Ancient pilgrim cities in Switzerland

The ancient history of Switzerland

Switzerland, as the many recent excavations, especially near the town of Schaffhausen, prove, was inhabited by man in the cave age, when the climate was much colder than now. The cave period in the region was followed by a long, but still prehistoric period of pile construction. This period came as the Swiss climate changed and approached the present climate; it began, at any rate, many centuries or even several millennia before Christ. The population of the pile constructions, comparatively very numerous (it is defined for Switzerland as 100 or more thousand people), lived by farming, cattle breeding and fishing (the latter is evidenced by the nets and arrows found with fishbone tips), They had already domesticated horse, cow, sheep, goat, pig, dog, knew pottery, could make weapons and implements of bronze, next to which are found in significant number and stone implements, obviously – the heritage of even deeper antiquity.

In ethnographic terms, the population of the pile dwellings is usually considered Celtic; it is not known whether they descended from the original cave-dwellers or were succeeded by them. The reason why people settled on the water is not clear (the assumption of some researchers that the piled structures had the meaning of storage sites, temporary stops, next to which there should have been no extant land dwellings, is hardly admissible), but the fact is beyond doubt.

Around the same time as the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age, which took place very early in Switzerland (perhaps at the same time as the same transition in Greece and Italy, that is, in the first half of the first millennium BC, 1000-500), there was a change in settlement patterns: piled villages were abandoned and people settled on land. There is no indication that this transition took place with the enslavement, displacement or extermination of the previous population by the newcomer. In spite of all the antiquity of the beginnings of culture in Switzerland, which is not inferior to that of Greece, the history of Switzerland begins very late. The first historical accounts of the Swiss people go back to the 2nd century B.C., but Caesar alone has any detailed knowledge of them. Even after Caesar, the history of Switzerland is very obscure and restricted to what is known from Roman sources; a history based on independent Swiss sources begins later than that of neighboring Germany or France.

Ancient Rome

At the time of Caesar, the west of Switzerland was inhabited by the Helvets (of the Celtic race), the east by the Rhaetians, probably related to the Etruscans. The Helvetians were farmers and pastoralists; they lived in villages and towns and were divided into many tribes which formed a kind of aristocratic republics. They already had literacy, brought from Greece; of metals they knew iron and gold, of which they minted coinage. Their religion was close to that of the other Celts.

The most important cities are Aventicum (now Avenche in the canton of Vaadt), Geneva, Lausonium (Lausanne), Salodurum (Solothurn), Vindonissa (Vindisch in Aargau), Turicum (Zurich), Vitudurum (Winterthur) and others.

The Swiss Helvets (apart from the Allobrogans, who lived in the south near Lake Geneva and had been living there since the 3rd century, but were partly subdued by the Romans in the 2nd century) had their first major encounter with the Romans in 107 BC, when the Tigurines joined the Cimurians and Teutons and raided southern Gallia, giving the Romans a heavy blow on the banks of the Garonne. In 58, the Helvetians, pressed by the Germans to the north and threatened by the Romans to the south, undertook a march in their entire mass, or rather a resettlement, into Gaul. Their number was estimated at 265,000 souls, joined by 95,000 souls from other tribes. This whole mass, consisting of men and women, old and children, free and slaves, with cattle, with supplies, burning towns and villages behind them, gathered at Lake Geneva. Caesar prevented them from crossing the Rhône, then inflicted a severe defeat on them at the town of Bibracte (now Autun) and forced them to return to Helvetia. Fearing the Germans more than the Helvets, the Romans looked upon the latter as a buffer against the former, and therefore J. Caesar recognized them as allies (foederati) of Rome and kept them independent.

In 52 the Helvetians joined the rebellion of the Gauls against Rome, but they were crushed. From then on the Romanization of Switzerland began, which proceeded slowly and gradually, but steadily and steadily over the centuries. Caesar began, and Augustus, in 15 B.C., completed the conquest of what is now Wallis; under Augustus there was the conquest by Tiberius and Drususus of Rhaetia, which constituted a special province comprising eastern Switzerland, that is, the present cantons of Graubünden, Glarus, St. Gallen, Appenzell, as well as Tyrol and part of Bavaria. Western Switzerland was first annexed to the province of Gallia Transalpine, and later formed a special province of Maxima Sequanorum or Helvetia; only Tessin and Wallis were part of Cisalpine Gallia. Within these provinces each tribe formed a particular community (civitas) which enjoyed a very considerable independence in its internal affairs. The inhabitants of these civitas paid tribute to Rome; the provinces were separated from one another by customs borders; for instance, there was a customs office in Zurich which collected duties on the goods transported. The Romans covered the country with a network of excellent roads and aqueducts, enlivened it with trade; the cities developed under them, were decorated with temples and monuments; a highly developed culture was introduced into the country and with it the Latin language and the Roman religion spread.

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Even during Roman domination, Christianity began to penetrate into Helvetia (Beate the preacher in Berne Oberland, Lucius in Rhaetia); monasteries arose in some places, a whole church organization with its own (local) bishops appeared. In the third century after Christ, Roman domination in Helvetia began to decline under the influence of Germanic attacks.

In 264, Helvetia was invaded and devastated by the Alemanni; they destroyed Aventicum, which after that time could no longer rise and lost all importance. In the fourth century, because of the loss of the lands on the right bank of the Rhine, Helvetia became especially important to Rome; new fortresses and camps were built there, but all in vain. In 406-407 eastern Switzerland was conquered by the Alemanni; in 470 western Switzerland fell to the Burgundians. Both were barbarians at that time, and the former were pagans. The Alemanni had time to wipe out almost completely all traces of Roman influence (including Christianity) and to Germanize the already Romanized regions completely. It is they who can best be regarded as the ancestors of the present inhabitants of German Switzerland; the admixture of Celtic and Romanic elements there is comparatively weak. Even in later times, when a large part of Europe, including Germany, received Roman law, the law of German Switzerland underwent Roman influence only to a very slight degree and is still much more purely Germanic than that of Germany itself. The Burgundians were much less successful in subjecting the part of Helvetia they conquered to their influence, and therefore western Switzerland remained Roman. Similarly, the southeast (present-day Canton of Graubünden), which fell under the rule of the Ostrogoths, retained its Rhaeto-Roman language and partly its Roman culture, as did Tessin, which in the subsequent Lombard era was even more subject to Roman influences. Thus, ethnically or rather linguistically, Switzerland was already in the fifth century divided into the same three or four groups as it is today, and even the boundaries between them, rather precisely and clearly marked by the distribution of mountains and the flow of rivers, were almost the same as they are today. These groups retained their cultural links with neighboring political units; their development of Celto-Romanic paralleled that of French and Italian.

Middle Ages

The Alamans were conquered by Clovis in 496 and by his sons Burgundians in 534; Retia was afterwards ceded to the Franks by the Ostgoths (536), so that all Switzerland, except the extreme south (Tessin), became part of the Frankish kingdom; this last was conquered by the Lombards in 569 and only after their kingdom fell in 774 did it come under Frankish rule. Christianity had already begun to spread again under the Alamans and Burgundians; it finally triumphed under the Franks in the 6th and 7th centuries. A large number of monasteries sprang up in the country and, under the Frankish kings, received large estates. Under the Alemannians and Burgundians, a relatively small number of significant urban settlements began to be replaced by many small farms; the conquered elements partly formed the serf population (Hörige and Leibeigene), the victors formed the free and noble classes. During the reign of the Franks, who subjugated the lords of yesterday, feudalism made further advances.

Under Charlemagne Switzerland, in the interest of governance, was divided into ten counties (Gaue). By the Treaty of Verdun (843), Switzerland was divided: the western part, together with Burgundy, and the southern part, together with Italy, went to Emperor Lothair, the eastern part, together with all of Alemannia, to King Louis the German. In this latter part of Switzerland the city of Zurich began to play a prominent role. In 854 Louis the German expanded the holdings and rights of the former monastery of St Gallen, which in the following centuries was an important center of enlightenment in Switzerland. After Louis the Child’s death (911), the Duchy of Alemannia was formed and eastern Switzerland became part of it.

In 888 Duke Rudolph of the House of Welf founded the Upper (Transuranian) Kingdom of Burgundy, which comprised western Switzerland with Wallis. The disintegration of Charlemagne’s monarchy weakened it; the kings could not always defend their possessions against the raids of semi-wild barbarians. In the 10th century Switzerland was threatened from the east by the Hungarians, and from the south by the Saracens. In 917 the former sacked Basle, in 926 S. Gallen; in 936-40 the Saracens sacked Hurretia (Graubünden), burned the monastery of St. Mauritius in Valais, and pillaged Vaadt.

When Rudolph’s descendants died in 1032, supreme power over Burgundy passed to Emperor Conrad II; since then, for three centuries, until the Swiss Union was consolidated, the fate of all Switzerland depended on German emperors; only Tessin (not all of it, but without the Leventine Valley in the north) and a small part of Graubünden, closely connected with Milan, were dependent on emperors only in so far as they were Italian kings. As the power of individual feudal lords increased, the old Alemannia and Burgundy disintegrated into many separate dominions. At the end of the eleventh and beginning of the twelfth century the Counts (Dukes from the end of the eleventh century) of Zähringen, who at first (tenth century) ruled over the Counts of Thurgau and Burgundy in Switzerland, especially rose to prominence. They gradually acquired titles of allegiance from Lake Geneva to the Aare, a hereditary bailiwick of Zurichgau, a territory independent of the monastery of Zurich, and in 1127 the titles of Burgundian viceroys. The secular rulers of Switzerland, especially the Ceringens, in order to combat the already very strong monasteries, encouraged the development of towns and founded a number of new ones: Freiburg (1178), Bern (late 12th century), Thun, Murten, etc. (in the 13th century). Next to Zeringens, the counts of Habsburg, Kiburg, and Savoy acquired large estates during the XIII century.

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In 1218 the family of the Dukes of Seehringen died out; some of their estates became imperial, others passed into other hands. The Kieburgs and Habsburgs were especially fortunate in the division of inheritance, and the latter also inherited the extinct family of the Kieburgs in 1264. The bailiwick over Zurichgau passed to the emperor, who made the city of Zurich imperial and divided the other parts of the region into several smaller bailiwicks. Rectorate over Burgundy also returned to the emperor’s hands, but by the middle of the 13th century Count Pierre of Savoy had forced a significant number of Burgundian Swiss rulers to recognize his authority; the spread of his holdings was put to an end by Count Rudolf IV of Habsburg (later Emperor Rudolf I). In the thirteenth century a struggle broke out between the Habsburgs and the imperial power, over power over Switzerland among other things. Already at the beginning of the 13th century the German emperors became aware of the S.-Gothard passageway as a convenient road to Italy. The territories of the original cantons, especially those of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden, became particularly important to them.

Switzerland’s political unity as part of Charlemagne’s monarchy broke up, and it split up into a large number of smaller states, some of them directly imperial, some aristocratic republics in which the town ruled over entirely subordinate municipalities, others the possessions of lay or clerical landlords. The internal life of the country, even at the time of the greatest strength of the monarchy, was little subject to regulation from the centers; later it became even more independent. The individual communities were accustomed to self-government, and the beginnings of republican-democratic self-government were already there. Serfdom was never particularly strong in Switzerland. Alongside the serfs who worked for the lords, there were always a large number of free settlers (hunters, fishermen, herdsmen and farmers) who had small plots of land and sometimes formed whole villages. The population of the towns was almost always free. Thanks to the relative peace enjoyed by Switzerland after the troubled 10th century, it was one of the most densely populated countries in Europe in the 11th and 13th centuries and enjoyed comparatively great prosperity.

Material from the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Brockhaus and Efron (1890-1907) was used in writing this article.

Down the Rhine

I cannot count how many poems, songs, and fairy tales were written under the influence of “Good Grandpa” Rhine. No other river in the world compares with it. The legends portray him as a gray-bearded old man, sometimes a villager, sometimes a townsman, but always wise and cheerful. Nymphs and dwarves serve under him, and its waters hold secrets and fabulous treasures. The legendary Rhine River on the map of Europe begins in Switzerland and flows into the North Sea in the Netherlands.

The Rhine on the map

The ancient Romans regarded the Rhine (they called it Rhenus) as a divine river that protected them from cruel barbarians. Medieval feudal thieves, who levied duties on anyone who crossed the river, saw the Rhine as an inexhaustible source of wealth. Prosperous cities and feudal fiefdoms along its banks always attracted enterprising greedy foreigners.

And for German nationalists in the late 19th century, the Rhine became a symbol of patriotism, as reflected in the song: “Fear not, mother country, the Rhine protects your peace…” These words are carved on the “Germany” memorial, depicting a woman with a sword in her hand, a symbol of the power united by Bismarck. Her haughty, defiant gaze looks out over the rooftops of Rüdesheim to the west bank of the river.

For centuries the Rhine has served as a frontier, dividing the Celts and the Germans, the French and the Germans. The Rhine is the longest river in Western Europe (1,320 km). It begins in the glaciers of the St. Gotthard (Swiss Alps) and ends in the Netherlands, forming a delta at its confluence with the North Sea.

The cities of Constance, Mainz, Cologne, and Bonn were founded by Roman legionaries, who camped on the west bank of the Rhine because they believed that only barbarians lived in the territories beyond the river. The grim action of The Song of the Nibelungs, which inspired a series of Richard Wagner’s operas, also takes place on the banks of the Rhine.

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Along the Rhine’s path.

The Rhine is a river of enormous economic importance, the world’s busiest waterway. It flows through the largest industrial area of the country Ruhr, covering the area from Dusseldorf to Duisburg, on the river go 9 000 cargo barges. There are important industrial cities along its banks, and from Kaiserstuhl the vineyards stretch northward. The main wine-growing district is near Bonn, just north of Königswinter.

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The stretch from Mainz to Cologne, 190 km long, has attracted tourists ever since Queen Victoria traveled with her German husband, Prince Albert, on the Rhine in the pouring rain. This happened in 1845. The English queen had many followers, so railways and ordinary roads were built on both banks, which in turn contributed to the development of industry in the region and consequently to pollution, and the name of the river, derived from the German word “rein” (clean), began to be taken as an unfortunate joke.


The waters of the Rhine, having irrigated the lands of Switzerland, flow into the elongated Lake Constance in the Alps. At Schaffhausen, the river leaves the lake, plunging 20 meters high. This spectacular waterfall serves the Swiss as a source of electricity. From Basel the navigable Rhine begins. It runs along the eastern edge of the Black Forest, with the French Vosges on its west bank. Near Karlsruhe the river enters the region of Baden, a place of diverse wine production. Passing the old, medieval town of Speyer, the Rhine reaches Mannheim and there merges with the Neckar River.


On the left bank stands the ancient Rhine city of Worms, where, as the epic of the Nibelungs tells us, the court of King Gunther was located. Here the villainous Hagen, after killing the hero Siegfried, drowned the golden treasure of the Nibelungs in the waters of the Rhine. Since then many have tried to find this treasure from the age of the magic invisible cap and the miraculous steel-cutting swords.

On April 18, 1521, Martin Luther answered before the Diet of Worms. Addressing the assembly, he defiantly declared that, unless persuaded by the arguments of reason, he would not abandon the points put forward: “On this I stand, I cannot do otherwise, so help me God!” In Worms, the city that has witnessed so many turbulent events, near the Romanesque cathedral stands the oldest synagogue in Europe (founded in 1034). On the outskirts of Worms, Germany, is the Liebfrauenkirche (Church of the Lords), and around on small hills grow the grapes from which the popular white wine Liebfraumilch is made.


The section of the Rhine between Mainz and Cologne is most beloved by history. Here the winding river valley is flanked by sharp needles of church spires, gilded weathervane, neat villages, gorges and hills through which crawl straight rows of vineyards – an earthly paradise, according to the German poets. Goethe called the region a “blessed land,” Kleist a “nature park.”

Over the centuries, ingenious locals and no less ingenious foreigners have assiduously transformed the Rhine valley with its homes and castles into a kind of German Disneyland, so now there is no way to restore its original appearance. Nowadays, rococo ornamentation and cheap craftwork dominate, sparkling with copper and iron, wine taverns and beer gardens or bars.

The Rhine is immortalized in Lord Byron’s poem “The Pilgrimage of Childe Harold” and in the paintings of William Turner. The Germans themselves discovered the beauty of the Rhine much later: first the Romantics began to speak of it, followed by the German patriots during the Prussian domination. The Rhine was a symbol of Germany during the founding of a unified state and the war with France (1870-1871), which ended with the victory of the German army.

Castles old and new

Part of the sudden interest in the Rhine was the desire to rebuild and restore the ruined castles along the banks of the river. Between Mainz and Cologne there are 60 castles, and most of them stand on steep cliffs, haughty in their fading luster. In fact, almost all the castles were destroyed in the incessant military campaigns waged by kings, emperors and local barons, who saw in the impregnable fortresses a revival of the Middle Ages, when they were inhabited by feudal robbers and despotic nobles who pillaged everything that lay at their feet. They plundered caravans, devastated villages or levied exorbitant duties on all passing ships, blocking the river with heavy iron chains.

Rheinfels Castle in Germany

Rheinfels Castle

Only one of those formidable fortresses, the mighty citadel of Rheinfels (the Rhine Rock), located just above the town of San Goar, managed to survive the age of destruction. This castle was built in the 12th century by the counts of Katzenelbogeny. Stones and boiling oil greeted anyone who tried to take possession of it. Nov 1794 Rheinfels, for some unknown reason, without firing a single shot, fell into the hands of the French revolutionaries, and three years later was destroyed.

Today many of the restored castles are hotels, youth hostels or restaurants. Ruined Rhenish castles were bought by opera singers, textile barons and rich dreamers, who spent millions to convert them into housing and often went bankrupt in the process. Some of the castles are simply fakes of antiquity. For example, the Drachtenburg (Dragon Castle) near Bonn was built in 1879 by Baron Stephan von Sarten for his mistress, the daughter of a Cologne baker.

Wine-growing region

The Romantic Rhine begins at its confluence with the Main, near Mainz, a city that was almost completely destroyed by bombs in the last weeks of World War II. Its 50 churches and 100 wine taverns were rebuilt with the same love and tenderness with which its winemakers now stack new bottled champagne in ancient Roman cellars. The Rhine city of Mainz is the only one in Germany with a wine ministry. At the House of German Wine you have the opportunity to taste different types of wine.

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Main City on the Rhine

Further down the Rhine:

  • Rüdesheim, near the Rüdesheim winery, is the Drosseliasse, a hollow with wine puddles on either side, so narrow that a drunken person has nowhere to fall.
  • Rüdesheim, the heart of the Rheingau region, is also called Weingau. The famous “Riesling Route” runs through this region, which produces 27 million bottles of wine a year. Riesling owes its fame to the diligence of the Benedictine monks who cultivated the grapes around Eberbach Abbey and the vintners in Johannisberg.
  • From Rüdesheim the vineyards creep up the steep hillsides, spreading like a green sheet over the eastern bank of the Rhine. These hills are made of shale rock and so retain the sun’s heat, and the slopes protect the vineyards from prickly northern winds and cold rains all year round.

The Naked Nymph and the Seven Virgins

The legend of Lorelei, the nymph who drags ships onto cliffs and ruins knights with her singing, is the story of a femme fatale. The world first heard of the blond temptress in 1801 from the 23-year-old poet Clemens Brentano. In 1823, Lorelei was immortalized in one of Heinrich Heine’s works. Traveling down the Rhine, he wrote the following lines:

Trouble or prophecy, my soul is so dull, And the old, terrible tale haunts me everywhere…

His ode to the naked nymph was the basis for more than 25 operas. Lorelei is actually a 120-meter-high rock on the right bank of the Rhine, between Kauben and St. Goarshausen. You can’t miss it: There’s an inscription on the rock, but it’s in Japanese. On the ledge is a statue of a nymph, created in 1983 by a Soviet sculptor commissioned by the Germans.

Statue of a nymph on the Lorelei rock

Lorelei has finally acquired a real appearance, and the violent stream, which was the reason for the myth, has been pacified. The narrow Bingener Strait, where ships were lost in the rapids, is now equipped with an electronic navigation system.

The Lorelei cliff on the Rhine

Seven Virgins

Before you get to the rock of Lorelei, near the town of Oberwesel, you’ll see seven reefs protruding from the water, which are called the Seven Virgins, or Seven Sisters. According to ancient legend, the girls were turned to stone for their excessive bashfulness, a story local lotharios tell to the virtuous maidens.

Between Rüdesheim and Bingen, in the middle of the river, stands the Mauseturm (Mouse Tower). Bishop Hutto once hid in this tower from the angry inhabitants, where he was eaten by mice – hence the name of the building. At Kaubah, on an island in the middle of the river, there is still a tolling post. There used to be a massive chain blocking the river at this place, which was not removed until the captain of a passing ship gave the required sum to the collector.

Enemy Brothers

Beyond the rock of Lorelei, just above Bornhofen, the ancient city of the pilgrims, are two castles – the “enemy brothers” Sterrenberg and Liebenstein. They are built one beside the other, but separated by a wall.

Just behind the “enemy brothers”, at Braubach, is one of the most spectacular and well-preserved castles on the banks of the Rhine. It is the Marxburg with its restored knight’s hall. It is home to the Museum of Ancient Weapons. Marxburg dominates both the Rhine and the picturesque Lahn valley.

Castle Marxburg in Germany

On the banks of the River Lahn, not far from where it merges with the Rhine, stretches the “ginger town” of Bad Ems. It consists of whitewashed wood and brick houses with openwork iron balconies on which wisteria blooms. Every year on the second Saturday in August the Rhine near Koblenz is lit up with fireworks and bonfires.


The people of the Rhineland region love lavish festivities. Before Lent, there is a carnival in this region, the highlight of which is the big fancy-dress parade with merrymaking on “pink” Monday. Around 3 million people dance the streets of Cologne and Mainz.

The last Thursday of the carnival is the “minx carnival”. Girls and women throw away all conventions (Rhineland has never been a stickler for morals), they kiss, hug and dance with the men they’re attracted to.

The carnival officially begins at 11 p.m. on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, and the madness ends on Ash Wednesday, when Catholics go to the church to atone for their sins.

The Moselle River and Bridges

At Koblenz the Moselle flows into the Rhine. The Mosel vineyards produce wines that are recognized as the best in the country – at least according to true wine connoisseurs with a fine taste.

Moselle on the Rhine

At the confluence of the two great “wine” rivers is the grand monument “The Corner of Germany”. On the opposite bank of the Rhine, high on the crest of a mountain range, stands Ehrenbreitstein, a fortress from the 13th century, which controlled this entire important area and was conquered several times by the French. Just below Koblenz, just before Andernach, you will see a bridge over the Rhine. The first bridge on the river was built by Julius Caesar in 55 BC.

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Moselle wine

The Rhine bridges have always played an important role in German life. They served as a means of communication and were also used for conquest. The bridge at Remagen became a hero of the last days of World War II. It was reinforced by soldiers of the 9th US Armored Division after it miraculously escaped destruction by the Nazis who blew up all other 43 bridges over the Rhine.

This bridge was also damaged by the Germans, but the Americans still managed to cross to the other side, and a few days later the bridge collapsed. This dramatic event is depicted in a Hollywood movie. Items from those days are in the Peace Museum, which is located inside the only surviving pillar of the former railroad bridge.

Drachenfels Rock

If you are heading from Remagen to Bonn, you should not miss the 321-metre high dragon-cliff on the right bank of the Rhine. Siegfried, the hero of the Song of the Nibelungs, fought the dragon on top of it. After killing the beast he bathed in its blood and became invincible. In honor of this mythical event is named wine “Blood of the Dragon”, made from grapes, which grow in the northernmost wine-growing region of Germany. On the mountain are the ruins of a castle from the 12th century that looks like a thumb resting against the sky. Drachenfels is also called “the highest mountain in Holland” because it is a favorite destination of Dutch tourists.

Behind Drachsenfels are the hills of Siebengebirge (seven mountains). Legend has it that they were poured by seven giants while digging a riverbed for the Rhine.

Dragon Rock

Bonn – the silent capital.

The legendary Rhine valley is home to Bonn, the “little German town” which in 1949 replaced Berlin as the capital of the Federal Republic of Germany. An unceremonious American journalist, visiting the newfound capital for the first time, described it as follows: “Half the size of Chicago’s central cemetery and twice as dead.”

Even Bonn’s illustrious son Ludwig van Beethoven left his dormant hometown by the river at age 17. But the locals cherish the house where the great musician was born; today it houses his museum. In 1845, a monument to Beethoven was erected on Domplatz.

Bonn was founded in the year 50 by Emperor Claudius. At first it was called Castra Bonnensia. If Bonn had not been made capital, it would probably have remained a pretty little town like many on the banks of the Rhine, living quietly and peacefully with its old university, its beautiful cathedral and the Alexander König Museum, which contains the skull of a Neanderthal.

Until Bonn ceded its status as capital to Berlin, the city and the tiny villages along the banks of the Rhine as far as Melem were home to 100,000 state officials, diplomats and journalists. Embassies, consulates, and government offices occupied some of the loveliest riverside locations. Upward stretched the concrete boxes of new neighborhoods that housed the offices of parliament. But the small town remained the same sleepy, and at dusk, when the hum of traffic died down and pedestrians disappeared from the sidewalks, it sank into lethargy.

Bonn, Germany


Cologne, home to about 1 million people, is a livelier and more energetic city. It is famous not only for the cathedral with its two spires, the exuberant Mardi Gräe festivities and religious processions, but also for its unique courage: during World War II it was destroyed almost to the ground, but it managed to restore its former splendor. Cologne’s spirit is embodied by its majestic Cathedral and Severin Bridge.

This extraordinary construction rests on just one pillar, but it is not centered on the center of gravity.

Cologne Cathedral

The Cologne Cathedral is considered to be the most grandiose Gothic temple in the Christian world. Behind the high altar, painted by Stephan Lochner, rises an ornate sarcophagus with the relics of three Eastern sages. The interior gives the impression of vast space and upward aspiration. All this gives visitors a sense of awe. The construction of the cathedral began in 1248 but its spires, rising to a height of 157 meters, were erected between 1842 and 1880, a time when audacious ideas prevailed and monuments of an unconventional design and execution were being born.

Cologne Cathedral

Beyond Cologne the vineyards and castles along the Rhine are suddenly replaced by clusters of smokestacks and factories. At night, their lights twinkle like fireflies. This is the Ruhr, the country’s main industrial region. Its heart is Dusseldorf. The city, full of cafes, pretty girls and magnificent architecture, is called the “German Paris”. Here Heinrich Heine was born. The homeland of the great German poet to this day is known as a city of fashion, fairs and creative inspiration.

Ruhr Area in Germany

On the outskirts of this industrial complex is Xanten, the birthplace of the legendary hero Siegfried and St. Victor the Martyr. According to the famous Roman historian Tacitus, the intrepid Ulysses (Odysseus) visited here during his wanderings.

In Emmerich, the Rhine crosses the German border and then carries its waters through the Netherlands, but even earlier, it flows past Kleve, the town where the Schwanenburg (or Swan) Castle evokes the legend of the silent knight Lohengrin and his curious wife, Else von Brabant.

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