The Heavy Burden of War –Trier in the Early Modern Era

(1580 to 1794)

  • “Trier Witches’ Dancing Ground”: This detail from a contemporary copper etching gives an impression of the witch hysteria around 1590. Photo: City Archives, Anja Runkel.
    “Trier Witches’ Dancing Ground”: This detail from a contemporary copper etching gives an impression of the witch hysteria around 1590. Photo: City Archives, Anja Runkel.
  • The baroque church of St. Paulin was constructed from a design by Balthasar Neumann. Photo: City Archive, Anja Runkel.
    The baroque church of St. Paulin was constructed from a design by Balthasar Neumann. Photo: City Archive, Anja Runkel.
  • Archbishop and Elector Franz Georg of Schönborn ruled from 1729 to 1756. Photo: Municipal Museum Simeonstift.
    Archbishop and Elector Franz Georg of Schönborn ruled from 1729 to 1756. Photo: Municipal Museum Simeonstift.
  • Rococo in Trier: The south wing of the Electoral Palace by Johannes Seiz (with the “Basilika” towering over it) and the Palace Garden with sculptures by Ferdinand Tietz (mid-18th century)
    Rococo in Trier: The south wing of the Electoral Palace by Johannes Seiz (with the “Basilika” towering over it) and the Palace Garden with sculptures by Ferdinand Tietz (mid-18th century)
  • Trier, 1776. Detail from an oil painting by Matthias Ruben. Photo: Municiple Museum Simeonstift.
    Trier, 1776. Detail from an oil painting by Matthias Ruben. Photo: Municiple Museum Simeonstift.
  • The summer palace Monaise (1779-1783).
    The summer palace Monaise (1779-1783).
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The lost case for the status as imperial city proved to be a bad omen for further development. Increased famines and plagues formed the background for the witch trials from 1586 to 1596. Religious fanaticism, greed, and political ambition led to excesses to which more than 300 men and women fell victim in the region.

The archbishops reacted with disdain for the city after its attempts to gain independence: They increasingly resided in the fortress Ehrenbreitstein at Coblenz instead of in their Cathedral city. This loss of prestige and Trier’s location in the territory bordering on France handicapped trade relationships of the Trier craftsmen beyond borders, on the one hand, and the region, on the other hand, repeatedly served as a transit area for foreign troops.

During the Thirty Years’ War, Trier suffered under alternating billetings of Spanish and French mercenaries. Even during the Franco-Dutch War, Trier was taken by French troops and occupied. The longest occupation period lasted ten years (1688-98). At that time, the French army razed the city wall and blew up two piers of the Moselle bridge. The number of billeted soldiers was not much fewer than the number of inhabitants, which had been reduced to under 4,000 at the end of the 17th century.

At the beginning of the 18th century, a slow recovery set in. Outward signs of the upswing were the reconstruction of the Roman Bridge and the city wall (1716-21) under Elector Franz Ludwig von Pfalz-Neuburg, the new St. Paulin’s Church (1732-54), designed by the prominent baroque architect Balthasar Neumann under Franz Georg von Schönborn, the newly designed Electoral Palace and the palace garden in rococo style (1756-61) under Johann Philipp von Walderdorff, or the summer residence “Monaise” (1779-83) in neo-classical style at the time of the last Trier Elector Clemens Wenzeslaus von Sachsen. The population of Trier had again risen to around 8,000 at the end of the 18th century.

Text: Ralph Kießling
Literature: Gabriele Clemens/Lukas Clemens: Geschichte der Stadt Trier, Munich, 2007

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