Day 21: Frankfurt and Saalburg


Settled into Frankfurt: On to Saalburg

The night before, I settled into my hotel - Favored Hotel Plaza - a few short blocks from the Frankfurt Main Train Station. This morning I was ready to head off to the rebuilt Roman Fort Saalburg... only 15 miles north of the city. Initially I planne don bicycling, but Uwe told me it was pretty steep. So, I decided to find my way by S-Bahn and Bus.

The Saalburg website actually talks about how to get there by transit and I went to the Franfurt Main Train Station and asked the Deutche Bahn representative how to get to Saalburg. He told me about the S-Bahn route leaving in 15 minutes and the bus I would take. I thought everything was set, but little did I know, I made a critical communication error.

I hopped on the train to Friedrichsdorf (that´s the station the Deutsche Bahn man said to go to, even though the Saalburg website says go to Bad Homburg). I got off and found a bus and showed the driver the itinerary the DB man gave me. Yup, this is the bus to Saalburg. About 20 minutes later, the bus stopped at Saalburg... Railroad Station. Looking on my Google Maps on my phone, I was still about a 30 minute walk from the Fortress.

I asked a couple people about directions, got my bearings, and figured 30 minutes wasn´t bad. It wasn´t, but it was all uphill through the forest. Wearing my sandals and huffing through the woods, I honestly felt like a Roman soldier on his way through the eerie, foreboding forests of Germania.

About halfway through the hike, I noticed that the ground to my right seemed higher, as if built into a ridge. I thought to myself, I bet these are the Limes (pronounced: Lee-mays) or ¨Limits¨ in Latin, of the Roman Empire. This is where Roman Limitanni (Frontier soldiers) looked out at the wild German lands and regulated crossing of the border. There was a lot of crossing - this was not a static line, but a porous membrane where traders, hunters, refugees, and soldiers crossed back and forth for different reasons.

I finally reached a footbridge over a highway that skirts Saalburg Roman Fort and could see the outer walls: my destination!

Below are photos of one of the watchtower foundations and what it looked like in late Roman times. You can listen to the first few minutes of an excellent podcast called The Fall of Rome by Patrick Wyman (if you like this, I HIGHLY recomend listening to the entire podcast starting with Episode 1).


Saalburg is a pretty impressive site. The current fort is a reconstruction built under the authority of Kaiser Wilhelm II. The statue at the main gate, as well as most of the wall and buildings were constructed in the mid-19th Century. Interestingly, the look of the fort walls - exposed rocks and mortar - are not what the fort would have looked like when the Romans built it. For one, the two gate towers would be twice as high. Second, all the walls shown with exposed rock would have been covered by white plaster and inscribed with painted-on red mortar joints. To look like the marble or fine stone used in buidlings in Rome.

The interior was also impressive with a display showing the evolution of the Limes, artifacts found on site, how Saalburg is situated along a portion of the Limes, and how the fort changed over time. A lot of the archaeological finds, especially any preserved wood tool handles or roman tribuli, were found at the bottom of the old wells. As if the Germans who eventually took control of the fort used some of the old wells as junk pits.

The Roman forts were always built in a rounded rectangle, kind of like a playing card, and had two main roads: one north-south and one east-west that intersected in the middle. Each road led out through a gate on one of the four sides. There were barracks, a grain storage building, Principia (where the troops were mustered, officers lived, and the sacred legionarry standards were stored), baths, ovens for baking bread, and a workshop. I´ve created a gallery below with several interesting items and buildings at Saalburg.

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