Some call it the ‘Franconian Rome’ – ask some of the locals and they’ll insist instead that the Eternal City is, in fact, the ‘Italian Bamberg’. Like Rome, Bamberg is built on seven hills.
For around a thousand years, the city has been the home of a powerful Prince-Bishopric, and was once the very centre of the Holy Roman Empire under Henry II. Indeed it was the Emperor and his wife, Cunigunde, who had the first Bamberger Dom, or cathedral constructed in the 11th century atop the Domberg, the highest hill.
Today’s cathedral, a rebuilt structure from the 13th century, is the city’s biggest tourist attraction. Inside the cathedral you can find the Bamberger Reiter, a 13th century statue depicting an unknown figure astride a horse.
This equestrian statue, the first north of the Alps since the classical period, has become the unofficial symbol of the city, consistently drawing a crowd of admirers. Elsewhere in the cathedral can be found the exquisite 15th century tomb of Henry and Cunigunde, carved by the master artist Tilman Riemenschneider.
Outside the Dom you'll find the Alte Hofhaltung, the city’s former fortress and now the home of the Historical Museum, Residenz and Diocesan Museum, all accessible together with a combination ticket, or separately.
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Bamberg by night. Photo: DPA
While the Historical Museum features a rotating series of exhibits about the city, the Diocesan Museum showcases a millennium of the cathedral’s treasures. Across the way, the Residence can be access with a guided tour that takes in the private quarters of the Prince Bishops and the incredibly extravagant Kaisersaal, or Imperial Reception Hall.
World Heritage Site
Down the hill from the cathedral, almost the entirety of Bamberg’s Old Town constitutes a UNESCO World Heritage Site, protected for its incredibly well-preserved medieval and baroque architecture.
Covering the lower slope of the Domberg, the Inselstadt and part of the Gartenstadt, visitors walk between 15th, 16th and 17th century buildings, covered by intricate baroque statues depicting Jesus, Mary and various saints.
One of the highlights of Bamberg’s Old Town is the Alte Rathaus, on a bridge over the Pegnitz. According to popular legend, it was built there due to the fact that a 14th century Prince Bishop wouldn’t grant the land needed.
Today’s construction dates from the 15th century, and is covered with 18th century rococo frescoes by Johann Anwander. Look for the three-dimensional cherub’s leg protruding from the paintings of angels in order to find the artist’s signature.
Sip a 'Rauchbier'
For a real taste of Bamberg, you can’t go past the beer. In fact, Bamberg has more beer production per capita than almost anywhere else in the world. Surrounded by agricultural land, and on the confluence of the Main and the Pegnitz, the city is a natural home for breweries.
A woman with a beer in Bamberg. Photo: DPA
The city’s specialty is Rauchbier, created by using barley roasted over an open flame. This process imbues a smoky, tea-like flavour, not unlike Lapsang Souchong – and while at first sip it may taste odd, keep going.
For the best Rauchbier, head over to the Schlenkerla brewery and restaurant on Dominikanerstraße, that serves Franconian specialities alongside the local brew.
There’s a lot more to Bamberg, and I’m of the opinion that a weekend is not nearly long enough to discover all the place has to offer, but a few days sampling this historic city makes for a great starting point.
From the sacred atop the hill, to the earthy delights of smoked beer, there's something for everyone.