Monday, June 8, 2009

Me, Mainz, and I

Mainz is a small city not far west of Frankfurt, sitting at the point where the River Main flows into the Rhein.  The Rhein is one of Europe's major rivers, and always has been, so Mainz has hosted some illustrious guests; the Romans, Seubi, Alans, Belgae, Attila the Hun, Charlemagne, every Holy Roman Emperor, Guttenburg, Napolean, Nazis, Patton, and Patrick.
I took the trian over to Mainz on Saturday.  It was raining, and cold, and majestic in its own way.  The cathedral is a towering heap of red stone hulking the middle of another recreated Altstadt.  It is not a charming building.  It is enormous and dark and full of great tombstones erected by the important that are covered with dancing skeletons.  But the other buildings run right up into it, right against the outside walls so that the entire place feels crowded in and it would seem perfectly reasonable if some 18th century prince turned the corner and looked down his inbred nose at you.

Up on the hill, above the cathedral is a citadel built during the mid-1600s.  It sits above the ruins of a Roman amphitheater, once the largest north of the alps (no, I have no idea if that's impressive - it looked small).  The entire citadel is preserved and you're free to wander the ramparts and look down at the Rhein, keeping an eye out for the Hessians (you could also walk over to the other side and watch out for Bonnie).

All this was great, despite the rain, but the actual reason I was there was the Roman fort.  There was - supposedly - a tower built by the Romans in the first century.  I walked around Mainz for three hours in the rain, asking docents and strangers and any one else if they knew where the Roman tower was.  No one knew.  Mainz has some great parks, by the way.

And there is a Roman tower, part of a fort built in the first century.  It is inside the citadel, in the southwest corner behind the old canteen.  The Romans built it as part of their attempt to link the Rhein and the Danube and keep all the Germans out of Gaul.  They weren't succesful.

You can keep your Franks, Carolingians, and all the rest.  Just trying to keep the tribes straight (why were the Belgae so far south, anyway?) is impossible.  Their names all sound familiar but none of the history makes any sense with everyone running back and forth across the river and moving from Poland to Spain and back again.  And here is this little tower, not much to look at, but still standing almost intact after two thousand years.  Good builders, the Romans.

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