Germany’s UNESCO Route, Wurzburg
ABOVE PHOTO: Old Bridge and Fortress Marienberg.
(© Bayerische Schlösserverwaltung - www.schloesser.bayern.de)
By Renée S. Gordon
"Every age writes its own history."
UNESCO, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, is an arm of the United Nations charged with fostering five key themes and a number of special programs that necessitate joint country participation. The foremost of these special programs is the Parisian based World Heritage Center which "identifies cultural, natural and mixed sites to be protected all over the world in an effort to promote the maintenance of cultural, historic and/or natural heritage in those places for others to see. " In 1972 the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage agreement was reached stating that the countries, currently 193, that are members of UNESCO will identify, maintain and protect the designated sites. www.unesco-welterbe.de/en/unesco-world-heritage
There are nearly 900 UNESCO sites in the world and Germany has nearly 40 throughout the country. They can be explored thematically, historically, in the footsteps of a historic personality or any number of other ways. Because Germany has such a modern and convenient rail system I have always found it easiest and both time and cost efficient to plan my travel based on train schedules and routes. Lufthansa flights fly nonstop from Philadelphia to Frankfurt and the train station is located within the airport. Train destinations include both German and international cities and affordable rail passes are available. www.bahn.com and www.germanrailpasses.com
Wurzburg, located 71-miles from Frankfurt, is one of the premier Baroque towns on the River Main in Lower Franconia in the center of Germany and central to the rest of Europe. It is recognized as one of the country's 13 Historic Highlights as well as a UNESCO World Heritage City and a Franconian wine region. Wurzburg Tourism offers a number of unique ways to see the city, audio guide, cell phone, narrated Red City Train, mp3 player, iGuide mini computer, or personal guided tour. Additionally visitors can purchase the Würzburg Welcome Card, valid for 7-days, for about $6.00 and good for more than 25 discounts. www.historicgermany.travel
Archeological evidence proves that there were Celtic fortifications atop Marienberg Hill around 1,700 BC with the first written documents mentioning Wurzburg appearing in 704 AD. A small fort was built there in the 700s and in the 1200s Mairienberg Fortress was built on the site of the previous defenses. The location was chosen because of the panoramic view and three hillsides are that too steep for a running attack. During the Peasant's Revolt the fortress was surrounded but not breached and as many as 8,000 peasants were killed. That battle was the last victory to take place at Marienberg. Swedish forces conquered the area in 1631, followed by Napoleon's forces in 1801 and WWII air raids in 1945 took a final devastating toll on the fortification. The site was rehabilitated by 1990 and today visitors can tour the Princes' Building Museum, the Princes' Garden and the 4-story Maschikuli Tower and Casemate.
One of Germany's largest Romanesque churches, Dom St. Kilian, was built over a 133-year period, beginning in 1045, and dedicated to Killian, Wurzburg's patron saint. Kilian and two other clerics, Coloman and Totnan, visited Wurzburg to convert Duke Gozbert and his people to Christianity in 686. They succeeded in converting Duke Gozbert and then informed him that his marriage to his brother's widow Geilana went against Christian doctrine. When Geilana received the news that he would be leaving she did not take it well and while he was away she had the three missionaries killed and buried along with all their belongings. In the 8th-century permission was granted for public veneration.
The cathedral is a four-towered, three-nave basilica with a Baroque-stucco façade. There are 20 bells the most notable of which is the 1257 Lobdeburg Bell saved from destruction during WWII because it was removed. Two of the cathedral's most stunning features are the bronze doors created in the 1960s. Amazingly these abstract doors are a modern version of early church art that was used to teach the Bible to the illiterate. The gates relate the book of Genesis beginning at the top with the hand of God separating the elements. The cathedral's interior is a blend of Romanesque and Baroque. Highlights of a tour include a large menorah near the entrance, the carved effigies of the bishops buried there, the 13th-century baptismal font and the Baroque altar.
Neumünster Church, a Romanesque basilica, was erected in the 11th-century on the site of the martyrdom of St. Kilian and his companions. Bishop Beowulf and Charlemagne entombed their relics in St. Killian's vault on the site in 788. An inscription beneath the Baroque dome indicates the location. Above the altar there are three busts of the missionaries by Riemenschneider. The façade is red sandstone and dates from the 1800s.
Wurzburg has a striking Rathaus, or Town Hall, built over a period of time. The earliest, Romanesque Tower, was built around 1250 with extensions in the 15th and 16th centuries and Roter Turm, a Renaissance tower being added in 1660.
PHOTO: WuRes Treppenhaus
(© Bayerische Schlösserverwaltung - www.schloesser.bayern.de)
Casual travelers and religious pilgrims climb the hill to the 1778 Kappele Church. The walk from the Ludwigsbruke takes approximately 20-minutes and is semi-strenuous with a 352-step climb. Highlights of a visit are the life-sized sculptures of the Stations of the Cross, frescoes and Miracle Hall. There is a restaurant adjacent to the church and the view from the top takes your breath away.
In 1981 the Bishop's Residence and Court Gardens was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites based on its significance to human history and as an exemplar of human creative genius. It is one of the largest Baroque palaces in the country with 365 Baroque and Rococo rooms and a height of 121-ft. and a 24-acre garden. Commissioned by Prince-Bishop Johann Franz von Schönborn it was designed and constructed from 1720-44 by Balthasar Neumann.
Around 1752 the Venetian artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo was imported to create a fesco on the vaulted ceiling above the cantilevered staircase. The work, when completed, would be the largest fresco in the world and would showcase Europe as the greatest of the four continents including Africa, America and Asia. A woman personifies each continent and the 99 by 65-ft. work is a skillful combination of 2 and 3-dimensional art.
The tour of the Palace proceeds through a series of ornate and beautiful rooms with each one being a highlight. Of particular note are the murals of Barbarossa's connection to the Holy Roman Empire in the Emperor's Hall and the contrasting White Room. The Mirrored Cabinet Room is astonishing, all the more so when you learn that it was restored after suffering damage in WWII. www.residenz-wuerzburg.de
Wurzburg is famous for its wine and many of the wineries began as cottage industries as a way of making money. That was not the case with the Residences' Staatlicher Hofkeller and a tour of the Historic State Winery is a must. The cellars, the nation's oldest, cover 49,000-sq.-ft with walls up to 16.4-ft thick. The first wine was produced here in 1128 and now the 300-acres of vineyards produce 850,000 bottles of Germany's best wine annually. Tours of the wine cellar include a wine tasting. The Wine Shop is a retail homage to the art of Franconian winemaking. Each element in the store reflects some natural component of the process and the unique wine related items sold along with the wine make the shop a destination.
On March 16, 1945 Wurzburg was the target of the British. The RAF dropped 380,000 incendiary bombs leading to more than 3,000 casualties and the destruction of more than 85% of the city. Less than one month later United States forces entered the city and occupied what had been the Nazi People's Welfare Organization as their headquarters at Ludwigkai 4.
There is little left in Wurzburg to reflect the events surrounding WWII. Adolf Hitler visited Wurzburg numerous times and Nazi rallies and ceremonies were held in the large courtyard in front of the Residence. Two of the most infamous events held there were the March 10, 1933 burning of "subversive" literature and Hitler's 50th birthday parade held on April 20, 1939. The current Theaterstrase was once known as Adolf Hitler Strase.
Wurzburg participates in the Stolpersteine Project. The word means "stumbling stones" and refers to 4-inch Commemorative brass plaques visible throughout the city. Each "cobblestones" is inscribed with the name, birthdate and final destination of one deportee. The vast majority represented are Jewish but the Stolpersteine also include the names of Jehovah Witnesses, blacks, homosexuals, and other victims of Nazi persecution. They are imbedded in walkways near the place where the individual lived or worked.
The perfect place to end a visit to Wurzburg is on the Alte Mainbrucke, the Old Main River Bridge. The extant bridge dates from the 15th-century but it was constructed on the existing foundation of an 8th-century Romanesque structure. The life-sized Baroque sculptures that line the pedestrian bridge were placed there in 1730. On the right side of the bridge secular people are honored and on the left the statues are of religious figures, one of which is St. Kilian. The view form the middle of the bridge at night is priceless.
Finish with flair with dinner at the Alte Mainmuehle Restaurant on the bridge. The restaurant was a flourmill and many of the architectural elements have survived and its past is reflected in the décor. The Franconian menu is changed seasonally, the food is wonderful and the restaurant affords diners outstanding views of the Marienberg Fortress. www.alte-mainmuehle.de
Hotel Maritim Wurzburg is a best bet for accommodations for your visit. It is centrally located within walking distance of the main attractions. The Maritim complex includes a conference center, indoor pool, solarium, fine dining and 287 guest rooms under one roof. All of the amenities are provided plus an extensive breakfast buffet, parking, WIFI, and cable television. www.maritim-wuerzburg.de
Wurzburg is only one of Germany's wonderful UNESCO cities. Next we journey 43-miles to Bamberg where further adventures await us. Information on all the sites mentioned is available online. www.wuerzburg.de/en and www.germany.travel/en
I wish you smooth travels!
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