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Ausonius Way: the old Roman road

The route along the ridge of Hunsrück, as well as a number of other ridge paths in the region, dates back to the Bronze Age but could actually have much earlier origins. The rapid development of connecting roads during the Roman occupation (58 B.C. - 402 A.D.) is historically well documented. Shortly after their conquest of the region, the Romans rebuilt all the existing trade routes as "stone roads", cutting straight across the landscape, which were marked by milestones and guarded by watchtowers at regular intervals. The network of the overland routes was complemented by supplementary or "local" roads. The result was permanent roads with a very complex structure, made up of multiple layers, whose ingenious composition has remained intact for many centuries. All the transportation routes were, according to Roman standards, about 5 or 6 metres wide, so that two carts could easily pass each other. There were also road maps on which the most important stages were marked. An impressive example of one such road map has been handed down to us in the form of the Tabula Peutingeriana. It comes from Reichenau Monastery on an island by the same name in the lower part of Bodensee (so named after the learned Konrad Peutinger, 1465-1547). As the main axis of Hunsrück, used by armies and as a trade route, Via Ausonia connected the regions of Mainz (Moguntiacum) and Bingen (Bingium) to the imperial city of Trier (Augusta Treverorum) in Late Antiquity. The road known today as "Ausonius Way" is named after the poet Decimus Magnus Ausonius, who, in 370 A.D., travelled by coach through the Hunsrück region from Mainz to Trier to take up a position as teacher and tutor at the imperial court. He immortalized his impressions of the journey in his poem "Mosella". The connecting road across the Hunsrück region had, already been indirectly mentioned in the much earlier historical writings of Publius Cornelius Tacitus (55-116 A.D.)

The historic Ausonius Way has been highlighted by the Hunsrück Society (association for the advancement of cultural heritage) and lengths of it can still be walked, passing by Bingen, Rheinböllen, Simmern, Kirchberg, Dill, Hochscheid, Belginum, Gräfendhron, Fell, and Trier. If you travel in 20 km stages, the entire trip would take about a week: Stage 1 Bingen-Rheinböllen (22km), Stage 2 Rheinböllen-Kirchberg (23km), Stage 3 Kirchberg-Hochscheid (17km), Stage 4 Hochscheid-Gräfendhron (22km), Stage 5 Gräfendhron-Fell (21km), and the last stage Fell-Trier (13km).

The Roman watchtower (reconstructed) shown above is on the edge of the forest above the little village of Dill, which can be seen from afar on a well maintained segment of the historic Ausonius Way. The nearby car park for hikers is a practical starting point to experience a longer part of the 2000-year-old road "under your feet". With your first steps the significance of this ancient route immediately becomes clear, for its routing is truly an impressive choice. So the hiker literally senses the thousand-year-old history of the region passing by under his feet. After returning to the starting point, you should not miss paying a visit to the small village of Dill, for it offers an interesting church and an imposing castle from 1107. This castle came into the possession of the Counts of Sponheim, slightly later, but it was never of great military importance. Dill lies within a small loop of the Dill creek somewhat off to the side of the Hunsrück Heights Road ("Hunsrückhöhenstraße"), about 5km west of Kirchberg.

But it is not only the Roman street and its fortifications that bear witness to the centuries of Roman presence in the Hunsrück. You can come across completely different, surprising things here -as happened 10 years ago nearby the Lauschenhütte above Stromberg. Here, in the dense forest, someone found a mound containing the remains of a Roman building from the 2nd-3rd century A.D with clay floor, holes for amphorae and a bricked fireplace. Size and form of the building, as well as the special roof construction, indicated that it was used as storage space or servant house of an agricultural company. So an estate, possibly quite large, is still somewhere nearby, hidden under one of the many mounds of the region.

vSpacer Reconstructed Roman wachtower on the Ausonius Way near Dill («Soonwald» Forest)

Berthold Staudt: Die Ausoniusstraße —eine römische Wanderstraße im Hunsrück. 3. Auflage. DMC-Druck, Sohren 2001
The connecting paths of the Hunsrück, which were systematically developed by the Romans between 58 BC and 402 AD, were secured by watchtowers erected at regular intervals. Here the reconstructed watchtower on the Via Ausonia near Dill.

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