Mainz, once a crossroads on the Rhine River for commerce since its establishment by the Romans, continues to play a central role along the river with its rich cultural history, deep religious heritage, and educational opportunities offered by its university. The city is the capital of Rhineland-Palatinate,but served as the capital of the Electorate of Mainz during the Holy Roman Empire.
St. Martin’s Cathedral, Der heilige Bonifatius vor dem Mainzer Dom, commands the center of the Altstadt even a millennium after its construction. Mainz, at a crossroads of trade and travel, became the ecclesiastical center north of the Alps and is well known through the writings of St. Boniface. The construction of a massive cathedral at this center of Christianity was designed for worship by the city’s residents, as well as travelers and traders moving through the region. This magnificent Romanesque Cathedral, the main historic and architectural landmark of Mainz, dominates the city’s skyline with its six red towers of the city’s historic central skyline. The architectural style of the cathedral is predominantly a Romanesque structure, but exterior additions to the building over many centuries in both Gothic and Baroque styles have resulted in the appearance of these various architectural influences seen today in the structure.
The scale of the cathedral is grand, giving those who worship a sense of the supernatural. In the church are three naves and stands constructed under the patronage of St. Martin of Tours. This photograph of the West Choir, or St. Martin’s Choir, behind the High Altar, gives one the impression of how large is the space. The interior houses both tombs and funerary monuments of former powerful Electoral-prince-archbishops, known as Kurfürst-Erzbischöfe, of the Mainz diocese. Additionally, many religious works of art, spanning a millennium of contributions, are built into the columns which support the vaulted ceiling.
St. Peter’s Cathedral is constructed with late-Baroque elegance. Gold adorns the rococo architecture in St. Peter’s Cathedral, which shines after a ten-year restoration that ended in 1989. The church began in 944 AD under the inspiration of Archbishop Frederick of Lorraine. The ceiling originally was covered in frescos by Joseph Appiani (painted between 1752 and 1755), showing the life and legends of the Apostle Peter. But, only one original still can be seen behind the entrance to the church.
The Augustinerkirche, located along the AugustinerStrasse in the Altstadt, Old City, is the Baroque façade of the towering Augustiner Church. Beginning in the 13th Century, the structure was used as a monastery by Augustinian hermits; now the church is used as a seminary church. The ceiling are covered in frescoes and provide insights into the life of St Augustine and the mendicant order’s history. Unlike other churches in Mainz, the Augstinerkirche survived intact during Allied bombing during WWII.
Mainz’s Altstadt “gemuetlich” character is that of broad, expansive squares, restored half-timbered houses, and attractive Baroque churches. The most attractive part of the Altstadt is where the city’s cherry orchard once was located. Today, a cherry-tree stump is the only remains of the orchard found at the Zum Beymberg bakery, House #19. Hidden behind these façades and in its bourgeois Baroque houses are the ubiquitous tourist shops, an evil necessity of many Altstadten, cafés, bier cellars, and wine bars. All of the latter businesses mimic the character of the AugustinerStrasse, which was the city’s principal, but narrow, thoroughfare until the 17th Century. There’s nothing that comes close to a half liter of bier vom Fass and traditional Rheinland or “Pfälzer” cuisine.
Mainz’s native son, Johannes Gutenberg, invented the movable type printing that led to one of western civilizations great advances and, considered by some, to be the most important individual contributions. Gutenberg has been claimed to be the godfather of Information Technology. Similar to today’s spread of hand-held devices, his invention allowed for the rapid and inexpensive dissemination of information, causing the end of the Feudal state. At the same time, the Age of Discovery and the Age of Mercantilism and Colonization advanced as more people publicized their travels and discoveries in print. The Gutenburg Museum, the birthplace of printing, displays Gutenberg’s first printed Bible which is a highlight that shouldn’t be missed.
The principal building stone of all major buildings in the city is a fine-grained, sandstone of Triassic age, known as the Bundtsandstein. These river and nearshore sandstones are characteristically reddish to pink, with interbedded arenitic beds. The sandstone is relatively easy to quarry and fashionn into building block, and the wide variety of primary structures, including cross bed sets, soft sediment deformational structures, ripple and flaser structures, and graded bedding all make for unique textural contrasts in all of the city’s municipal buildings.
A boat trip down the Rhine, Germany’s most traveled river, departs from Mainz and ends in Bonn or Köln nearly all year long. A day on the river is an enjoyable and relaxing way to see both the upper, where Medieval castles perch on mountain tops, and lower Rhine Valley’s fairy tale qualities. Along the way, you’ll change ships twice, in Koblenz and Boppard, as no single boat completes the trip along the entire river. It’s possible to overnight in one of more than a dozen of the river’s wine villages (Barcharach, St Goar, St Goarshausen, Assmannshausen, Boppard) where exquisite meals and wines are a tradition. The regional wines, from Rheinhessen, Rheingau, Mittel Rhein, Mosel-Saar-Ruwever, Nahe, and the Ahr vineyards all are grown along side this route. Rhine river boats leave Mainz anywhere after 8 am, and arrive in Bonn or Köln in the early evening. The only disturbance to a peaceful day on the river might be the onslaught of Asian tourists who are bussed to specific departure towns, left onboard for about an hour or so, and then depart back to their buses to continue their tour of the country. It’s a small price to pay for the serenity of a full-day cruise.