The fourth instalment of our journey tracking down the Top 5 Attractions along the Romanesque Route in the German heartland.
The lure of an undiscovered wine is often incentive enough for vineyard enthusiasts to make their way to a region. To this end many people will find happiness in Naumburg, Germany.
Tucked away 60kms from Leipzig and sitting on the Saale river, Naumburg is a charming piece of German heartland situated along the Romanesque Route. Its colourful historic burgher buildings and tree-lined promenade make for a peaceful stop along the Romanesque route and one that should not be overlooked, especially if you are a wine lover!
Making my way from the quaint Zur Alten Schmiede hotel located along the promenade, I found myself weaving through quaint cobblestone streets that soon opened up to reveal the main market square. Lovely renaissance and baroque buildings line the edges of the space, testifying to the importance of the merchant class who established it so long ago. Within the doorways sit a variety of shops, restaurants, and a very convenient beer hall to escape the summer heat. Crowds bustle along the edge while sellers conglomerate in the open square with their offerings. A great energy makes it tempting to sit for a while and simply people watch if not to do a little light shopping.
Ducking back down into a side street quickly leads to the other side of the promenade and the famed thirteenth century St. Peter and Paul’s Cathedral. The cathedral receives a lot of visitors, and rightly so. Its late Romanesque roots blend with Gothic traits and offer forth early Gothic sculptures crafted by the unidentified ‘Naumburg Master’, a unique dual curtain construction, and intricate capital (top of a column) carvings. One of those carvings in particular caught my attention. Grapes. Perhaps an unusual choice for a cathedral yet this is Naumburg and winegrowing is deep in its soul.
Strolling out of Naumburg along the Saale river for a mere 30-45 minutes reveals a lovely series of hillside vineyards overlooking the river and mingling with castle ruins and thousand year old monasteries. The wine growing is not only historic, dating back to 998 and cultivation by monks, but also quite populist with many locals having small personal vineyards.
For people looking to be a bit more adventurous, you can be taken upriver and then row down in a canoe, stopping for wine and a picnic along the way. Or simply plan to be there during the annual June ‘Wine Mile’ (Weinmeile) event that has locals setting up little booths along the river with their own wine offerings for passerbys. For me, visiting Kloster Pforta vineyard, the largest winery in the area, meant an opportunity to wander amongst its fifty hectres of vineyards and to rest with a glass of wine overlooking the Saale. Definitely a great option for fans of vineyards.
Within view from that hillside is Landesschule Pforta, a former Cistercian monetary and current day famed boarding school for the academically gifted (Nietzche himself was a student). Situated in the middle of campus is a cathedral that blends the Romanesque with the Gothic and, as a stop on the Romanesque Route, was a standout not for its grandiousness but rather its simplicity. Boarded up during the GDR period, the cathedral had been left to sit in a simple state and even today is about as utilitarian as it comes. No parking lot of tour buses, no golden treasury attractions, no bustling gift shop; rather just stone, wood, glass and simple ambiance.
Standing there alongside a few students gracious enough to walk me around the grounds, it took me a minute to realize just what it was about this cathedral that I liked so much. And then it hit me. Or, more so, I heard it. The echoing of our few voices with no other sounds or crowds to overwhelm. The annual winter choir performance is always a lovely occasion, my guides informed me. If I could return to any cathedral it would be that one at that time.
The Saale river valley proved to be an amazing complement to the offerings of inner Naumburg. And to finish the day by perching myself above it all with a wide panoramic view courtesy of Rudlesburg seemed the best option.
A fragmented castle towering upon a rocky limestone cliff overlooking the Saale river, with roots that can be documented back to 1171, Rudlesburg had at one time been key to controlling the river-based trading route and, more recently, a great place to sit with a pint of Wernesgruner and watch the sunset. Although greatly damaged during the 30 Year War (1618-1648) and with stones taken by locals to build homes, in the 1820s a wave of romanticism led to the castle’s revival as a spot for people coming together to share food within its rich ambiance.
Now owned by the people of Naumburg, the ruins receives approximately 40,000 visitors a year, a mix of locals and tourists, including the annual meeting of the Kösener Senioren-Convents-Verband (student union fraternities) who have ventured there for over a hundred and fifty years.
To visit Naumburg is to visit a vineyard region that has much to offer beyond a quant historic town and its famed cathedral. If you are a wine lover, or simply enjoy strolling along a river and taking in the hillside vineyards, then Naumburg is definitely your top choice along the Romanesque Route.