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The Via Regia – The royal road

The Via Regia has been the most important east-west connection in Europe from the start of the Middle Ages to the present day. In the German-speaking area it is partly known as the “High Road”, but literally translated it is the “royal road”.

Via Regia is the oldest and longest east-west connection in Europe and in 2005 it was awarded the title of “European Cultural Route” by the Council of Europe.

Historically, the royal roads were a type of road which legally belonged to the King and thereby benefited from special protection. Traders could travel on them in greater safety. However, the road was not only used by traders but also by pilgrims and travelling crafts-men. Pilgrims used (and still use) the road to pray at the grave of St. Jacob in Santiago de Compostela. Even troops travelled on the Via Regia. During the Thirty Years’ War, in the Napoleonic campaigns and in the two world wars of the twentieth century, the road was used for troop movements.

The main route leads from Kiev in the Ukraine across Saxony from Görlitz via Bautzen, Kamenz, Großenhain, Grimma to Leipzig and on to the Spanish Santiago de Compostela. The route from Santiago de Compostela extends like a network of rivers across the whole of Europe.

The significance of the Via Regia is reflected (among other ways) by the dense sequence of towns along the route. River crossings were usually the starting point of a settlement and later the foundation of a town.

From the twelfth century, numerous towns developed to become important trade and business centres.

Trade and craftsmanship brought the towns prosperity and riches. This made the con-struction of imposing fortifications, houses and sacred buildings possible. In Bautzen, travellers coming from the direction of Kamenz entered through the Reichentor gate on the Kornmarktplatz (Corn Market Square) and moved onto the Reichenstrasse, which led directly from the Marktplatz.

Peterskirche in Görlitz

Peterskirche in Görlitz (source: Sabine Wenzel)

Görlitz, too, owes its establishment and growth to a once wealthy trading metropolis to the Via Regia. The first reference to it dates back to 1298. Since then, Görlitz has had an im-portant “bridge” function to the east and fascinates visitors today as a dual German/Polish European city, Görlitz/Zgorzelec.

The Via Regia was and remains a route for cultural exchanges and communication. Today it is still a transport route of varying size, including federal motorways and national and state roads but also country lanes. It links East and West, cultures and unspoiled areas, and in its very special way and through its history contributes to a united Europe.