When most people think about Germany, I’m guessing they don’t usually think of Romans. Autobahns and beer, sure. But not Romans. And that’s exactly how I was, too, until moving here in 2015. Living so close to Trier, though, and having a husband who is super interested in the Roman history of the area, I’ve been introduced to the vast and rich history of Romans in Germany.
Unfortunately, though, I’ve never been much of a museum person, so looking at Roman artifacts behind glass cases or peering down into ruins is not one of my favorite things to do. But, like I said, I have a husband who is super interested in that kind of stuff.
Our compromise? Villa Borg.
Villa Borg is so much more than a “museum.” In fact, it’s not really like a museum at all. It’s a totally unique experience where you get to actually live a day in the life of a Roman aristocrat.
1. It’s educational
Okay, so every Roman site is educational in some way. What makes this one different is the approach they’ve taken regarding the educational aspect. Instead of showing drawings of how things were made, they’ve actually reconstructed things and then broken them apart to show you how it was done.
What makes these types of displays all that more interesting is that you’re standing inside the finished products. Villa Borg is a reconstruction of the Roman villa ruins that were found at the site. So, not only are these displays educational in a historical context, but they are significant from an archaeological standpoint as well because they are showing you the exact methods for the villa’s reconstruction. If you look closely at the picture above, you’ll see that the paint on the display is identical to the paint on the wall in the background.
There is an entire hallway filled with similar displays regarding the reconstruction and Roman building techniques. In addition, they also have a room dedicated to the various artifacts that were found during the excavation. It’s important to remember that although the villa is a reconstruction, it is the site of a fairly untouched villa ruin that dates back over 2,000 years.
This was definitely the strangest artifact they had on display. You don’t see it from this angle, but the figures are quite anatomically correct – if you know what I mean. And the fact that the woman is being held up on the shoulders of a child leaves one with a number of questions!
However, if you want a little more educational guidance, they also offer an informative video about the history of the villa and the archaeological finds. You can also pay an additional fee for a guided tour. We saw a group of children on such a tour, and they were having so much fun!
Complete with adorable little Roman outfits! We may or may not have casually followed along on the tour for a little while.
2. It’s incredibly accurate
Some people might hear “reconstruction” and think it’s not worth their time. But, Villa Borg is an amazingly accurate reconstruction of the villa ruins found nearby. For example, what do you notice in this picture?
Pay attention to the roof and the ground. First, you’ll see that the shingles on the roof are styled after the shingles actually used by the Romans. Not only in their material, but also in the method of how they are stacked on top of each other. This design channels rain water which is then dumped into the concrete groove you see in the grass. These were essentially their rain gutters. The concrete kept the water from destroying the grass and channeled it away from the building.
Authenticity can also be found in the gardens. Behind the complex are a series of pathways that lead to a number of different types of gardens. You’ll find a rose garden, a flower garden, a fruit garden, and an herb garden just to name a few. Each garden contains the type of plants, herbs, or flowers the Romans actually planted, and they are all designed to look exactly how the records show they looked.
Here you can see pieces of concrete that are original pieces of the rain gutter system. They’ve been moved away from the walls, probably for preservation reasons.
But it’s not only the outside. They put a lot of work into the interior as well. They’ve reconstructed a number of rooms, like the kitchen, a bedroom, and several baths.
3. It’s totally hands-on
This was definitely the reason I enjoyed Villa Borg as much as I did. Because it’s not really a museum, and things are not original, you can actually interact with it. Instead of just looking at things behind glass, you can pick things up and try them out.
For example, there is one room on the upper floors that is filled with games that Romans played. Each game has a small leaflet next to it that explains how to play the game, and then you’re invited to sit down at the table and play for yourself.
They also have an entire closet full of Roman outfits that you can put on over your clothes. If you want to go all out, you can even try on a pair of sandals.
My husband convinced me to dress up and make warrior faces for the camera – and then refused to do it himself so that I could take pictures.
This room also had a bunch of activities just for kids. There were a series of puzzles made to look like mosaics and an arts and crafts area where they could make various things.
Closer to the kitchen area, they have this really interesting room full of spices. There are posters above the tables that explain the different spices and how they were used, but it’s kind of a game at the same time. You’re supposed to take the lid off of the spices one by one, smell them, and try to guess which spice it is. The answers are written under the lids.
My husband totally crushed me at this game, by the way.
My favorite part, though, about Villa Borg being so hands on, was the food. In their restaurant, they serve authentic Roman dishes based on recipes that are more than 2,000 years old. I ordered a dish called Lucanicae et Fabaciae Verides. Now, this translated into German as Lukanische Wurst mit dicken grünen Bohnen. I had to ask the waitress what Lukanische Wurst was because I had no idea, and she said it was Mettwurst. Well, I love Mettwurst, so I ordered it thinking I would get Mettwurst with thick green beans (after all, it said “mit dicken grünen Bohnen,” which translates to “thick green beans.”)
As you can see, those are not green beans! So, please learn from my mistake here. When it says “dicke grüne Bohnen,” it does not mean green beans – it means fava beans. I’ll be honest here and say that I had never actually eaten fava beans before, and it was quite difficult to get Hannibal Lector’s voice out of my head as I ate them. But the food was wonderful. The seasonings were totally different, and my tastebuds were confused the entire time I ate, but it was delicious and so fun to be able to eat a meal that Roman soldiers ate two centuries ago.
4. It’s fully immersive
Going hand in hand with everything at Villa Borg being so interactive is the fact that it’s also immersive. The food is one example of that, but there are also a number of other activities you can partake of. For instance, with the Roman baths. As you saw in the pictures above, they are empty when you’re just walking through. But for a fee, you can “rent out” the baths for a private event.
They are fully functional, and you can even choose whether you want to use the hot bath (pictured above) or the cold bath.
And as I said before, nothing is off-limits here (aside from the artifacts kept behind glass, obviously). You are free to walk through all of the rooms, sit on the steps to the baths, wander the gardens, and get a very real sense of what it was like to live in a Roman villa.
5. It’s a truly unique experience
There are a number of other Roman sites, especially in and around the Eifel region of Germany, but none of them are quite like Villa Borg. Villa Otrang, near Bitburg, is similar because you can wander the grounds, but it’s mostly ruins. It’s a also much smaller. And then you have the Roman villa in Echternach, which is also ruins. Typically, when you visit these types of villas today, they’re a combination of ruins and displays.
But Villa Borg gives you that plus the reconstruction. There are absolutely ruins of the villa here, and you can walk through them. They’re mostly remnants of walls, so you can only see what the general floorpan looked like. But then you have the reconstruction right next to those ruins so that you don’t have to imagine what it must have been like. You can actually experience it.
Plus, throughout the year, they host all kinds of events like Roman gladiator tournaments, markets, Roman wine tastings, and even cooking courses.
There are tons of beautiful spots around the property for photo ops, too.
And if you’re especially interested in the Romans, or even archeology and paleontology in general, there is an area next to the ruins where various experiments are being conducted. The placards are only in German, but the front office offers a number of English handouts that might explain what the scientists hope to discover though their experiments (but I can’t promise it).
Have you been to Villa Borg? If so, how was your experience?