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05/24/2024 11:25

Medieval Bishop´s palace discovered in Merseburg, Central Germany

Dr. Oliver Dietrich Presse- und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit
Landesamt für Denkmalpflege und Archäologie Sachsen-Anhalt - Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte

    During renovation of the Martinikurie at the southern tip of the Merseburg Cathedral Hill, the State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt carried out archaeological and building historical investigations. The combined analysis provided important new insights into the development of one of the most important historical sites in the country. Outstanding is the discovery of the well-preserved remains of a large and representative earlier building, which can be identified as the earliest bishop's palace on the cathedral hill. It was built around the time of the second consecration of Merseburg Cathedral in 1042 by Bishop Hunold (1036 to 1050).

    Construction work and interdisciplinary investigations in the Martinikurie
    At the southern tip of the Merseburg Cathedral Hill and therefore in a prime location that defines the cityscape, rises the so-called Martinikurie, an imposing two-story residential building from the Baroque period that was completed in 1735. The important architectural monument is currently being renovated and developed for residential purposes by Dr. Uwe Gottschalk.
    During construction work, the State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology (LDA) Saxony-Anhalt carried out archaeological and building historical investigations in the basement of the building, which provided significant new insights into the history of the cathedral hill.

    A surprising discovery: an 11th century bishop's palace
    Investigations by the LDA Saxony-Anhalt resulted in the discovery of the remains of a much older predecessor building inside the baroque Martinikurie. It is the surprisingly well and almost completely preserved, cellar-like basement of a large building. The 1.75 meter thick foundation walls are still up to 3.40 meters high. Steps in the masonry and a pillar inside the building from the time of construction prove that there was once at least one hall-like upper floor. A stately hall serving representative purposes can be reconstructed here. The building, which measures approximately 20 by 10 meters and rises in the topographically most prominent place in the complex, is designed to be representative.
    The newly discovered building can be dated to the time of Bishop Hunold, who headed the diocese of Merseburg between 1036 and 1050. This means that the representative, unusual building can be identified with the diocese's first bishop's palace, built by Hunold around the same time of the second consecration of the Merseburg Cathedral in 1042. This finding makes it possible to locate one of the most important buildings of the episcopal see in Merseburg - a building that, with its location and size, clearly expresses the self-confidence of the diocese, which was re-founded in 1004.

    The Merseburg Cathedral Hill: a fortified settlement site with a deep history
    Merseburg has been an important settlement area for thousands of years. In the Middle Ages, the place was already important in Carolingian times and was mentioned in the Hersfeld Tithe Register of the 9th century. In the 10th century, Heinrich I established his royal court in Merseburg, which he expanded into a Palatinate. This in turn became the seat of the diocese of Merseburg, first under Otto I (born 912, died 973) and again under Heinrich II (born 973/978, died 1024). These events are connected to the cathedral hill in Merseburg between St. Peter's Monastery in the north and the Martinikurie in the south.
    In various places in this area, archaeological excavations, particularly over the past 30 years, have uncovered a rampart that surrounded the entire cathedral hill in the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age around 3,000 years ago. The ramparts were still present in the early Middle Ages and served as the basis for the Carolingian and Ottonian fortifications. They obviously impressed early Medieval people with their size. Thietmar, bishop of Merseburg and chronicler of the Ottonian period, reports that Heinrich I “decorated” the "Roman work" in Merseburg with a wall. The results of excavations at various points on the cathedral hill now leave little doubt that the "Roman work" is the prehistoric ramparts that were used and re-designed in the Middle Ages.
    The new research in the Martinikurie in the extreme south of the cathedral hill now shows that this building, as well as its medieval predecessor, were also built directly on the millennia-old ramparts. The wall could be documented inside the monument to a depth of around 4 meters below the medieval floor level.

    Historians and archaeologists have been researching the Palatinate and bishop's seat in Merseburg for over a hundred years. The detailed observations of the past 30 years and the current archaeological and building historical discoveries during the renovation of the Martinikurie now make it possible for the first time to make statements about the fortification of the Ottonian Palatinate and the first bishop's palace in Merseburg. The fortifications of the Ottonian period continued to use and re-designed a prehistoric wall that was apparently still impressive in the Middle Ages and that had surrounded the entire cathedral hill for around 2,000 years.
    “The representative hall building that was unexpectedly discovered inside the Martinikurie is of particular importance and can be identified with the first bishop’s palace in the diocese of Merseburg,” explains state archaeologist Prof. Dr. Harald Meller, “The finding, which is unique in Saxony-Anhalt, is one of the oldest profane buildings in the country preserved with still high-standing masonry.”
    The fact that this historically significant discovery was possible is not only due to the wealth of experience in active archeology and monument preservation at the LDA, but also to the good and trusting cooperation between the LDA and an exceptionally committed and understanding constructor.
    The construction project for the renovation and conversion of the Martinikurie, which gave rise to the interdisciplinary investigations by the LDA Saxony-Anhalt, is located in the 'Merseburg-Altstadtbereich' funding area of the 'Urban Development Support' program and is being financed with funds from the Federal Republic of Germany and the State of Saxony-Anhalt as well as the city of Merseburg.
    »As a state steeped in history, Saxony-Anhalt is always full of surprises. This also applies to this find on the Merseburg Cathedral Hill. It is important to research and preserve these pieces of history. They help us to better understand our country's history. I am therefore grateful to the State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology, headed by Prof. Meller, for his dedicated work. I am also grateful to the investor Dr. Gottschalk, who supported the excavations so intensively. Once again our knowledge about the history of Merseburg and our country was enriched,” emphasized Prime Minister Dr. Reiner Haseloff during a visit to the site.


    Merseburg, Martinikurie, view of the southern inner wall on the ground floor of the previous building. The masonry from the 11th century is still preserved at height under the barrel vault that was added later.
    Merseburg, Martinikurie, view of the southern inner wall on the ground floor of the previous buildin ...
    Dirk Höhne
    State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt

    Criteria of this press release:
    Journalists, Scientists and scholars, Students
    Construction / architecture, Cultural sciences, History / archaeology
    transregional, national
    Research projects


    Merseburg, Martinikurie, view of the southern inner wall on the ground floor of the previous building. The masonry from the 11th century is still preserved at height under the barrel vault that was added later.

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