The religious complex represented by the former Lorsch Abbey with its 1,200-year-old gatehouse, which is unique and in excellent condition, comprises a rare architectural document of the Carolingian era with impressively preserved sculpture and painting of that period. It gives architectural evidence of the awakening of the West to the spirit of the early and high Middle Ages under the first king and emperor, Charlemagne.
In the small town of Lorsch, between Worms and Darmstadt, is the renowned Torhalle, one of the rare Carolingian buildings that has retained its original appearance. It is a reminder of the past grandeur of an abbey founded around 760-64. The first Abbot was the Bishop of Metz, Chrodegang (died 766). Sometime before 764 he brought monks from Gorze to live there and in 765 he donated the relics of St Nazarius, which he had acquired in Rome.
In 767, Thurincbert, one of the founder's brothers, donated new land in sand dunes safe from floods about 500 m from the original site. The monastery was placed under the Emperor's protection in 772. In 774, with Charlemagne in attendance, the Archbishop of Mainz consecrated the new church, dedicated to Saints Peter, Paul and Nazarius.The Codex Laureshamensis, a chronicle of the abbey, lists the improvements made by three of the most important abbots, Helmerich, Richbod and Adelog, between 778 and 837. The monastery's zenith was probably in 876 when, on the death of Louis II the German (876) it became the burial place for the Carolingian kings of Germany. To be a worthy resting place for the remains of his father, Louis III the Young (876-82) had a crypt built, an ecclesia varia, where he was also buried, as were his son Hugo and Cunegonde, wife of Conrad I (the Duke of Franconia elected King of Germany at the death of the last of the German Carolingians, Louis IV the Child).
The monastery flourished throughout the 10th century, but in 1090 was ravaged by fire. In the 12th century a first reconstruction was carried out. In the 13th century, after Lorsch had been incorporated in the Electorate of Mainz (1232), it lost a large part of its privileges.
The Benedictines were replaced first by Cistercians and later by Premonstratensians. Moreover, the church had to be restored and reconstructed after yet another fire. The glorious Carolingian establishment slowly deteriorated under the impact of the vagaries of politics and war: Lorsch was attached to the Palatinate in 1461, returned to the Electorate of Mainz in 1623, and incorporated in the Electorate of Hesse in 1803. During the Thirty Years' War in 1620-21, the Spanish armies pillaged the monastic buildings, which had been in a state of abandon since the Reformation.
Only the Torhalle, part of the Romanesque church, insignificant vestiges of the medieval monastery, and classical buildings dating from the period when the Electors of Mainz administered the town still survive within its boundaries.
In 1991 the ruined abbey was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.References:
The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.
The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.
In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.
In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.
After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.
In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.
In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.