If the English-speaking visitor to the lands west of the Rhine today is struck by their ethnic and regional diversity, he cannot fail to notice also the fierce pride of citizens for their town. More compact than most English or American towns, often possessing a well-defined boundary with the surrounding countryside, many still betray palpable signs of their Roman origins. Two in particular stand out in this regard. One is ‘a very great town called Trier where, it is said, the Emperor lives; this is in the midst of land. There is also another great town which comes to the aid of Trier in all things; it is situated by the sea and is called Aries. It receives the merchandise of the whole world, and transports it to Trier.’1 Thus a fourth-century geographer; he may have had confused ideas about Gaul, but he recognised the importance of these two cities, whose Roman monuments are preserved to such an astonishing extent to this day. Trier, at times an imperial residence and the seat of the praetorian prefect, has its towering Porta Nigra, the best preserved of all Roman town gateways, thanks to the hermit who took up residence in it and ensured its preservation as a church. From the hills on the opposite side of the Moselle one can see the brick basilica which formed part of Constantine’s palace complex, still dominating one section of the town; the remains of the baths, among the most extensive in the Empire and used as a quarry by generations of Treveri; and the vine-covered hills beyond, whose slopes form the foundation for the town’s amphitheatre.
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