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Kempten is one of the oldest towns in Germany. Its 2,000-year history has been well researched. Archaeologists have now made further finds. They are now certain that urban culture in Bavaria began in Cambodunum.
2,000-year-old, well-preserved screed floors, doorsteps from the time shortly after the birth of Christ and remains of wall paintings on the walls: What archaeologists have uncovered over the past months in the middle of the Cambodunum Archaeological Park in Kempten is a minor sensation. Slumbering in the ground beneath a children’s playground were the well-preserved remains of noble private houses in the centre of the Roman city of Cambodunum.
Early stone buildings – unique in southern Germany
For archaeologists, the most exciting thing about the finds is that they belonged to private stone houses. “You won’t find this kind of private stone building anywhere else in southern Germany at this early time – at the beginning of the first century,” says Johannes Schießl from the Kempten city archaeology department. “This means that while elsewhere the Roman settlers were still living in wooden and mud buildings, the high society in Cambodunum was apparently already residing in fancy brick townhouses.”
Roman living comfort on 800 square metres
In the large area right next to the reconstructed temple district, students from the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich have uncovered, among other things, the remains of a residential house with 800 square metres of floor space. The house had the latest Roman living comforts – including a private bathing facility and underfloor heating.
Unexpected gift for the archaeologists
They had known from earlier excavations that the walls of residential buildings were lying dormant in the ground at the site, says archaeologist Schießl. But that they would find such well-preserved remains of luxurious, brick-built dwellings on such a large area – that was a big surprise. “You can compare it to a child at Christmas who unwraps the present and didn’t expect to get what you wanted.”
Bavaria’s urban culture begins in Kempten
For the head of Kempten’s city archaeology, Maike Sieler, the finds confirm Cambodunum was the central location at the beginning of the Roman period in Bavaria. “The Romans planned a city here on the drawing board according to Mediterranean plans and models and built the houses with high-quality stone architecture in the first decades after Christ. That means: these are the beginnings of urban culture in Bavaria.”
Salvatore Ortisi, Professor of Provincial Roman Archaeology at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, led the excavations in Kempten. The finds are something special even for the experienced expert: “Kempten is the prime example of a Roman planned city,” says Ortisi. “Here, the development and urbanisation of the areas north of the Alps by Rome can be traced in an outstanding way. These Celtic-Roman beginnings form the roots of many of our present-day cities and have had a very decisive influence on the cultural development of southern Germany.”
Excavations “like a time machine”
The finds are now being scientifically documented and then – for their protection – buried again. In the long term, however, they are to be presented to the public in the Cambodunum Archaeological Park. Because it is rare to find such well-preserved remains, even in an old Roman town like Kempten. “It makes an archaeologist’s heart beat faster,” says city archaeologist Maike Sieler. “We stand in front of this bath complex and in front of the still preserved floors and know: That’s where the inhabitants of Cambodunum walked 2,000 years ago – it’s a bit like a time machine!”
Germany’s oldest town mentioned in writing
The city of Cambodunum was founded around the time of Christ’s birth and – until today’s Augsburg became the capital of the province of Rhaetia – was the region’s main civil centre as the seat of the governor. It was from here that the Romans began the settlement of what is now Bavaria. With its Roman past, Kempten is considered the oldest town in Germany mentioned in writing.