church.

Berger (p. 335) and the panels say that the sewage channel was built for the Roman Castrum in the late 3rd century AD.

In Roman times, the smell might not have been too welcoming  here.

Steps invite visitors. To the left of the sewage channel exit, I see a door. I enter and I am in the show room under the church and under the adjacent church garden.

 

Overview of the show room with bath and remains from early Christianity

On my first visit, I saw just ruins and heard Roman street noise and some church music. I returned later, after having read in Berger (p. 335ff). The following two on site panels help me understand best, what I see: The ground plan shows the area of the show room in faint pink, and the upright projection gives a perspective view of the ruins in front of the “reconstructed” model of the early Christian church from around 400 AD (late antiquity).  

Source: Two panels in the show room (it is amazing, how everything is documented carefully, take your time to go through it).

In the show room we see the private bath (black/red 1-4 and a,b,c) and remains related with the early Christian church St. Gallus and with Christianity (dark blue, 5,6, X; we do not see 7). The sewage channel (purple, 8) runs through the show room, before reaching the exit in the fortification wall.

 

The bath – the private bath of the bishop?

Why a bath, so close to the church? The panels explain that the bath has been built after 400 AD, when “normal” people could no longer afford a private bath. Perhaps it was the bath of the bishop and of the clergymen (see panel in the show room). This hypothesis is supported by the fact that the early Christian church St. Gallus from the late 4th century AD was large and hence important. If there was a bishop, he would have lived behind the fortification wall on the right hand (western) side of his bath. However, though some sources mention bishop Justinian around 400 AD, the first proven bishop is Ragnacharius around 600 AD (Facciani, p.173 and 178f); it might well be that he moved his seat from the Castrum to Basel. A lot of guessing. What seems pretty sure is that the pool (c) in the bath was not a baptismal font, as some archaeologists suggested earlier. Facciani rejects the hypothesis of a baptismal font based on plausible arguments (Berger, p.337f). For instance, there is no direct access from the church to the font, very impractical. 

This is room number 4. According to the panels it was a corridor; Berger (p.337) says, it could also have been the changing room of the bath, called Apodyterium.

In the corner we can see the sewage water channel (8).

From the corridor (4) people entered the Tepidarium (warm room, 1) using the door marked by the black gate; the threshold (a) has been preserved. Very difficult for me to see the threshold, but I trust the archaeologists.

Next comes the Caldarium or hot room (2). Two columns and tubes of the floor heating remain in the right hand edge. As a matter of fact, we stand on the base of the floor heating today; the “real” floor was above the pile of tiles (pilae). 

I am puzzled. Only now I notice the labels under the ceiling. So far, I had just looked at the ruins below me and not at the signs above me… 

As the label indicates, we see a wonderfully preserved duct (b) that takes heat from the heating room (Praefurnium) into the hot room (2). I stand, where the heating room must have been before. 

Behind the hot room (2) and the heating conduct (b), there is the water tank or pool (c). There have been debates about this pool that in the 1960-ies was identified as a baptismal font, but this hypothesis was rejected by Facciani later. 

 

The remains related with the early Christian church

The use of the site as an early Christian church started at the latest after 400 (as the panels say).

This is the northern annex to the apsis of the early Christian church (5). The sewage water channel (8) can be seen here as well. 

Part of the marl ground of the annex has been preserved (see above in the left hand lower corner and below).

From 700 AD onwards, people were buried next to the church. A grave from the 8th/9th century reaches into the show room.

Only now I notice the description on the left hand side. The curators of Augusta Raurica think of everything carefully.

 

The exhibition on the east wall of the bath (X)

The exhibition on the east wall of the show room explains the early days of Christianity, shows examples of tomb slabs from the necropolis outside the castrum and tools as well as jewellery from early Christianity.

A Christian community existed in the Castrum already in the 4th century AD (The Roman emperor Konstantin had legalised Christianity in 313 AD). Until about 700 AD, the people were buried in the necropolis outside the city. This is one example of a tomb slab from the 7th century, with a cross engraved.

The combined tooth picker and ear spoon with the sign for Christ belonged to a Roman officer (about 350 AD, part of the silver treasure of Augusta Raurica). I imagine him using this tool…

 

Good-bye Castrum for now

I leave the show room through the door, where the Rhine appears full of water after the heavy rain falls of this summer 2021. 

I feel like reading in Berger about what I have seen. I find a table in the restaurant Adler in the main street of Kaiseraugst. 

The crowned eagle of the Habsburgians decorates the entry, as Kaiseraugst has belonged to Vorderösterreich until the Congress of Vienna (1815).

The meal served at the restaurant Adler is delicious: Risotto with Taleggio cheese and pears and a Greek yoghurt with nuts, figs and honey. Sure, I will return to this restaurant and also to Kaiseraugst and the Castrum.   

We will visit more “remote” sights of Augusta Raurica in my next blog.

Sources:

  • Website of Augusta Raurica
  • “Salve – Plan”, Augusta Raurica 2019.
  • Guido Facciani et alii: “Die Dorfkirche St. Gallus in Kaiseraugst. Die bauliche Entwicklung vom römischen Profangebäude zur heutigen christkatholischen Gemeindekirche”, Forschungen in Augst, Band 42, Augst 2012.
  • Ludwig Berger (Editor), “Führer durch Augusta Raurica”, Schwabe Verlag Basel 2012; contributions by Thomas Hufschmid, Sandra Ammann, Ludwig Berger und Peter-A. Schwarz, Urs Brombach
  • Panels on site in the show room

Around Basel: Augusta Raurica – Castrum or Kaiseraugst – first visits

Kaiseraugst near the Rhine is, where the Roman Castrum Rauracense was established around 300 AD. The people retreated here to withstand the growing attacks of the Germanic tribes from the north. In the charming village centre of Kaiseraugst, we find remains of the Castrum and of late antiquity.

 

A look at the map to see, where the Castrum is

This is the map of Augusta Raurica, “our” Roman city, with the centre and the more “remote” sights, amongst them Kaiseraugst or the Castrum.  

 

Source: Tourism map on homepage of Augusta Raurica

The brown line shows the whole city of Augusta Raurica, with the centre (numbers 1-7, e.g. forum, theatre, museum) and the more “remote” sights Kaiseraugst (19-21, baths, castrum wall and church), 10 (craft house), 14-17 (brick manufacture, tomb, east gate, animal park), 18 (cloaca and cellar), 12 (outer amphitheatre) and 11 (Grienmatt temple).

After having looked at the history and legends around Augusta Raurica and after having visited the centre of the Roman city, we next look at Kaiseraugst with the Castrum near the Rhine, leaving other more remote sights for later.

 

Mouth of the Ergolz, the river that marks the border between the cantons Aargau and Baselland  

After about an hour of cycling from my home, I arrive near the mouth of the river Ergolz. Well, I do not intend to continue to Rotterdam or Nantes, as Eurovelo proposes. Let us start our tour around Kaiseraugst here.

When I am here for the first time, it is November 2020. The school boat is practicing on the Ergolz and on the Rhine.

At this place, the Ergolz is the border between the cantons Baselland (to the west, village Augst) and Aargau (to the east, village Kaiseraugst).

This is the view of the power station in the Rhine; left, the Ergolz flows into the Rhine, and I stand under the golden leaves of an “Argovian” oak tree.

Now I have zoomed in the power station.

The buildings of the power station are in Germany. It is possible to cross the dam to Germany, on foot or by bike. 

The book edited by Berger contains a map that shows three Roman bridges, one of them above the modern power station. Two more bridges crossed the Rhine, where Kaiseraugst is located today.  

I walk through the park along the Rhine. Now, in November, it is in hibernation, the benches are being overhauled. This bench says: “I am under renovation and will appear shining all new in two months time.”

Also the swimming pool near the camping site is awaiting the next summer.

Where the park ends, I start my round tour to the Roman past. The Roman sights are well marked.

I have to follow the column with the brown arrow to discover the Roman Castrum.

 

Part of the defensive Castrum walls has been preserved (see map #19)

The western defensive walls of the Roman fortress or Castrum have been preserved. 

We can see the layout of the Roman western gate on the pavement. The main street of the modern village centre of Kaiseraugst starts here, and this was also the main street of the Castrum.

The panel provided by the Augusta Raurica Foundation shows, what the Castrum might have looked like with the western gate (left) and the surrounding wall and ditch. 

The Thermae or Rhine Baths are highlighted on this panel.

 

Thermae or the Rhine Baths, where the Romans met (20)

What looks like the entrance to an underground garage behind the community centre is the access to the Rhine Baths (Thermae). 

Under the ground, the bath rooms have been preserved, some cold, some warm, and one hot. I stand on the base of the floor heating (hypocaust). We cannot see the heated “real” floor, where the Romans walked. It has disappeared.

The panels explain that in the warm or tepid rooms, the Romans would sit, chat, have light meals and play games. 

The vitrine explains that wooden sandals were needed to walk in the hot bath – here, the floor was hot!

I wonder, how well I would have seen my hair in this mirror to fix the hair pin. 

It is amazing, with how much care the baths have been set up to give the visitors a picture of Roman life. The access to this gem is free.

 

The village church St. Gallus (see map #21) – early residence of the bishop of Basel?

So far, I had never taken notice of the church St. Gallus at Kaiseraugst. Now I discover it with Guido Facciani. On the cover page of his document, he shows, how the building evolved from Roman times until today. In Roman times, it was a profane building, then it became a meeting hall with an apse that, probably in the 4th century, was remodelled to become the first church (Facciani, p. 149/173). I always admire, how archaeologists can read ruins. 

Some say that the church St. Gallus was the seat of the bishopric “Raurica”. However the existence of the bishop mentioned for the 4th century, Justinian, cannot be confirmed (Facciani, p. 173). The first proven evidence of a bishop goes back to 600 AD: Sources mention Ragnacharius as the bishop of Augustudinae et Basiliae (Facciani, p. 178, Vita des Eustasius). Facciani suggests that Ragnacharius started his mandate at the Castrum Augusta Raurica/Kaiseraugst and then moved to Basel (Facciani, p.179).

Facciani found evidence of an early Romanic church built in the 10/11th century (Facciani, p.180). The church was rebuilt again in the 14th century (after the Basel earthquake, Facciani, p. 183). The tower has been preserved from that time.

In the 18th century, the church was renovated adding baroque elements (Facciani, p. 185). Is the “undulating” gable of the nave not almost too graceful above the bricks marking the edges of the nave and being so close to the tower from the 14th century?

By the way, the baroque façade is inclining towards the Rhine, as the ground is sinking here.

 

Why is Kaiseraugst called Kaiseraugst?

I had always wondered, why Kaiseraugst is “Kaiser”-Augst or “Imperial”-Augst. Perhaps due to the Roman emperors? No, it is due to the Habsburgians. They were emperors or “Kaiser” and they acquired Kaiseraugst in 1442 to become part of “Fore” Austria (Vorderösterreich). In the Congress of Vienna (1815), Kaiseraugst became part of the canton Aargau and Switzerland. Across the Ergolz is “plain” Augst that had been acquired by Basel and now belongs to the canton Baselland.  

 

Fortification to protect the bridge (22)

I am back in June 2021. The ferry across the river Rhine runs. In his work life, the captain headed cargo ships between Basel and Rotterdam. Now retired, he still works on the river Rhine managing and running the ferry of Kaiseraugst. He even offers Fondue evenings on his boat. Very creative. I might consider that.

We enter the ferry and ride to the German side of the Rhine, where the Romans had built this fortification to protect their bridges across the Rhine. 

Remains of the three northern towers (inland) can still be seen, the territory above the Rhine collapsed.

A signpost guides us to the remains of the fortification called “Römischer Brückenkopf”.

We follow the small path and find the three towers amidst trees and bushes. This is one of them.

Through the trees, we can see Kaiseraugst and the Saint Gallus church. Storks are breeding in the nest on the church tower.

Having returned to the Swiss side, we admire the white swans that do not take any notice of us.

They are cleaning their feathers, how beautiful. 

Let us return to Kaiseraugst to visit the show room between the church St. Gallus and the Rhine in the next blog. 

Sources:

  • Website of Augusta Raurica
  • “Salve – Plan”, Augusta Raurica 2019.
  • Guido Facciani et alii: “Die Dorfkirche St. Gallus in Kaiseraugst. Die bauliche Entwicklung vom römischen Profangebäude zur heutigen christkatholischen Gemeindekirche”, Forschungen in Augst, Band 42, Augst 2012.
  • Ludwig Berger (Editor), “Führer durch Augusta Raurica”, Schwabe Verlag Basel 2012; contributions by Thomas Hufschmid, Sandra Ammann, Ludwig Berger und Peter-A. Schwarz, Urs Brombach

Around Basel: The centre of the Roman city Augusta Raurica

After having looked at the foundation legend and history of Augusta Raurica, we now walk through the centre of the Roman city of Augusta Raurica, and I will convey some of my personal impressions. I return regularly to Augst. For instance, I was here in November 2020, again in spring and once more in summer 2021. And I will soon return again.

 

The museum with the rich Roman treasure

This poster stands right near the central parking. It shows citizens in the 1960’s that hold silver plates in their hands.

“Do not miss it!” the panel says, “the largest silver treasure of the ancient world in the museum of Augusta Raurica.” I assure you, the silver treasure IS impressive. It is already amazing, how it was discovered! In the 1960’s, a digger accidentally uncovered the treasure, when preparing a field for construction, and the operator did not notice what he had uncovered. People from the village found the treasure later. Some kept their findings (that happens even in Switzerland) and some took them to the museum. Most of the stolen silver pieces were given to the museum later (this is nevertheless Switzerland). The archaeologists assume that in the 4th century AD, a Roman citizen, scared by the attacks of the Germans coming from the north, hid his silver treasure in a wooden box, which remained under the ground for about 1600 years, until the digger came in the 1960’s.

The treasure is on permanent display in the museum. I pick out two examples. This is the so called “Archilles platter” from 330-340 AD. 

The following platter shows a villa near the sea (330-350 AD). Whenever I visit the museum, I say hello to this finely engraved medallion showing the sumptuous villa and the fish in the sea with the people in the boats hunting them. In the middle, there is even an octopus.

In addition, the museum illustrates what a Roman atrium house looked like.

This is the dining table. 

The Romans used to eat lying around the table (called “accubare”). When lying, you can eat more than when sitting on a chair “compressing” the stomach. I am just not sure, how authentic the cane chair is… but I trust the curators of this museum.

In Ravenna, I found the Last Supper, where Jesus and the disciples eat the “Roman way” (photo taken by me in Sant’Apollinare Nuovo).

The atrium house conveys details of Roman life such as these bones with a wooden “booklet” explaining, how to play with them.

I came across such bone games in Mongolia in 2014. These were goat bones, we used for playing. In addition, the Mongolians use sheep bones for playing.

At the end of the atrium house tour, the coach illustrates how the Romans travelled. There are some places around Basel, where the prints of coach wheels can be seen on the Roman paths cut into rock (for instance above Flüh).  

Recently, the curators have added the black dog lying on the sack with the sausage in front of the nose. Whenever I return to this museum, I find some small detail added with much care. 

Just outside the museum, I notice an earthen plate with small stones. What is this? Has someone lost these stones? But – in a plate? 

I look around and, nearby, I discover this triangle, divided into numbered fields. 

Ah, here it is, the wooden booklet lays out the rules of the delta game, the Deltaspiel. You have to throw three stones in turn, and the winner is the one who achieves the highest sum of numbers.

At Augusta Raurica, children are welcome at all places! I do enjoy discovering such small details.

 

The theatre “of nine towers”, the temple “Schönbühl” and the taberna

The central theatre is the dominant place at Augusta Raurica, just next to the museum. To get a good view of the theatre, I usually climb the hill across called Schönbühl with the “Schönbühl” temple (well, “Schönbühl” is not the Roman name, but this is, what it is called today). Carefully the panels are set up to explain all the details about the theatre and the construction periods (see left hand side).  

The citizens of Augusta Raurica reconstructed their theatre a third time around 200 AD. It was a scenic theatre and accommodated for 10-12’000 spectators. The constructors of the theatre made use of the slope across the Schönbühl hill. The sidewalls rounding off the spectator area (cavea) were open in the  middle – the archaeologists are quite sure of this and assume that the theatre and the “Schönbühl” temple were connected such that spectators could watch temple services from the theatre (Berger, p. 113).

When I return mid July 2021, red flags decorate the place. The summer program is on, until mid-August. The footboard in the foreground indicates that some parents show Augusta Raurica to their young son or daughter, and they may now be visiting the temple behind us. They are not alone, many families walk around Augusta Raurica, especially during the summer school holidays.

Having climbed the spectator area (cavea) of the theatre we look across the Sichelen valley to the Schönbühl hill and the “Schönbühl” temple.

Just across the theatre is the taberna with the oven. Berger, p. 226, says, that a family house was planned here. The owner and the foundation of Augusta Raurica agreed swap of territories to preserve the taberna with the oven and make it publicly accessible. The oven is from the mid-3rd century AD. Though the place has been named “taberna” or “restaurant”, the excavators believe, it was rather a private house with a workshop that perhaps sold food as a side business (Berger, p. 230). 

 

Around the forum, the main square

The beginning of the forum “meadow” has been marked by this wooden construction. Perhaps this is , where the forum temple was. A stork nest has recently been added under the middle arch (another nice detail new to me). 

It is difficult to imagine this meadow to be the main forum. Berger, p.46, gives me an idea: The western part was the sacred area with the temple, while, at the opposite end, the public area was closed up by the basilica and the curia (the latter looks like an apsis). Bordering the forum are various insulae or blocks of houses, laid out as rectangular as the hill allows. In the background, the theatre and the “Schönbühl” temple can be seen; due to the topography, the ensemble does not form a straight line as in other Roman cities. 

The victory column must have formed the south east corner of the so called insula 9 (block of houses bordering the sacred area to the right of the forum). Victoria carries the globe on her head. This column is a copy of the original (Berger, p.9). 

On the forum, the July/August summer activities have been installed with much care and taking into regard the hygienic requirements of the Covid pandemic, however, with some eye twinkling. “Desinfectus hygiena” is understood by everybody, no knowledge of Latin required. 

From the forum, parts of the curia have been preserved and partially restored. “Roman puppets” stand around and by looking into binoculars, you can see them in the forum, as it was about 2000 years ago.

Next to the curia I discover some cupboards that hold games for children from 10 to 14 years. The kids are invited to accompany poor boy Nobilianus who is ill and needs distraction. In various languages, among them in English. 

Under the curia, there is a cellar with mosaics. Many of them are currently being restored, amongst them also my favourite one (my photo from 2013).

It is the so-called “Gladiatorenmosaik” that shows a fish pond which is fed by the water game in the jug, as the panel explains. One of the jug handles has been repaired somewhat oddly.

During the current “summer activities”, the cellar has become a workshop for people and children who want to create their own mosaics. Children will never feel bored at Augusta Raurica.

What always impresses me is the elaborated floor heating system of the Romans, the hypocaust. Behind the forum in the slopes of the Viola valley, such a hypocaust has been preserved.  Presumably, it once heated a dining room of 9.5mx6.6m (panel on site and Berger, p. 231).

The raw material for the heating was wood charcoal; the fire was made in the praefurnium or heating room. Hot air circulated in the space under the floor between the columns (pilae). It was like an underground tiled stove, as Berger, p. 232, writes. 

The heating was discovered in 1941, when tank traps were installed here. Surprises await everywhere in Augst.

 

Baths at the Violenried 

In fact discovering parts of Augusta Raurica sounds like a detective story to me. Anyone who owns land here is bound to find remains of the Roman city, when digging up the earth.

The enterprise E. Frey AG runs a quarry at Augst. The eastern part of the Kastelen hill (one third of the hill) has disappeared; on the hill, there was an area of insulae (blocks of houses) that were probably more upscale. When E. Frey AG intended to move away more ground, it soon became clear that they are about to destroy the baths of the Viola valley (Violenried) and a well preserved groundwater well with the underground well-house. The community of Augst agreed to swap territory with E. Frey AG, and now this area is open to the public. The signpost directs visitors to the underground well-house. 

The photo below shows the baths area in the year 2000, as presented by Berger, p. 160. The round groundwater well (Sodbrunnen in German) can be seen in the middle of the photo. You access the underground well-house using the comfortable stairs at the bottom of the photo. A bubbling noise welcomes you in the well-house. The curators make it all clear to us the well-house has to do with water. One of the theories is that this groundwater well provided the Viola bath with water (Berger, p. 161).

Reading more carefully, I learn that the areas marked by red marl above were heated by the hypocaust system. These were the tepid and hot water rooms of the Viola bath. There were two praefurniums or heating rooms here, a large one to the left of the warm bath rooms and a small one to the right of the oval shaped sudatorium (sweating room). The two other “grey” rooms next to the sudatorium have served some economic purposes, as the archaeologists assume. These two “grey” rooms are above the dark and narrow tunnel that gives access to the underground well-house under the fountain. 

The entry area to the Viola bath was behind the thin wall on the left hand side of the photo above. In addition, there were some blocks of houses behind this thin wall.

On the thin wall, a digitised reconstruction painting has been installed that illustrates life behind this wall (Berger, p. 160). I took the photo of the painting from the gallery across.

On the painting illustrating life behind the wall, a man is being massaged in the cold water room. People change clothes in the middle. One man has gone down the steps to have a cold bath in the piscina. To the left, life in the streets is presented: Roman citizens, children and animals.

In the foreground, we see the remains that have been preserved for the public. Behind the groundwater well (round shape), the hot rooms are marked by red marl. The oval shape sudatorium is sided by the small heating room to the left. The larger rooms to the left served some economic purposes. 

I must admit that only now, reading in the book edited by Berger and writing this blog, I understand that the underground well-house is exactly under that round fountain in the middle of the photo. I do not understand, why this was not clear to me before, but for us non-archaeologists it is difficult to interpret the Roman foundation walls in the open landscape.

This is the view of the round opening of the fountain from below, from the underground well-house.

According to Berger, p. 162, it is not clear, whether the Viola bath was a small public bath or a luxurious private bath belonging to a wealthy citizen. The larger main central bath area was farther south and has not been explored and preserved as thoroughly as the Viola bath. 

 

Good-bye for now

This advertisement of the summer activities at Augusta Raurica is a welcoming invitation: “Where do you go to? To Augst, of course”, mixing up Latin with German and Swiss German. The short Swiss German expression “dängg” can be translated by “where else do you think I am going to?” 

I will surely soon return to Augusta Raurica to check out some more details and to see, what has changed in the meantime. In addition, I will later publish my third blog about the sights that can be found more remotely around the centre of Augusta Raurica. 

 

Sources:

  • Explanation panels on site
  • Ludwig Berger, “Führer durch Augusta Raurica”, Schwabe Verlag Basel 2012, with contributions by Thomas Hufschmid, Sandra Amman, Ludwig Berger, Peter-A. Schwarz and Urs Brombach
  • Website of Augusta Raurica

Around Basel – Augusta Raurica. Foundation legend and history

One of my favourite destinations near Basel is the Roman city Augusta Raurica. It is carefully restored and panels explain all the places of interest to make the Roman times revive. The homesite of Augusta Raurica gives an excellent overview of “our” Roman city and the activities provided to children and adults.

Let us explore Augusta Raurica in three blogs:

  • the foundation legend with Lucius Munatius Plancus and the history of the Roman city,
  • the city centre with the museum, the “inner” theatre with the temple Schönbühl and the forum,
  • the more “remote” sights from Kaiseraugst to the “outer” amphitheatre. 

 

The foundation legend with Lucius Munatius Plancus; it happened 2064 years ago 

It is said that Lucius Munatius Plancus is the “founder” of the city of Basel, well not precisely of Basel, but of nearby Augusta Raurica. Under Cesar, Munatius was a successful Roman army commander in Gaul. During the turmoils after Cesar’s assassination in 44 BC, he managed to keep his position in the noble society, even under the emperor Augustus. I believe that this sometimes required sitting on the fence. 

The inscription on the tomb of Munatius in Gaeta (Naples) says that he founded Augusta Raurica in 44 BC. In the 16th century, Munatius was reinterpreted to be the founder of Basel; his statue stands in the courtyard of the city hall of Basel.

Hans Michel from Strasbourg sculptured the statue of Munatius in 1580 and donated it. Around that time, the theatre in the centre of Augusta Raurica had been uncovered (Facciani, p.18), which might have motivated Michel from Strasbourg to create his Munatius. 

Let us compare Michel’s Munatius with the representation of the Roman warrior of the days of Cesar (“Res Romanae”, p. 46). 

Look at the shoes, the plaid and the helmet – not exactly the same. Furthermore, Munatius wears something like leggings, pink with golden laces. Very peculiar, and also not really an outfit typical of Romans.

To top it all, Hans Michel has decorated the helmet of Munatius with a basilisk. Basilisks already “existed” in Roman times (Plinius the Elder mentioned them), but the basilisk of Basel was born in the 15th century, when a cock laid an egg (well, this is also a legend). Ever since, basilisks have proudly carried the coat of arms of Basel, and they are present all over in Basel, for instance decorating fountains or, as we see, topping the helmet of Munatius (see my earlier blog about Basel and the basilisks).

It is unclear, whether Lucius Munatius Plancus founded Augusta Raurica or re-established the former Celtic settlement, where the centre of Basel is today (on the Münsterhügel, remains of the earlier Celtic oppidum have been uncovered). Furthermore construction work at Augusta Raurica started later than the reported date of foundation, not in 44 BC, but around 15 BC. Although Basel seems to be older than 2064 years, the legend continues to be told: Lucius Munatius Plancus is the founder of Basel, and that happened 2064 years ago.

Why 2064 years ago?

In 1957 or 64 years ago, Basel celebrated its 2000 years’ anniversary. Then I was 6 years old, and I remember, how proud I was of the long tradition of “my” city, when watching the parade. The mayor of Gaeta had come to Basel, as the tomb of Munatius Plancus is in Gaeta. The anniversary medal shows Lucius Munatius Plancus with the basilisk on his helmet – I found various such medals on sale on ebay.

Well today, we have to add 64 to 2000, which means, Munatius Plancus founded Basel 2064 years ago. Now, Basel would celebrate its 2064th anniversary. We have learnt that these 2064 years are not exactly a historical fact. Nevertheless, in 1956, Basel found 2000 years to  be a good opportunity to celebrate, and I do hope, we will have more such opportunities soon again. 

 

The history of Augusta Raurica: A thriving city for some 200 years and around 300 AD a fortress near the Rhine

After construction had started in 15 BC, Augusta Raurica became a thriving trading and commercial city with about 15’000 inhabitants. The border of the Roman empire was 200km north, far away from the border with the “dangerous” Germanic tribes. 

The model in front of the central Roman theatre shows, what the city looked like around 200 AD.

We can see the central theatre opposite of the temple of Schönbühl and, out of town, the “outer” amphitheatre. 

Hence, Augusta Raurica disposed of the usual amenities of a Roman city: Forum, theatres, baths and blocks of houses allowing to live and do commerce. The city decayed in the 3rd century AD, due to growing pressure from the north. To defend themselves, the Romans built the Castrum (fortress) bordering the Rhine, where Kaiseraugst is located today. 

Now, many ruins of the once flourishing city Augusta Raurica as well as of the later Castrum near the Rhine have been excavated and documented. 

Source: SALVE_Tourismusplan_2020.indd (augustaraurica.ch) 

It is the Foundation Pro Augusta Raurica that promotes the Roman heritage performing research, conservation, documentation and education. I am impressed, how well the ruins are presented and how well they are explained on the panels. Access is free, except for the museum. Signposts allow to find the places of interest. 

Let us walk around the centre of Augusta Raurica and visit the more remote sights around the centre in my next blogs. 

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