Home > 2011 Posts > The Stone Bridge at Castra Regina

The Stone Bridge at Castra Regina

November 10, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

In the heart of southern Germany, at the northernmost bend of the Danube, lie remains of an ancient, fortified Roman town, Castra Regina, or, Fort Regen, named after the river that joins here.

Romans had controlled the area, then known as Noricum, since 101 BC, but the fortress wasn’t built until the reign of Marcus Aurelius, almost 300 years later, as a base for the Third Legion. Old Marcus died soon after—a couple hundred miles down river at Vindobona, as fictionally depicted in the great Russell Crowe movie, Gladiator.

Today, Vindobona is known as Vienna, Austria, and Castra Regina as Regensburg, Germany. My bride and I were there on a trip to trace the northern boundary of the Roman Empire in Europe.

For us, highlights in town were the north gate (Porta Praetoria) and the surviving parts of the old Roman walls. Above, you can see solid Roman era stone work under poor quality medieval efforts.

But, it turns out that there is a lot more than Really Old Stuff when two archaeo-geeks take time to look up from their piles of rocks. A stone bridge spans the northern and southern arms of the wide Danube River here and has for more than 800 years.

The workmanship is so good that, at first, we both thought its origin must be Roman. But, a little reflection over some fine Bavarian beer told us otherwise.

The Romans didn’t want barbarians to have an easy way to cross the river. We learned that the structure is actually a unique masterpiece of medieval engineering—among the very best I’ve seen. And, for many centuries, it was  the only stone bridge spanning the Danube between Ulm and Vienna, a river run of about 300 miles.

Funded mostly by the town’s merchants and completed in 1146, it opened a flood of trade between Italy and northern Europe, soon causing Regensburg to be described as “the northernmost Italian (i.e. Venetian) city” and its inhabitants to become rich.

Men of the 2nd and 3rd Crusades crossed it on their way east. And, for 200 years, the 16-span bridge was both inspiration and model for other great European bridges: across the Elbe at Dresden, the Vltava in Prague, the Rhone at Avignon, and even the Thames in London.

These were good things to learn on our way to explore something else entirely.

That’s how our travels have been: always yielding more treasures than we’d ever thought we’d find. The town’s cathedral, for example.

May your own travels be as fruitful, and more!

  1. November 22, 2011 at 8:13 am


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