The Saalburg in (relative) proximity to Frankfurt is a largely reconstructed cohort fort on the Limes, which houses a museum, a research institute and an archaeological park. It exists for over a hundred years now (!) and is - as far as I can tell - absolutely unique. The reconstruction of the fort was initiated in 1897 by Kaiser Wilhelm II, the first stone was laid in October 1900 and it was finished in 1907.
It is unbelievable, I know, but most people really don't know that this place even exists. They have never heard of it. Interestingly, despite the many documentaries our television stations produce (or licence), I have never seen a report on it either. It wasn't even used as a location or background for anything.
|'A fight over the Saalburg' - part |
fiction and part documentary.
And I also didn't know about it for a long time. Because I only came across it a few years ago because I happened to get my hands on an old book (on the left). Up to that moment then I had never dealt really intensively with the the Romans or the Limes in special. Maybe that was the reason.
Incidentally, the museum apparently knows that it is rather unknown. There is surprisingly little parking space for cars in front of the complex. When it was built in 1907, the rush was apparently so great that a tram was built to bring the many visitors to the fort. The thing is now history and has disappeared, because today we all have our own means of transport.
Two weeks ago we finally made the little journey of three hours to see it. Unfortunately on the same day the train drivers went on strike, so the highways were full. (Don't believe all the legends about the 'perfect' German train system.) In addition, someone probably decided that every highway and every bridge on our route had to be repaired at the same time. Literally, no joke. Of the 260 km I drove about 30 km through construction sites and narrowed highways. And back...
Nevertheless, it was the right day because the weather was perfect and there were only a few visitors to the museum. Ideal for taking pictures.
The main gate. Did the Romans actually decorate the gate with such a figure?
The main street of the camp. The museum is housed on the right-hand side and the administration is housed in the building on the left, a replica of the Praetorium. (the house and office of the commander)
The main gate seen from the inside.
The inner courtyard of the Principia, the main building of the fort, is the architectural highlight of the facility. Where do you have the opportunity to experience such a building in its entirety?
A model of the fort and the surrounding buildings.
Remains of a Roman chain mail (from the Feldbergkastell) and a small reconstruction. Can someone tell me how the Romans were able to produce such small metal rings in the required quantities? I do not know. Although I come from mechanical engineering, I can't imagine how they have done that with their limited capabilities. To me that's a mystery.
These are "pilum murale". The Romans are said to have carried on a mule two such sticks for every soldier on a march. At the end of every day, a camp was quickly fortified without having to fell trees.
The spacious interior of the castle. At Roman times there were probably no trees or bushes in the fort.
The back gate through which the road actually led to the nearby Limes.
At the Limes itself, I had a little discussion with my wife as to whether the palisade shown made sense at all. I had seen depictions of it before and always doubted that it was worth the effort. The notice board says that the palisade only existed between 120BC and 145BC and was not renewed due to a lack of wood and replaced by ditches and a rampart. I, on the other hand, support the thesis that the palisade was omitted because the benefit simply did not correspond to the effort. A lack of wood in the middle of Germany? No way.
I think the Romans saw the Limes more realistically than we do. For them it was probably not a real defense line, they probably wanted to build an obstacle to prevent the unregulated movement of people and goods. Because palisade, rampart and ditch would hardly have withstood a serious, massive attack.
See it this way: The fence prevents individual hikers and riders (migrants, spies, criminals,smugglers, whoever...) from crossing the border, ditches and rampart prevent the passage of wagons and thus goods in significant quantities.
However, it is also easy to underestimate these ditches and ramparts. If you stand on top of such a thing, like on these remains of an earlier earthwork besides the castle, you can easily imagine defending it somehow. It clearly gives you a better position because the rampart is very steep and you stand high above a potential intruder or attacker who will face difficulties to move up. And it provides protection against arrows and attackers on horses.
Outside the fort there are also the remains of the first encampment that the Romans made at this location. Like the later versions of the forts, it was build to control the pass over the Taunus Mountains. The pass still plays a role, today many cars use the road right next to the castle so that the noise is a little bit annoying. I recommend a visit on an early Sunday morning.
On the old Roman road that leads through the main gate to the south there was not only a village (Vicus) but also a temple of the Mithras cult with an 'eternal spring' next to it. Unfortunately, the building was locked, but no real information about the inner workings of such a temple is available anyway so anything shown there is more or less a fantasy.
Perhaps the reconstruction of the castle is not as perfect as one would like it to be by today's standards. For example I think the towers are not right, too small and not really useful from the defenders standpoint. And the battlements are definitely not right.
But all in all it is very well done and you get a very good impression of an cohort fort. For those who are interested, those who take a closer look at the exhibition, make the circular walk around the camp, visit the ruins of the Vicus, the baths and the earthworks outside the castle and the Limes, the facility is good enough for a stay of some hours. And there is a little restaurant inside where you can eat like a Roman - or choose chips and a coffee like I did.