Not to be confused with the Romantic Road!
The Romanesque Road (German: Straße der Romanik) is a scenic route in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt in central-east Germany. It is part of the Transromanica network, a major European Cultural Route since its inauguration in 1993, which connects Romanesque structures in Saxony-Anhalt and Germany with Austria, Italy, Spain, France, Portugal and Serbia.
The Romanesque Road is extremely popular among German and international visitors. Nowhere else in Germany can you enjoy such a rich Romanesque heritage as in the Saxony-Anhalt of today. The 1,200 km tourist road is shaped like a figure eight and provides a unique opportunity for visitors to marvel at 88 buildings in 73 different places where Romanesque times are brought to life in all their beauty and splendor. A journey along the Romanesque Road will take you to fortified castles, venerable cathedrals and old churches dating from the 10th to 13th century and bearing witness to the times of Christianisation under the union of cross and sword.
The route has a northern and a southern loop, and the city of Magdeburg as its center, linking village churches, monasteries, cathedrals and castles built between 950 and 1250 and which therefore represent the emergence of Christianity in this part of Germany. Their Romanesque architecture can be recognized by its angular shapes and the round arches of the windows and doors as shown on the official Romanesque Road signs. As well as the specific Romanesque stops en route, there are other villages and churches to explore.
On the more than 1,000 kilometers route discover both for buildings of unusual beauty, along with vital history with knight plays, medieval markets, town festivals. Show dinners, jongleurs and mistrals will delight your heart, let the love go through the belly and take of amusement. The north and south route yield attention to the center of Otto the Great’s favorite city, Magdeburg. Inside the Magdeburg Cathedral, the first building in Germany of Gothic layout, there are also tombs of Otto the Great and his first wife Editha.
The Northern route mainly crosses the “Altmark” – ancient march- and the surrounding countryside of the state capital Magdeburg. An abundance of Romanesque village churches can be found here. Among them is the church of Jerichow which served as a kind of blue print for the Romanesque brick construction method.
The Southern route with its closely packed locations leads to the region between Harz mountains and Elbe river where once the first German kings ruled. It also leads to the south of the state to the banks of Saale and Unstrut, once and now again a well known vinicultural area.
Whatever you’re going to travel first, the Northern or the Southern portion of the Romanesque Route, you’ll likely start off in Magdeburg.
The reason this amazing town is on the route is the Magdeburg Cathedral, one of the oldest Gothic cathedrals in Germany. It’s also the town’s landmark and houses the tomb the 10th century tomb of Otto II. A few centuries later Martin Luther preached here; and the views from the waterbridge is nothing less than spectacular.
Magdeburg is a good starting point. This is where the Romanesque Road was first opened, on May 7, 1993, the anniversary of the death of Otto the Great, the first German Holy Roman Emperor. Otto was fond of Magdeburg and enlarged the city on the River Elbe generously. He was one of the great patrons of architecture of his time and is buried in Magdeburg Cathedral.
Semi-circular arches are a signature feature of Romanesque architecture, and nowhere else in Germany are they as prevalent as in Saxony-Anhalt. That’s due to the vigorous building activity of the medieval kings and emperors. They founded numerous churches and monasteries, like the one in Jerichow on the Elbe (pictured). It was the era of christianization in Germany.
St. Mary’s Cathedral in Havelberg
St. Mary’s Cathedral rises majestically over the old town in Havelberg like an advertisement for the Christian faith. Otto the Great founded the bishopric of Havelberg on the Elbe as early as 946/948, in order to convert its inhabitants, the western Slavs, to Christianity. The long process was not without violence, but in 1170 the mighty cathedral was finally consecrated.
St. Cyriac’s Church, Gernrode
Compared to Havelberg’s cathedral, the church in Gernrode is tiny, but it, too, is a magnificent architectural monument. It was first mentioned in 961 AD, so it is more than a thousand years old. It is one of the few churches that managed to preserve their Romanesque style. Its most important artwork is the Holy Sepulcher, one of the earliest copies of the grave of Christ in Jerusalem.
Königspfalz (royal palace) at Tilleda
The early kings and emperors had no permanent royal residence. They traveled with their retinue from one palace complex (Pfalz) to the next, were catered for there, administered justice, and in this way were present throughout the realm. The Pfalz in Tilleda has been excavated, partially reconstructed and turned into an open-air museum that offers insights into life in medieval imperial Germany.
St. Servatius Church, Quedlinburg
The town of Quedlinburg is a must on the Romanesque Road. St. Servatius, the former collegiate church of its abbey, contains the tomb of King Heinrich I and his wife Mathilde. Heinrich made Quedlinburg a center of power in the Middle Ages. UNESCO declared it a world heritage site in 1994.
This year Naumburg Cathedral achieved UNESCO world heritage status. It was begun in the Romanesque style, but then finished as a Gothic cathedral. In its interior you can see 12 life-size sandstone figures. They represent donors to the cathedral and are among the most impressive sculptures from the German Middle Ages.
The series of large cathedrals in Saxony-Anhalt continues: Merseburg, Zeitz, Halle, Halberstadt. Halberstadt Cathedral is famed for its church treasures. They include some of the earliest known woven tapestries. They date from the Romanesque period. The Abraham Angel Carpet (pictured), for instance, was woven in 1150 AD.
St. Thomas’s village church in Pretzien
On the Romanesque Road, not only do large and famous cathedrals invite you to stop and admire them; small village churches do so as well. Precious treasures slumbered in Pretzien’s church for centuries. They were first uncovered in the 1970s during restoration work: frescoes painted in the 13th century.
Drübeck Convent Gardens
The history of the Benedictine convent of St. Vitus in Drübeck in the Harz region dates back to 960 AD. It was damaged and rebuilt several times in subsequent centuries. Nowadays behind the old walls, there is a well-maintained convent garden. You can also spend the night in the complex.
A deep moat, ten-meter thick ramparts and three mighty towers: this massive fortified castle in Querfurt was meant to deter enemies even from afar — and it did so successfully. Today it is one of the largest and best-preserved medieval fortifications in Germany. It was first documented in 880 AD.
Convent of our Blessed Lady, Magdeburg
A trip along the Romanesque Road ends where it began, in Magdeburg. Next to Magdeburg Cathedral is another Romanesque building to visit: the Convent of our Blessed Lady. In 1993, the then German president, Richard von Weizsäcker opened the Romanesque Road here with the words, “The cradle of German history lies in Saxony-Anhalt.”