Augusta Raurica is a Roman archaeological site and an open-air museum in Switzerland located on the south bank of the Rhine river about 20 km east of Basel near the villages of Augst and Kaiseraugst. It is the oldest known Roman colony on the Rhine.
Augusta Raurica was founded by Lucius Munatius Plancus around 44 BC in the vicinity of a local Gallic tribe, the Rauraci, relatives of the Helvetii. No archaeological evidence from this period has yet been found, leading to the conclusion that, either the settlement of the colony was disturbed by the civil war following the death of Julius Caesar, or that Plancus' colony was actually in the area of modern Basel, not Augst. Successful colonization of the site had to wait for Augustus' conquest of the central Alps around 15 BC. The oldest find to date at Augusta Raurica has been dated to 6 BC by dendrochronology.
During excavations it was determined that the city was founded on a high plateau just south of the Rhine river. Two small rivers, the Ergolz and Violen, have carved a triangle in the plateau, the base of which is about 1 kilometer wide along the base of the Jura Mountains, and the apex points northward toward the Rhine, about 1 kilometer from the base. This point is the site of the Roman castrum, or military fortification. The city is, therefore, well-defended by steep slopes to the north, east, and west.
By the 2nd century AD, Augusta Raurica was a prosperous commercial trading centre and, in its glory days, the capital of a local Roman province. It is estimated that the population reached approximately 20,000 people. Augusta Raurica prospered between the 1st and 3rd centuries, and exported smoked pork and bacon to other parts of the Roman Empire. The city possessed the typical amenities of a Roman city, an amphitheatre, a main forum, several smaller forums, an aqueduct, a variety of temples, several public baths and the largest Roman theatre north of the Alps, with 8,000 to 10,000 seats. Many of these sites are open to visitors year-round.
In 250 AD, a powerful earthquake damaged a large part of the city. Shortly after, around 260 AD, Alemanni tribes and/or marauding Roman troops destroyed the city. The Romans attempted to maintain their military position by building a fortress on the Rhine, Castrum Rauracense, the walls of which are still partly intact. Augusta Raurica was resettled on a much smaller scale on the site of the castrum. These two settlements form the centers of the modern communities of Augst and Kaiseraugst.
In 1442, these communities were divided along the Ergolz and Violenbach rivers. The western portion was given to Basel, which became a canton of Switzerland in 1501. In 1833, Augst became part of the Canton of Basel-Land. The eastern part became part of Habsburg territories and, to differentiate between the two towns, was renamed Kaiseraugst. Kaiseraugst became part of Switzerland in 1803 after the defeat of the Habsburgs during the Napoleonic Wars.
Many of the Roman buildings have been discovered and conserved through excavations, and most are open to the public; The amphitheatre, aqueduct, main forum and the theater which forms an architectural unit with the temple across the street.
Several private commercial buildings also have been found (a taberna, a bakery, a potter, and a tile kiln), as well as portions of a sewer. Around 80% of the built-up area has yet to be excavated. Augusta Raurica is the best-preserved Roman city north of the Alps that has not been built-over in medieval or modern times.
The Roman Museum houses the most important finds from the Roman city and presents the history of Augusta Raurica. In the museum, visitors will often find special exhibits, as well as most the significant archaeological find at Augusta Raurica: the silver treasure of Kaiseraugst. This treasure hoard was found in the fortress in 1961-1962, and it is presumed to have once been the property of a commander. The museum also has a reconstruction of a Roman house, with artifacts and reconstructions showing daily domestic and commercial life from the Roman period.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.