In amassing territory which stretched from the Atlantic to Bohemia and from the Baltic to central Italy, Charlemagne believed that he was recreating the ancient Roman Empire. Vivid expression was given to this belief by the attempts to emulate Roman forms by the builders and artists who worked on his innumerable projects of construction and embellishment. Few of these survive, but some of the most enlightening are to be seen in Saxony.
The election of Henry of Saxony in 919 to the royal throne of Germany brought to an end a century of disunity and baronial misrule and ushered in a period during which the Saxon kings – two Henrys and three Ottos – achieved a partial reconstitution of Charlemagne’s empire and brought about the emergence of a nation state, arguably the first in Europe.
‘Old’ Saxony, which comprised the Harz mountains and the undulating plains to the north, became the most powerful of the German duchies as well as forming the kernel of the German nation. Subsequently the region gradually lost its pivotal role in national and international affairs; even the name slid across the map to denominate another part of Germany.
A consequence of the region’s central importance in the early Middle Ages is that Old Saxony has no peers in northern Europe for the wealth of Ottonian and early Romanesque architecture, sculpture, precious metalwork and other arts. A consequence of subsequent decline is that much of this heritage is situated in some amazingly lovely and unspoilt little towns amidst a largely rural landscape of wooded hills and rolling farmland. Split after the war between West and East, the region is still far from recovering the popularity it had with travellers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
London to Paderborn. Fly at c. 10.45am from London Heathrow to Düsseldorf (British Airways). Overnight in Paderborn.
Paderborn, Corvey. At Paderborn are the fascinating archaeological remains of Charlemagne’s palace and a modern reconstruction of the Ottonian replacement. The 13th-century cathedral has a western tower and spire similar to its pre-Romanesque predecessor. Also see the treasury in the Diocesan Museum. The westwork of the Abbey at Corvey is among the most important of surviving Carolingian buildings. Drive to Hildesheim for the first of two nights.
Hildesheim. Hildesheim is of enormous importance in the history of Romanesque art and architecture. The cathedral has some of the earliest and best bronze sculpture of that era and the treasury is one of the finest in Germany; both reopened in August 2014 after extensive renovations. A pinnacle of Ottonian achievement embodying many influential innovations, the six-towered church of St Michael was begun in 1010. Overnight Hildesheim.
Hildesheim, Goslar. Goslar is a lovely little town with outstanding Ottonian art and architecture, of which the palace is a rare secular survival. Works of art including a bronze altar are in the museum. First of five nights in Quedlinburg.
Quedlinburg, Gernrode. Quedlinburg is not only a wonderfully preserved medieval town but has the authentic feel of a place not spruced up for the tourist trade. The castle hill is crowned by the collegiate church of St Servatius, begun 1070, and contains another of Germany’s finest treasuries. The Wipertikirche has a 10th-century crypt. St Cyriakus at Gernrode is a church of exceptional beauty; begun 961, it is the oldest large-scale Ottonian building surviving. Overnight Quedlinburg.
Halberstadt, Hamersleben. Halberstadt was a major city in the Middle Ages. The Romanesque Church of Our Lady contains life-size reliefs of apostles. The cathedral is the largest French-style Gothic church in Germany after Cologne, and has a very rich treasury, which is particularly good for medieval textiles. Visit the Monastery and church of St Pankratius in Hamersleben, a hidden gem of Romanesque architecture. Overnight Quedlinburg.
Magdeburg, Königslutter. Magdeburg was the favoured residence of Otto the Great. The cathedral, standing on a bluff above the River Elbe, is the first Gothic building in Germany and a veritable museum of medieval sculpture. Königslutter am Elm has a very fine church and cloister from the abbey founded in 1135 and built by Lombard masons; the sculpture is superb. Overnight Quedlinburg.
Merseburg, Naumburg. Drive south to Merseburg on the river Saale with its cathedral, begun in 1015 and dating mainly from the 13th and 16th centuries. Architecturally, Naumburg Cathedral is an outstanding embodiment of the transition from Romanesque to Gothic, but its great importance lies in its 13th-century sculpture, including statues of the founders, among the most powerful and realistic of the Middle Ages.
Braunschweig. Braunschweig (Brunswick) was residence of Henry the Lion, one of the most powerful princes in 12th-century Europe. The Romanesque cathedral has extensive frescoes of c. 1220, a rare survival. Opposite stands Henry’s castle; now a museum, it displays the Lion Monument, the first free-standing monumental bronze sculpture since Roman times. Fly from Hanover and arrive at Heathrow at c. 9.00pm.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £2,940 or £2,720 without flights. Single occupancy £3,310 or £3,090 without flights.
Air travel (economy class) on scheduled British Airways flights (aircraft: Airbus A319); travel by private coach throughout; breakfasts, 6 dinners with wine; all admissions; tips for drivers, restaurant staff; all state and airport taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Hotel zur Mühle, Paderborn: a modern 3-star hotel in the city centre. Van der Valk Hotel, Hildesheim: a modern 4-star hotel with a historical facade looking onto the market square. Romantik Hotel am Brühl, Quedlinburg: a comfortably furnished 4-star hotel in a restored heritage building near the historical heart. Single rooms throughout are doubles for sole use.
This tour involves a lot of walking in the town centres where vehicular access is restricted, and should not be attempted by anyone who has difficulty with everyday walking and stair-climbing. Some days involve a lot of driving. Average distance by coach per day: 91 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.
'Excellent variety and standard of sights'
'The leadership of the tour was was outstanding, both intellectually and socially.'
'The lecturer was faultless and just right. Amazing knowledge.'
'Good itinerary. Most of the important gardens were visited and very interesting.'