Xanten Archaeological Park – Step Back and Experience the Romans
Open-air archaeological parks or museums are increasingly popular as they bring the past to life. One of the largest in the world, if not the largest, is Xanten Archaeological Park in Germany. This beautiful setting is filled with monuments of the Romans who inhabited Germany. The indoor museum contains many fascinating artifacts and presentations on the history of Rome, the Romans and their way of life.
The History of Xanten
The Xanten Archaeological Park is located near the town of Xanten, in the German Rhineland. The area was selected in the Iron Age by proto-German tribes. In about 15 BC the Romans built a castrum (military camp) at the location in order to defend their possessions in Gaul. This was home to a legion, and soon a small civilian settlement sprang up around the base. It was destroyed during the Batavian Revolt of 70 AD, but was later rebuilt.
Colonia Ulpia Traiana (Nadisja/Adobe Stock)
During the Crisis of the Third Century, the town was destroyed by invading tribes but was once more rebuilt and thereafter known as the Tricensimae. The town was not as large as the previous one but was strongly fortified - an indication of the new threat posed by German tribes and other invaders. It became the second most important urban settlement after Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (modern Cologne) in the province of Germania Inferior.
During the long and terrible decline of the Western Roman Empire, the town was frequently attacked by German tribes and was eventually abandoned in the 5 th century AD. The area was later settled by Frankish tribes who do not appear to have used the abandoned urban settlement. A Christian church and monastery which were built near the old Roman colony came to be known as Xanten.
Eventually, a new town grew up around these and by the Middle Ages it was quite prosperous. The medieval town, however, was not built upon the ruins of the Roman settlement and therefore the remains of Colonia Ulpia Traiana are still visible to this day.
Xanten Archaeology Park was opened in 1977 and over a million people visit it every year.
Things to See at Xanten Archaeological Park
The park, located just outside the modern town of Xanten, is filled with monuments that originated in the 2 nd and 3 rd century AD. The town has yielded many important archaeological discoveries down the years, many of which can be seen in the impressive museum on site.
The centerpiece of the open-air museum is a partially restored temple with its original steps and Doric columns. Six of the columns are the original height and highlight how impressive this building once was.
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Detail of a column still remaining of the former Roman settlement (Jule Berlin / Adobe Stock)
This temple measures about 150 feet by 100 feet (50 x 31 meters) with one awe-inspiring corner which has been completely rebuilt. Sections of the original walls have also been restored and some of the original watchtowers have been recreated, while the walls of the original sanctuary in the temple still stand.
A few public buildings and workshops from the original Roman town remain and the original Roman gates to the city have also been reconstructed to show the two arched entrances flanked by towers.
Xanten Archeological Park’s reconstructed amphitheater (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Perhaps the most popular building in the Archaeological Park is the reconstructed amphitheater as well as the series of tunnels under the building which was once the home of gladiators.
How to get to Xanten Archaeological Park, Germany
An entrance fee is charged to visit the park and it is easily accessible. Although the various attractions are spread out over a distance, seating and facilities such as restaurants are available. Accommodation near Xanten Archaeological Park is plentiful.
Top image: Amphitheater, Xanten Archeological Park Source: CC BY SA 4.0
By Ed Whelan
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Monfort, C. C. (2006). A quantitative approach to the amphorae from Xanten: a more comprehensive view of the long-distance Roman trade. Xantener Berichte, 14, 25-39
Silberman, N. A. (2007). Reshaping Waterloo: History, Archaeology, and the European Heritage Industry. Archaeology, 53