To a percipient observer of Europe in the eleventh century, it might have seemed that the Kingdom of Germany was poised to become the dominant power in Europe. By all the indicators of economic development, demography and governance, the region was outpacing other embryonic nation states.
Such a view would have been lent weight by a survey of the construction industry. Not only was the number of projects remarkable, but some of the most ambitious and innovative architecture in Europe was being created in the German lands, especially in the Rhineland. Wealthy abbeys, burgeoning cities and ambitious princes and emperors were instigating buildings of unprecedented size and magnificence.
Romanesque architecture is distinguished by massiveness of construction and noble simplicity of form, but these characteristics often mask a high degree of structural adventurousness and very considerable sophistication of design, symbolism and iconography. Nowhere was this more so than in Germany, where many churches have high towers and spires, complex ground plans and evidence of bold experiments in engineering. So keen were German builders to develop the full potential of round-arched architecture that they were not attracted to the new forms and techniques of Gothic until well into the thirteenth century, nearly a hundred years after their appearance in France.
A subsidiary theme of the tour – and an essential prelude to Romanesque – is the art and architecture of the Carolingian era. By the time of his death in AD 814, Charlemagne, King of the Franks and self-proclaimed Roman Emperor, had amassed territory that stretched from the Atlantic to Bohemia, and from the Baltic Sea to Central Italy.
Charlemagne had a passionate interest in the culture and institutions of ancient Rome and his belief that he was reviving the Roman Empire found expression in his attempts to emulate its literature and art. The Dark Ages soon closed in again on the Carolingian Empire and its visible remains are few but fascinating. The Ottonian revival of the Empire a century and a half later was a more immediate precursor of Romanesque.
The Rhine with its tributary the Mosel was the busiest river in mediaeval Europe, a major highway for people, goods and ideas, and a source of wealth for both cities and feudal lords. The abundance of Romanesque architecture in the region is matched by its variety, and in museums and cathedral treasuries outstanding examples of the other arts survive.
Maria Laach. Depart at c. 9.00am from London St Pancras by Eurostar to Brussels and on to Cologne. Continue to Maria Laach, an active Benedictine monastery with a Romanesque church in an unspoilt lakeside setting. There is time for a preliminary survey of one of the most homogenous and complete of early Romanesque churches and its beautifully sculpted narthex. First of two nights in Maria Laach.
Aachen, Schwarz-Rheindorf. Drive to Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle), Charlemagne’s favourite capital. The cathedral, a most precious survival of early mediaeval architecture, has a remarkable rotunda based on one in Ravenna (last capital of the Roman Empire) with the emperor’s throne in situ. The treasury has outstanding mediaeval metalwork. The small lovely late Romanesque church at Schwarz-Rheindorf is unusual in having two storeys, and has important wall paintings.
Trier. The Roman city of Trier was for a while capital of the Western Empire and an important early centre of Christianity. Its surviving Roman buildings, still the most impressive group in northern Europe, were a major influence on German Romanesque. Visit the Porta Nigra (city gate), and the Aula Palatina, Emperor Constantine’s throne hall. Romanesque churches incorporating Roman masonry include the cathedral and the Basilica of St Matthias. Continue to Speyer, a charming town beside the Rhine. First of two nights in Speyer.
Speyer, Lorsch, Worms. Speyer, second of the imperial cathedrals, is the mausoleum of the Salian emperors and the largest of Rhenish Romanesque churches. With its parkland setting, vast vaulted nave and well preserved eastern parts, it is immensely impressive. The museum has regalia from the imperial tombs. A precious and beautiful remnant of Carolingian Europe, the gateway of Lorsch Abbey is crudely classicizing. One of the three ‘imperial’ cathedrals and the least changed, Worms was rebuilt and richly ornamented around 1200.
Speyer, Mainz, Limburg, Cologne. The busy and picturesque city of Mainz is the site of the third of the imperial cathedrals, elaborate outside (with six towers) and sombre within. The abbey church at Limburg an der Lahn enjoys a striking situation on a hilltop, the effect enhanced by a full complement of seven spires. First of two nights in Cologne.
Cologne. One of the largest cities in mediaeval Europe, Cologne has the greatest concentration of Romanesque churches to be found anywhere. Among those visited are St Maria im Kapitol, which introduced clover-leaf apse clusters, Gross St Martin, with its huge crossing tower, St Gereon, with a unique dome and arcaded decoration and St Pantaleon, with a liturgically interesting east end. There is also time for the Gothic cathedral and the Cathedral Treasury.
Cologne. The Schnütgen Museum has an excellent collection, superbly displayed, of mediaeval decorative arts. Some free time: there are fine collections in the Wallraf-Richartz Museum (paintings), Diocesan Museum (mediaeval art) and Romano-Germanic Museum. The train via Brussels arrives at London St Pancras at c. 6.30pm.
£2,220. This includes: train travel (Standard Premier on Eurostar and first class on ICE or Thalys); travel by private coach; accommodation as described below; breakfasts, 5 dinners with wine; all admission charges; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager. Single supplement £210 (double room for single occupancy). Price without all train travel £1,870.
Seehotel, Maria Laach: a quiet and comfortable 4-star hotel next to the secluded monastery. Hotel Domhof, Speyer: a small traditional hotel in an old building around a courtyard close to the cathedral. Mondial am Dom, Cologne: a modern hotel located a very short walk from the cathedral and main railway station. Rooms are comfortable and well-equipped.
There is quite a lot of walking on this tour; coaches usually have to park at some distance from the monuments visited. Participants have to carry their own luggage at railway stations. There is quite a lot of coach travel; average distance by coach per day: 90 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
'A very complete survey of Rhineland Romanesque and additional destinations made for a very satuisfying sweep of architectural history – with very many thanks for this tour.'