Germany – Treves (Trier) And The Road To Metz

A LIKELY spot it must have been years ago with its wooded heights and lush meadow-land and the great red sandstone cliffs, which helped to build most of the town, rising abruptly at intervals along the river bank.

“Now children,” said Pater, looking over his glasses in his most impressive manner, “you want to look with all your eyes. At least, you should want to, for this is perhaps the oldest town you will ever see. Tradition says that Trebeta, stepson of Queen Semiramis of Assyria, fleeing the country because his widowed stepmother wished to marry him, pursued his way westward until he reached the Moselle valley, where he founded Treves. All history is tradition if you go back far enough, though much of it has been confirmed by monuments and records. From the standpoint of authenticated history the actual age of Treves has not yet been determined. Julius Caesar, in his conquest of Gaul, overthrew the tribes of Treveri, but he made no mention of any special town; on the other hand Tacitus, about the first century A. D., twice mentioned that Colonia Treverorum was surrounded by walls, which argues a town of some importance.”

“Be that as it may, this much is certain: in the second half of the third century Treves became a second Rome, inasmuch as it became a favorite residence of the Caesars, reaching the height of its glory as a Roman city in the fourth century. Under these circumstances

“Which way, Mr. Pater—right or left ?” from Bobbie.

“Bobbie !” said Pater, reproachfully, pausing in his peroration, “Bobbie, how can you interrupt me with such a foolish question when I am busy? Why, follow the trolley-tracks, of course.”

Meantime Pater,s audience had become so deeply engrossed in looking at the town and watching for the Porta Nigra Hotel, that he followed suit. After traversing nearly the whole town we spied it—at least we spied the great Porta Nigra, black with age, and knew that the hotel must be close by. “Bobbie, that structure before you is about two thousand years old; what do you think of that ?” “Oo-oo-oo !” responded Bobbie, and then added the auto drivers’ highest meed of praise, “that’s going some, sir!”

On a glass-enclosed piazza facing this Roman gate-way, luncheon was served to our laughing, chattering group of motor tourists—and we tried hard, the while, to realize that those blackened walls across the way had looked down on Frankish host and Roman cohort, most twenty centuries ago. Four times the Franks captured Treves before they finally kept it. One is tempted to speculate why they spared the Porta Nigra ; perhaps from a sense of admiration of this huge structure, impressive even to us. Had their enemy been Wends, not Franks, there is little doubt the Romans could have held this gate indefinitely, for it would have seemed to those savages infinitely more awe-inspiring than their huge stone god, Triglaph.

Constantine Christianized Trier, and Agricius of Antioch was (about 314) elected its first bishop. The bishops became archbishops, then princes of the Holy Roman Empire, sovereign princes, and ultimately electors. France (i. e. Napoleon) put an end to the electorate in 1801, but the bishopric was restored the following year.

We were not surprised to find numerous and extensive Roman ruins, nor to learn that Roman relics found in and about Treves are among the finest discovered anywhere outside of Italy. The palace of the Caesars, the amphitheatre on the town’s outskirts, the enormous thermae, the basilica (now a Protestant church)—all point to a Roman city of considerable size and importance. Even the piers of the bridge over the Moselle are, with two exceptions, Roman. The cathedral, one of Germany’s oldest churches (an altered basilica of the fourth century) is an interesting ensemble of various styles of architecture—the exterior, decidedly Romanesque—the demarcation between the Roman work of alternate brick and stone, and the Romanesque work, being quite perceptible.

The Protestant basilica, like other Roman buildings and ruins, shows an elaborate system of hot air ducts in the masonry, for heating the buildings in this comparatively inclement climate. Surrounding the basilica is the old elector,s palace, now used as barracks ; this belongs to the Renaissance period and one wing is decidedly Roccoco.

On the Markt stands a “cross” from 958, restored in 1723. Surrounding the Markt are some fine old secular buildings : das Rote Haus (the red house), formerly the Rathaus, bears the inscription in Latin, “Treves stood MCCC years before Rome ;” adjoining is the Steip, built in 1453, as a casino for the Ratsherren. Towering above the market place is the spire of St. Gangolph’s—a very new church in such an old town, though dating from before the discovery of America.

About three-quarters of a mile south of the city, the once noted Benedictine abbey of St. Matthias presents, when seen through its arched street entrance, a very striking picture ; the abbey possesses the sarcophagus of the apostle Matthew as well as a piece of the true cross.

The legends of the Moselle are as numerous as those of the Rhine, so I’ll risk but one excursion into this land of fairy tales for “grown-ups.” It wouldn’t seem fair to leave the Moselle without telling the story of its most famous wine—Berncastler Doctor, it is now generally called. Look at the wine list of any good hotel and you may read this strange name, which the vintage has borne for some five hundred years.

Just about that many years ago there lived in Treves an old knight whose name is unknown to history. This veteran learned, one day, that his friend and benefactor, Bishop Bohemund, had fallen seriously ill of fever at the town of Berncastel. Later reports were not encouraging; neither leech nor herbalist could help; and it was noised abroad that the bishop offered a reward to any man who could cure him. The old soldier remembered that he himself had once been cured of a similar ailment by wine grown near the very town at which the bishop lay. So he thought, “If once, why not again ?” and set forth to the patient’s bedside.

The bishop looked askance at the little wine-cask the knight carried, but, knowing him a friend and being in despair, he agreed to take a hearty drink; having had recourse a second time to the little cask, he fell into a sound sleep from which he awoke much refreshed.

This treatment was continued until the pleasing report could be made that the bishop was quite well again; and this wine has been called Berncastler Doctor ever since. Berncastel, on that part of the Moselle which we skipped in the short cut from Alf to Trier, is a quaint little place with a castle, but aside from this, has nothing to recommend it except its excellent wine.

We took only a fleeting view of Treves; of its wonderful collections of antiquities, not even a peep. For our chief, like the Germans in 187o, raised the cry, “On to Metz.” Bidding good-by to the Moselle for a while, we headed south, past the ruins of the palace of the Caesars, past St. Matthias, and Karthaus with its old Carthusian monastery (now a convent of Franciscan nuns), to the suburb of Conz. This was the Roman Contianacum and traces of an imperial villa, mentioned by the poet Ausonias, are still to be seen.

Here we crossed the Saar near its confluence with the Moselle, and followed the former, through Conen and Ail to Saarburg. Saarburg, at the junction of the Saar and the Leuk, is very picturesque, and above it lie the extensive ruins of a castle of the electors of Treves. A long tunnel leads from the town right underneath the castle, and we were halfway through this before we decided it was the wrong road; consequently we had to back all the way out again, to the great terror of people who were just leaving a church near the entrance.

The road now climbed up into the hills, giving us a splendid view in all directions. Far below, we could see the Leuk winding along and, round about, picturesque valleys with vineyards, woods and fields. The roads were beautiful—wide and hard, and smooth as a billiard table, and lined on both sides with footpaths shaded by fine trees, “A regular lover’s lane,” said Mater; “it’s a shame not to go fifty miles an hour,” said Bobbie; Pater said nothing, but enjoyment was written on his every feature as he sniffed the sweet scented air and turned from side to side to miss nothing of the lovely view.

After running almost west for a while, the road, at the entrance to a little village, suddenly veered south; so unexpected was the change that Bobbie drove two wheels into the ditch before he was headed in our new direction. Sliding downhill and around this curve with locked brakes was not without unpleasant consequences, for a minute later we heard the hiss of a puncture.

“My, what a shame!” cried Pater, “I should like to have gone on riding like that forever.”

However, we derived no little amusement inspecting the village and its inhabitants. Buildings were now beginning to take on a decidedly French aspect, especially the more pretentious villas. Some curious structures we could not catalogue ; they looked like a cross between dovecotes and the old-time spring houses used by country people for cooling milk or meat.

With an invocation to the “old lady” to remove her curse, we resumed our way. The scenery was delightful; we had again reached the Moselle which flowed along below us, at the foot of the heights. Across the valley lay the principality of Luxemburg, resplendent in the purple haze of late afternoon.

And so we rode along through Perl, Sierck and Kônigsmachern until we had to descend from our heights into the fortified town of Diedenhofen—in French, Thionville. At Nennig, not far from Perl, there has been brought to light a Roman villa containing a remarkable mosaic pavement (33 ft. x 49 ft. in size) nearly as large as the mosaic of the athletes in the Lateran at Rome, and said to be finer in execution; we missed it, unfortunately, being then unaware of its existence. Sierck is a very picturesque town dominated by the ruins of a castle once belonging to the dukes of Lorraine.

Thionville, once little more than a border fortress, still has a garrison of some three thousand men. Known as Theodonisvilla at the time of the Franks, it became a residence of Charlemagne and afterward of Louis the Pious. Vauban, the great French fortress builder, encircled it with mighty walls and bastions of masonry, and the modern town labored under a great handicap before it managed to burst its stone bonds and develop according to its merit. The fortifications are being removed and the town, which supports a heavier railway traffic than either of its large neighbors, Metz and Treves, is beginning to get a chance to spread. There are numerous blast furnaces in and around Thionville and we eyed these curious structures with interest. Crossing the Moselle bridge we had a glimpse of the Flohturm, a squat fourteen-sided tower, the town’s oldest building, believed to stand on the foundations of a sixteen-sided chapel built by Louis the Pious.

The town was swarming with soldiers and had some sort of douane. Learning we came from Germany (not from France or Luxemburg) and were heading for Metz, they sent us on our way without any comment except as to the roads. There had been bicycle races in the outskirts of the town, and we were much amused at the sight of many female contestants, garbed, except for the boots, in regular jockey costume.

Just outside the hamlet of St. Remy, in a most desolate looking stretch of country, with dusk coming on rapidly, a deafening report notified us that another rear tire had breathed its last. We had been going at a pretty good gait along this dusty and rather indifferent road, and as the screeching brake brought us to a stop on the side path we thanked our stars that alert Bobbie was at the wheel. A hasty diagnosis showed it was a nasty blowout and, being short of inner tubes, we would have a long wait till a punctured one could be patched.

These incidents, otherwise trivial, are told to show the ills that pursue private cars. In addition to the baggage for a large party you can carry only a limited supply of tubes and shoes, and, should bad luck set in, you are forced to limp along as best you may on very tender material until a base of supplies is reached.

As Bobbie set to work, Pater walked ahead to reconnoitre and learned that the railroad station at Woippy was within walking distance.

“Now, children, which shall it be ? Woippy was the scene of Marshal Bazaine’s last sortie; it has a sinister sound. This is our last tire; the sound is just as bad. Shall we walk to Woippy and take the train, or stick to the car?”

“Stick to the car,” we shouted, while Bobbie grinned in appreciation. The tiresome wait in the choking dust raised by passing teams was not without its enlivening incident. Hardly had Bobbie set to work to repair damages when a noisy little De Dion runabout, the size of an overgrown baby carriage, came chuffing toward us. It contained three young men who kindly proffered assistance. One of them descended and delivered a fusillade of French at short range. But crafty Pater, knowing we were in the border country, replied in German, which thereupon became the medium of conversation. It seems that, like mariners at sea, they had long since discovered us by the smudge we raised on the horizon, and, hearing the blowout nearly a mile away, had hastened back to pick up our remains. Cheerfully masking their disappointment, they offered to do what they could to help repairs along, but we declined. Not to be cheated out of some expression of courtesy, one of the youths handed Pater a gorgeous bouquet with the request that he present it to “Madame.” Mater accepted it, and bowed her thanks as the trio was chuffed away.

“It was a shame to take it,” quoth Mater, smiling delightedly.

“Oh, he expected to plant it on your grave, Ma, so you might as well have it anyway,” retorted the Youth.

Being anxious to get safely to the city, we let château Ladonchamps, and Woippy and its Roman road, flash by unnoticed. Not till we reached the out-works of Metz and saw the cathedral’s great nave rising above this famous fortress, did we breathe a sigh of relief, and, as Scoffy says, “begin to sit up and take notice.”