Old Town, Mainz
I wasn't sure whether to do a guided walking tour of Mainz or just find my own way about but I'm so glad I took the guided walk. Although Mainz isn't a big city, it's historical stuff is a bit more spread out. If I'd just followed my own way on a map I would have missed half the things I saw and probably taken twice the time!
Plus, when you go on a good guided walking tour, you get a commentary on history and the significance of the things you see. To me this makes the whole experience much more enjoyable.
I wanted an English language tour so I did one with 'Walking Wiesbaden and Mainz'. (Actually, I ended up doing two tours with them - the Wiesbaden as well as the Mainz tour - several months apart!) Website: http://walkingwiesbaden.blogspot.com/
The Mainz tour included the Citadelle, old town houses, cathedrals, Gutenberg stuff... with many cool extra things like the Knights Templar district and medieval Hospital site.
I highly recommend both Mainz and the walking tour.
Construction projects in Mainz are rather risky as chances are high that your construction site will turn into an archaeological excavation site instead. That happened in 1999 when the Roemerpassage shopping mall was built. A temple dedicated to the goddesses Isis and Mater Magna was discovered. It is the only one preserved in Germany dedicated to these two goddesses.
Though the shopping mall was finally built, the remains of the temple were left on its original spot and can be seen in a small museum in the basement of the mall. Topics covered in the museum are the items found on site and religious life in Roman Mainz. The discovery and archaeological excavation is not well covered but can be seen in books sold at the information desk.
Most of the information is provided in German only. Entry is free, but they expect a small donation depending on your own budget. Plan around 30-40 minutes to visit this place.
The Holzturm is one of only three remaining towers of the medieval city fortification. Its predecessor building was first mentioned in 1366, the current tower is from the early 15th century. In the 17th century, the tower lost its function in the city's defence system and it became a prison. The most infamous inmate was called Schinderhannes. He was a murderer the leader of a robber gang and was executed in 1803 after spending 15 months in the Holzturm. Schinderhannes has become a kind of icon and a nearby pub is named after him.
In the late 19th century, the prison was given up. Later, during WWII, the Holzturm was severely damaged. Recosntruction was completed in 1961. Today, some caritative and cultural organisations are located in there.
Mainz once had a city wall with a history dating back to Roman times. Although the medieval city wall was built in the late 12th century, it followed the line of the Roman one and even used some of its remains. Today, not much has survived of the city walls. If you like, you can trace down some remains in Mainz city centre. Beside three towers (Eisenturm and Holzturm close to the Rhine, Alexanderturm close to the Kupferberg Terrace) there are some remaining fragments:
- Close to the Alexanderturm, there are the remains of a Roman gate (described in a separate tip) with a small part of the Roman city wall.
- Apiece of the medieval city wall can be seen at Schlossergasse, close to the junction with Weintorstrasse. This part is located just a few steps away from the Holzturm.
- Another piece of the medieval city wall is preserved next to a parking lot, in front of Hintere Bleiche 10 (roughly between central train station and Landesmuseum). This is not as well preserved as the Schlossergasse piece.
Close to be categorised “off the beaten path”, this building is Germany's oldest private residential building and Mainz' oldest non-clerical preserved house. It was constructed in the late 12th century for a Jewish merchant family. The family Judd vom Stein converted to Christianity in the late 13th century, 200 years later the family died out and the tower was sold. Today, it is still in private ownership and not accessible to the public. You can however have a look on the building from outside. Restorations in the 1970s and 1980s have led to the discovery of some Romanesque structures which have been accurately rebuilt.
As it is a private building, no visit from inside is allowed and the grounds are secured by a gate. However, view from the gate is good enough to see the full tower.
Kirschgarten (Cherry Garden) is the name of a little square in Mainz' old town which is famous for its half-timbered buidlings. One of them, called “Zum Aschaffenberg”, was built around 1500 is is Mainz' oldest half-timbered building. The fountain dates from the 1930s and shows the former St. Blaise chapel which once stood at Kirschgarten and was pulled down in 1803. Today, most buildings are home to little shops or traditional restaurants.
The ancient tree stump at house “Beymberg” (sometimes called Beimburg) is not from a cherry tree but was most probably an oak tree.
In despite of these nice views Mainz is not such a bright city overall; just outside the downtown it's a little bit mixed up with some ugly building as well.