Gemeinde Blankenheim





The Roman Villa
The villa of Blankenheim is one of the most considerable ground monuments from the Roman time in the Rhineland. Once it was a large Roman estate (villa rustica) with a luxurious main building and stables, barns, remises and accommodations for servants, that were arranged around a commodious farmyard. The first archeological studies took place in 1894. It was decided to keep the well-preserved walls of the main building and make it open to the public. The ancient masonry weathered and decayed real soon. The excavations from 1914 belonged to the older building periods. The walls of the building, which have been uncovered at the end of the 19th century, are partially present in the ground today. Until 1931, the farmyard and the outbuildings have been archeological examined in several excavation campaigns. The estate was about 250 x 120 metres large, which is about three hectares. It was established in the end of the 1st century A.D. and farmed throughout the middle of the 4th century. The on the downhill side porticoed main building, which was the residence of the owner or leaseholder, imposed with its monumental appearance even from a distance. The six outbuildings at the edge of the farmyard were arranged in axisymmetric order. There is some evidence that the obvious prosperity of the owner also rested on side line revenues like the operation of stone quarries and depletion of mineral deposits in immediate proximity. The Roman villa of Blankenheim is yet the only known sample of a represented axial villa in the Rhineland.

Main Building
Three building periods have been verified for the main building: a 50 metre long and 17 metre wide so-called avant-corps building, where on the front on both corners square buildings, the avant-corps, jutted. This building was emerged at the end of the 1st century. Between them a colonnade passed off. In the middle of the 2nd century the building burned off and was replaced by a new building. The layout of this new building is today shown in the area with steel strappings, walls and former floors are offset with different layers of broken stones. The building with its 55 metre long face was a little bigger than its forerunner and it showed a continuous colonnade (porticus) at the frontage. The modern steel construction copies the colonnade in an impressive magnitude. In the middle of the building was a huge hall, which had the remarkable size of 140 square metres and was accessible from the colonnade. The main building, which was occupied by the owner or leaseholder, was lavishly furnished: Various rooms were provided with in-floor heating (hypocaustum), the walls were rendered in colour and the windows were glazed. In the north was a considerable bath wing. In the 3rd century there was a major alteration of the main building. In the South and the West followed an addition of various rooms and the splitting of the huge central hall, apparently due to a need of more housing space. This impressive building measured about 70 x 22 metres. The gradual decay of the building started in the 4th century. The heating systems were dropped, individual additions were knocked down and door and window openings were bricked up in some places. Supposedly at this point the building has not been used as a residential house anymore. Mid-fourth century the estate in Blankenheim was no longer farmed.

House of the administrator
The building measured 27 x 20 metres, was located next to the main building and has been rebuilt and removed several times. Originally, there was a room with stove and smelter for iron ores that was later extended and redesigned for residential purposes. A so-called avant-corps building with rectangular buildings at both ends of the face and a colonnade between both avant-corps was formed. Because of its layout and face design, this outbuilding may have looked like a smaller version of the main building in the first building period. Comparisons – especially from France – with numerous known axial villas suggest, that it was the house of the estate administrator. He did not quite have to dispense with luxurious furnishing: At least several rooms of the building were equipped with in-floor heating. The owner of the larger estates often were affluent townspeople, who visited their estates as often as possible to enjoy the country life and to control the running labour. In other cases a leaseholder, who occupied the building with his family, was appointed. The administrator was commissioned with the actual organization of the agricultural holding.

A few metres next to the residential building of the owner or leaseholder of the villa a layout that definitely is a sanctuary, was uncovered during the excavations. A probably tower-like elevated rectangular, central building with only one room (cella) was enclosed by a curtain wall. It might be that there has been a gallery, which was open to all sides. The estate owner could reach the little temple from the main building with only a few steps. Evidences of worship of gods are frequently found at excavations of Roman history. The worship of the highest Roman deity is often proved through Jupiter columns. Whereas private temples are proven less often. Which deity the sanctuary of Blankenheim was dedicated to, is unknown. Indications – like a dedicatory inscription – of certain gods have not been found. Elsewhere the Roman citizens demonstrably worshipped besides Jupiter also Juno, Venus, Apollo or Sirona. Build on the highest position of the terrain, the sanctuary represented widely visible not only religiosity but also the prosperity of the donor.

The over 400m2 large farm building in the north of the estate has never been excavated systematically. It might be that the stables were located there, as they belonged to every villa rustica and which normally – due to the smell and noise nuisance – were placed as far as possible from the owner’s or leaseholder’s residential building. Especially on the rather poor soils of the northern Eifel livestock farming was operated in Roman times. For that the estate had to be equipped with spacious stables. Besides cattle, pigs and sheep, sometimes goats have been reared, too. Surpluses that were not consumed in the farm itself have been sold in the nearest market places. The livestock farming required extensive pasture areas and spacious barns for the storage of hay during the winter months. The fruit and vegetable gardens have been fertilized with the manure from the stables. Also the transport, draught and pack animals such as oxen, horses, donkeys and mules were lodged in the stables. They pulled carts, lorries and touring cars, but also ploughs, harrows and mowing machines. The agricultural implements and carriages were normally shed in remises. In Blankenheim such a remise was probably located vis-à-vis of the stable at the south east corner of the farmyard.

Servants' quarters
The middle building of the northern row of houses was discovered in a bad condition during the excavations in the nineteen-thirties, whereby the rather intricate building history with numerous building conversions cannot be tracked gapless. In the Roman times the building showed initially a greater room with various fire pits that later was partitioned in multiple rooms. Apparently the building was also equipped with a plain bathroom and a circumferential arcade, what suggests that it was used as a residential building. Probably the servants were accommodated here. For the management of the farm the estate owner or leaseholder needed workforce that attend to the agriculture, the fruit and vegetable gardens and the livestock; he provided them with an accommodation within the farmstead. In the extremely work-intensive stages, for example during the arable farming, seed or harvest, normally day-workers were recruited. Hardly any slaves were employed in the agricultural holdings of the Germanic provinces. There are indications on the fact that parts of the building were used as a smithy at times. The Roman estates mostly were holistic economies and independent establishments. Molten metal and smithies functioned as self-supply with tools and the maintenance of equipment and carriages.

The representative Roman estates were usually divided into an accommodation wing and an economy wing (pars urbana & pars rustica). The main building was situated on a hillside, the residential building of the owner or leaseholder was mostly situated on the upper hillside area. One did not only have a fine view from there, but also a good overview. On the farmyard were outbuildings like stables, barns, remises, workshops (e.g. a smithy) and servants’ quarters, sometimes also drying kilns and winepresses. That way everything that was associated with noise, smell nuisance or fire hazard, was placed as far as possible from the residential building. In Blankenheim six axisymmetric ordered outbuildings are archeologically proven so far. On the east side of the farmyard a sanctuary and further downhill perhaps a barn and a remise were located next to the residential building. The house of the administrator, a servants’ quarters and a stable were likely to be located on the opposing western side of the farm. The farmyard, which even today shows a considerable slope, formerly was surrounded by a low-rise drystone wall and terraced to all appearances. The buildings surely were erected on earth platforms. The access took place from the valley. The base plates, which today are laid on the way through the farmyard, depict equipment of the Roman agriculture.

The walls of the between the sanctuary and the remise situated farm building has been uncovered in 1930 during the excavations by Franz Oelmann. The about 20 x 10 metres large construction was divided into three rooms. Due to the stone packings with a lying on threshing floor inside the excavator identified the finding as barn. The exterior wall of the building are preserved up to one metre deep in the ground even today. Outside of the building, stone packings could have been proven too during recently operated additional excavations from the LVR (regional authority Rhineland) department for preservation and care of field monuments. The stone packings imply that the area in front of the barn was equipped with surfacing, too. This place was supposedly used as threshing floor. Most Roman estates in the Rhineland grew grain, primarily forms of wheat such as spelt, einkorn or wild emmer. But also other types of grain like barley, rye, oat and different millets could been proven during excavations. Spelt and cone wheat, which were the Romans’ preferred types, were not been grown by the pre-Roman population and had to be imported at first. The harvested grains were threshed and – after the corns have been sorted from the chaff and the husk through winnowing and drying – either were stored or immediately grind into flour. The hay, which was needed for the sustenance of the livestock in the winter months, could be stored in the barn.

For the 350 m2 large farm building at the east end of the farm an interpretation as remise seems obvious. Just as on the opposing building, an extensive excavation never took place. The excavation records from the first years of the 20th century simply prove that this area of the farmyard has been taken a rough sounding by excavator Constantin Koenen. At least the size of the construction, which was apparently separated in two consummate square rooms, could be ascertained that way. The building was next to the yard gate. Therefore carts, wagons and other greater agricultural implements could have been stored there. For bringing in the harvest and for the transport of the agricultural yields to the nearest market places, the Roman farmers used carriages, which were drawn by oxen or mules. The biaxial lorry (plaustrum) was equipped with ladders, baskets or nets for the attachment of the material loaded. For the transport of sensitive crop, normally the uniaxial lorries that were equipped with baskets or wooden tubs were used. Besides the vehicles other agricultural implements certainly were placed in the remise too. Spades, hoes, plough and harrow served for the soil cultivation. Besides scythes and sickles, elaborate equipment such as mower and harvester were employed during the harvest as well. For the process of the harvested grain one used threshing flails and winnowing fans. A selection of the agricultural implements – from the preparation of the soil via ploughing, harrowing and sowing through to the harvest – is depicted on the base plates of the middle way through the farmyard in the direction of the main building.

Fruit meadow

Every Roman estate also had fruit and vegetable gardens at one's disposal. In many cases it was surrounded by meadows with scattered fruit trees. This applies especially for such representative axial villas like the one in Blankenheim. The kitchen garden of the Roman villa of Blankenheim formerly surely was located behind the main building. As during archeological excavations in the late 19th and early 20th century there have not been found any tracks of development on a more than one hectare great area, even though it is located within the courtyard wall. The finding thereby suggests a garden use. It is to believe that originally the courtyard area was surrounded by fruit trees. The fruit-growing with cultivated fruit trees in this latitudes has been established by the Romans. Prior one had eaten wild fruits. For the Rhineland the cultivation and consumption of apples, pears, quinces, service trees, cherries, plums, peaches, sweet chestnuts, mulberries, blackberries and grapes is ascertained since Roman times. Figs and dates, preferred fruits of luxury-loving Romans, were imported. Fruits are counted among every solid meal back then. Besides the consumption of fresh fruit, it was common to pickle the fruits in honey, wine or vinegar for preservation. Another method for preservation was the torrefaction in the sun or in the stove.

Historical railway embankment   
After almost three years of construction time, the about 25 km long railway line from Ahrdorf to Blankenheim (Wald) was solemnly opened on 01.05.1913. The starting point for the expansion of the rail network in the Eifel was the perpetual fear of a French revenge after the German-French war in 1871. The Eifel-Moselle-area took on a special strategic significance as potential deployment zone for troops in an event of war. Because of the difficult terrain the construction of the relatively short ancillary line between Ahrdorf and Blankenheim with numerous bridges, over- and underpasses, three tunnels, up to 30 metre deep rock cuts and 20 metre high railway embankments, became a complex matter. The total costs aggregated to 7.75 million Reichsmark. Many foreign workers from Italy and Croatia were employed because the for the constructional measure necessary need of up to 1500 workers everyday could not be covered from the region itself. Both world wars, in which the railway was fully stretched with troops and material transport, withstood the secondary line undamaged. Towards the end of World War II, German troops destroyed the rail line: Tunnels and bridges were blown up and barricaded with trees as tank traps. Finally, this was not a huge obstacle for the arriving Americans, who cleared away the barriers in a minimum of time with sweeping tanks. Starting in 1950, the line was repaired step-by-step. The passenger traffic was readopted on a section between 1954 and 1958. At last, only three freight trains once a week ran, until 1967 the rail line was continuously dismantled. The remaining part between Blankenheim (Eifel) and Blankenheim (Wald) existed as industrial railway until 1977.

Bathing area

The bath wing of the estate of Blankenheim displayed all necessary rooms for classical Roman bathing. Through a two metre wide entrance one got to a square anteroom, which was surely used for changing as well. The semi-circular pool of the cold bath (frigidarium), which allowed a total submergence because of a depth of 1.5 metres, attached to the anteroom in the north. Through a small door one came from the anteroom to the into the west adjoining warm bath (tepidarium) and then into the hot bath (caldarium), which was equipped with two tubs. The in-floor and wall heating were operated through a in the north attached boiler room (praefurnium). The bathing culture played a central role in the Roman everyday life. Thermal baths were located in cities, villages, military camps and rest areas along the motorways. Besides a distinct need for personal hygiene, social aspects were important too: In public baths one met friends and acquaintances for a talk, one did business or one debated on politics. On the greater estates one did not want to miss the luxury of the bathing culture as well. In numerous villae rusticae there were more or less large and occasionally lavishly furnished bathing areas, which were either located in separate buildings or – like here in Blankenheim – part of the main building. That way the owner could get to the bath even in bad weather without leaving the house.

Heated housing space
The rectangular about 14m2 large room was attached to the main building on the west side and provided with in-floor heating (hypocaustum). Thereby it probably acted as housing space – even when it bordered on the kitchen and economy wing. The floor was covered with reused roof tiles, in which one chipped off the cornice. The actual floor of the housing space indeed »floated« about 60 cm higher and stayed on colonnettes made of circular bricks (suspensura): Large square brick panels, which laid on the colonnettes, were coated with screed. That way the floor could be heated through the hot air that was produced in an on the south bordering heating room (praefurnium), which reached the underfloor area through a duct. Remainders of the from the southeast coming heating duct are still visible in the floor. Often the in-floor heating was connected to a wall heating – as it was proven in the villa of Blankenheim. In this case the warm air was piped through a box tile (tubuli), which were attached on the wall surfaces. The prosperity of the owner and his desire for a sophisticated lifestyle and cultivation of home decor condensed not only in the furnishing of the residence with bath wing and heated housing spaces. Also the walls were decorated with coloured wall plasters, where the decoration of room architecture in the form of corbels or cornices and the replicas of marble wall panelling as well as the painting with figural scenes could be ascertained. For the visualization of the Roman architecture and the functionality of the in-floor heating, a small part of the floating floor was reconstructed in the north-western corner of the room.

Blankenheim Castle
Located high above the old town of Blankenheim, the impressive castle dominates the castle village. Gerhard III. probably built the castle at the beginning of the 13th century. In the 15th century count Gerhard VIII. gave the order to demolish the castle and to re-establish it as a palace. When it fell from the command of Blankenheim into the hands of the counts of Manderscheid due to inheritance in 1468, count Dietrich III. of Manderscheid-Blankenheim gave the order to build a long-distance pipeline to the castle to improve the supply of water, which went through a cistern before then. The about 1.5 km long piping was built partly as gravity flow pipeline and partly as pressure pipeline. It run through a tunnel in parts. It went from the spring via the valley »In der Rhenn« through to the castle courtyard. Withal it had to conquer a 12 metre deep valley plus a 15 metre high spur with the help of an aqueduct tunnel. The castle was redesigned several times: A baroque palace emerged from the medieval knight’s castle. As a fortress the construction became less important. With representative facilities the counts of Manderscheid wanted to impress their guests. Around 1730 they established a baroque garden with an orangery in front of the castle moat. In Blankenheim, the most important elements of the water supply of the late medieval castle are still preserved or visible:  the tapping of the spring »In der Rhenn«, parts of the pressure pipeline through the valley, the supply ditch in front of the tunnel, the Tiergartentunnel and the little water house on the southside of the Tiergarten. The tunnel is the only known sample of its kind from the late Middle Ages.     

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