My History Blog, Focussing mostly on Roman and Mediaeval Times
Hiking in the Harz - Bode Canyon and Rosstrappe Cliff
The Harz has some beautiful and even spectacular landscapes, from tree-covered mountains and semi-Alpine meadows to charming little valleys with sparkling rivers, from windswept peaks and cliffs to canyons with waterfalls and rivers whose brown waters gush over boulders in vivid currents, from caves and abandoned mines to natural lakes and reservoirs lying in silent beauty. Not without reason has most of the Harz been declared a natural preserve.
View from the Rosstrappe Cliff into the Bode canyon
I've been hiking there a lot - often together with my father - but only posted a small part of my photos so far. So there will be a series of Harz posts, among others, in the next months.
In the Bode canyon
This time I'll cover another combination of river valley and cliffs framing it, like the Ilsestein and Ilse Valley
: the Rosstrappe Cliff and the Bode Canyon which are even more spectacular, though there are not so many legends connected with them.
The Bode canyon is sometimes called the 'German Gand Canyon', but there are quite some differences. For one, it's a lot smaller. The canyon proper is only the part of the Bode between Treseburg and Thale; some 17 kilometres. The ravine is 140 metres deep around Treseburg and 280 metres at Thale, the river is between 7 and 25 metres wide; the downhill gradient of the river in the gorge is 100 metres. Second, the Bode canyon is much younger: 450,000 years compared to the 5 - 6 million years the Grand Canyon took in developing.
Rapids and whirlpools
The river is allowed to run unchanged in the canyon. There are parts with rapids and whirlpools, sometimes the river runs so close to the rocks that only a small part remains for hiking along it, in other parts the valley widens and the river runs more gently. The riverbed is littered with rocks in some places, in others the tree branches touch the water. A lovely and almost primeval scenery for hiking.
Sometimes the river flows more calmly
Nowadays the Rappbode reservoir system
influences the water regime in the valley. Extremes reach from an outflow of 350 m/s during spring floods to the river falling almost dry. Fortunately, a plan from 1891 to impound the Bode river in the canyon by a 150 metres high dam came to nothing. Instead, the valley became a natural reserve already in 1937, ecompassing 474 hectares.
Bridge across the Bode in the Hirschgrund
There is a tavern in the middle of the valley, with a nice beer waiting for a thirsty wanderer. I took the shot of the bridge from its terrace.
The microclimate in the Bode canyon varies a lot within a small area. Patches that are either sunny, shaded, dry or wet offer a lot of different vegetation and biotopes. The temperature is 1.5°C lower than the surrounding area, and there is a 150 millimetres higher precipitation. On a hot day, the valley is a slightly cooler place for a hike.
The Bode canyon
I've already given some information about the Bode river system in the post about the Rappbode reservoir. The river is 169 kilometres long; its two main headwaters, the Kalte Bode and Warme Bode (wich is indeed 2°C warmer than her 'cold' sister) rise in the Brocken Field beneath the Brocken summit at about 860 metres. They confluence shortly before they reach one of the forebay bassins of the Rappbode reservoir system, and leave the Wendefurth retention bassin to continue north-east through the canyon. After passing Thale, the Bode river runs through the Harz foothills and the town of Quedlinburg, and confluences into the Saale river near Nienburg.
Way along the river
The Bode cuts through some interesting rock formations in the ravine. There is the so-called Ramberg granite with quartz veins which rose to the surface about 300 million years ago. It dominates the highest rocks formations of the cliffs. Since the granite has a high share of feldspar, its colour is rather light; it looks like red sandstone in the sunlight. Other rocks are metamorphic hornfels and slate which developed in the contact zone of the granite. Those are much darker in colour. The oldest rocks - some 400 million years - are Devonian diabase and graywacke; those can mostly be seen in the bottom of the ravine.
Diabase rock formation in the valley
As usual, erosion has led to a lot of stones and boulders breaking off the cliffs which now litter the ground, their edges smoothed by rain and the floodwaters of the river. It was a game of 'pick your path' in a few spots.
Boulders on the way, again
One can climb up to the Rosstrappe Cliff, but one can also take the return hike along the river and drive up the mountain. We picked that option; a winding path covering a rise of 400 metres sounded a bit too much work for a hot day (not to mention we'd have to ascend again to get to the car).
There is a restaurant on the plateau behind the cliff, but while the Rosstrappe is a popular destination, it is not so overpriced and overcrowded by tourists as the nearby Witches' Dance Floor (Hexentanzplatz
Way to the Rosstrappe Cliff
The Rosstrappe is one of the most impressive rock formations north of the Alpes. The southern cliff reaches out into the Bode valley, a 200 metres granite wall that rises almost vertically from the bedrock. The views from the cliff to the Witches' Dance Floor, the Harz footlhills and the Brocken, as well as down into the valley are spectacular.
On the Rosstrappe
Near the Rosstrappe cliff are the remains of the refuge fort Winzenburg, a rampart of rocks and earth, surrounding an area of 25 hectares, which had been in use from the Younger Neolithicum to the Iron Age. The wall offered protection for men and cattle, and likely was a a sacred area during some periods. Not much is visible today. A lookout tower had been built in 1860, but it is no longer in use and not safe.
Other cliffs seen from the Rosstrappe
Besides the ragged granite formations we also get some fine examples of spheroidal weathering (for an explanation see the post about Ilse's Rock, linked above) on the other side of the ravine.
Rock formation with spheroidal wheathering
The Witches' Dance Floor plays a role in the legends connected with the Harz witches. They used to gather there before they flew off to the Brocken on Walpurgis Night. Its origins - according to legend and local websites - go back to a Saxon cult place where the old Germanic goddesses were worshipped on the night to May 1st. When the Christian Franks conquered the Saxons, those celebrations were forbidden, but still conducted in secret; hence the name became connected with witches.
View to the cliffs below the Witches' Dance Floor
No Harz hike without at least one legend. This one tells about the beautiful king's daughter, Brunhilde, and her suitor, the giant Bodo. But Brunhilde did not want to marry Bodo and sent him away every time. Yet he would not give in - today we'd call him a stalker. One day, Brunhilde was out riding on her white horse when she beheld the giant coming after her. She spurred the horse into a gallop and they raced along the cliff, Bodo in hot pursuit. But then she found herself at the edge of the abyss, with the sound of Bodo's steed coming closer. She urged her mount to jump the ravine, and luckily reached the other side. Only her golden crown fell into the river below. Where the horse landed, it left behind a hoofprint in the rock.
The rock from where the princess jumped
The giant Bodo jumped after her, but his horse failed and he fell into the gorge. He was changed into a black dog as punishment for his evil lust, and he still guards Brunhilde's golden crown in the valley of the river that bears his name.
The Rosstrappe proper (Ross
is an old German word for 'horse' and Trapp[e]
means 'step') which gave the entire cliff its name is a pear shaped hollow in the rock; 70 cm long, 55 cm wide and 13 cm deep. Some theories assume that it could be an old, man-made sacrifical bowl of Germanic origin since the plateau had been settled for 5,000 years, but there is no final proof; it could as well be a natural feature. But it's considered lucky to throw a coin into it. Most of them are 'European' cent pieces.
Another view into the Bode canyon
I'll leave you with two more photos of the Bode and Rosstrappe, just because I have so many pretty ones I can't decide which to use for the blog.
The Bode river, seen from the bridge
And here is a final shot of the spectacular cliffs framing the canyon. One wonders how the trees manage to cling to the granite - that's another difference to the Grand Canyon in the US.
Another view from the Rosstrappe
I got another hiking tour from that summer a few years ago, which will cover the Devil's Wall, another rock formation near the towns of Thale and Quedlinburg (where we stayed for several nights).
Drinking Water for Central Germany - The Rappbode Reservoir in the Harz
During one of our Harz tours we crossed the dam of the Rappbode reservoir and stopped, so that I could take a few photos. But there are no legends about princesses in caves this time, and the lake is sadly lacking in monsters as well; it's too modern for that.
The Rappbode reservoir had been built 1952-1959 as one of the prestige projects of the GDR. It is part of a system of six reservoirs, retention bassins and forebay bassins regulating the Bode estuary (the Warme Bode, Kalte Bode and Rappbode rivers) between the towns of Rübeland and Wendefurth. The catchment area of the Rappbode Reservoir is 269 square kilometres, that of the Wendefurth retention bassion 309 square kilometres; the whole system has a catchment area of 3,000 square kilometres (1,200 square miles).
Zoom to the other shore
The Bode valleys are very deep and narrow. Melting snow and rain in spring have led to more than one severe flood; the last one in 1926, causing great damage to the villages in the valleys. The first idea to regulate the floods by a reservoir dates to the mid-19th century. Those plans presented one large bassin that would have flooded part of the upper Bode valley and destroyed some of the famous rock formations. Later plans involved a system of bassins, not much different from the modern system, but lack of money - mostly due to the two World Wars - put the effort off several times.
The Rappbode dam has a base of 800 metres and a height of 106 metres, making it the highest reservoir dam in Germany. Its crown is 415 metres long. The content of the lake at maximum filling are 109 million cubic metres; the water surface is about 390 hectares.
On the dam wall
The main function of the reservoir is the production of drinking water for central Germany - 250,000 cubic metres a day. The reservoir also serves as flood protection and provides raw water for industry and agriculture. Both the Rappbode reservoir and the Wendefurth retention bassin generate electricity by a pumped storage hydroelectricity plant and turbines. The lake also offers fishing of eel, pike, carp, trout, perch and more.
The Wendefurth retention reservoir
The Rappbode reservoir dams the Rappbode, while the Warme Bode and Kalte Bode enter into the Wendefurth retention bassin beneath the Rappbode reservoir; the Bode river later confluences into the Saale. The Wendefurth lake is the only bassin of the system that does not produce drinking water; therefore water sports like sailing and swimming are allowed.
Wendefurth lake, wide view
A zip line across the Rappbode lake has been set up reccently, as well as one of the longest swing bridges in the world (483 metres). Those had not been installed when we last visited, but it's just as well since there were less tourists around, and I would not walk across a swing bridge a hundred metres above the lake anyway.
Hiking in the Harz - Ilse Valley and Ilse's Rock
The Ilsestein - Ilse's Rock - is more than a granite promontory in the Harz mountains; it is the home of a fairy queen, a secret crystal cave full of wonders. But it is a long time since she last has been seen and invited a visitor to her hidden realm. Too many tourists around on a sunny day for her to bathe in the river, I suspect.
The Ilsestein (Ilse's Rock) hidden in the foliage
Beautiful Princess Ilse was the daughter of the Harz King and very much in love with the young knight of Westenburg, who lived in a castle on the other end of what then was still a single large plateau. But her father looked ill upon their love and smote a cleft into the plateau, forever separating both castles by a deep crevice. Princess Ilse was encased in the rock which she only can leave on certain nights to bathe in the river which bears her name.
The Ilse river
If you see her then, in the silver moonlight, and approach her carefully, she may take you into her cave to admire the sparkling gems and gleaming gold and many hued fairy lights. She will take your rucksack and bring it back full, ordering you not to open it until you're back in your home.
Usually those who did encounter her once upon a time were poor young men, shepherds, coal makers, hirelings and such. But the rucksack became heavier and heavier on their way home and they always succombed to the temptation to have a look. They would find only pine cones and acorns which they cast away in anger. Yet a few acorns remained and turned into gold at home - still enough for those poor men to buy a small farm and a cow or two.
Path at the Ilsestein
Those who came to her cave out of greed she would punish. A blacksmith's apprentice who found the magic root that opens all doors, entered her realm and filled his pockets with gems, but forgot to take the root back with him when he left, so the heavy granite doors smothered him to death.
Another version of the legend has a jealous witch with an ugly daughter as the one who banished beautiful Ilse inside the rock, because all the princes wanted her hand, and none that of the ugly daughter who, I suspect, had not the sweetest temper, either. The tale doesn't say whether one of Ilse's suitors eventually married the ugly daughter - likely she remained a spinster in good fairly tale manner.
In some stories Ilse houses a retinue of knights and squires and horses of the hunt in her cave, which connects her with the Wild Hunt that haunts the Harz mountains, but there are no legends about her actually hunting, except one.
In that version Ilse is a princess out hunting with her betrothed in the nearby mountains where she meets with the fairy queen who invites her to visit her magic cave. Ilse spends a year there, listening to the fairy queen telling her all stories and legends of the Harz King, the bitter feud between dwarves and giants, the unhappy love of the king's daughter and a mere knight, and more. But eventually Ilse longed for the sun more bright than any diamond, the verdant forests more green than emeralds and the sky more blue than the finest sapphires in the fairy queen's cave. So the queen let her go, ordering her never to tell anyone where she went.
Another shot of the Ilse river
Yeah, that worked out all right. ;-) Ilse met with her faithful betrothed who, of course, wondered where she had been all that time. At first she remained silent but when he accused her of infidelity, she sat down in his lap and began to speak in her soft, beautiful voice, of the fairy queen and the wonders of her cave, of the tales she heard about the Harz King and his unhappy daughter, of the dwarves and giants and whatever came into her mind, and she talked on and on even when her betrothed fell asleep to her soft murmur.
When the young man awoke the next morning, Ilse was no longer there, but a bright brook ran in the vale, murmurnig merrily over the mossy stones. It was called after the gossipy princess. If ones takes the history of names into account, that legend may be older than the one which connects Ilse's name with the rock formation. Her betrothed became a hermit and built a chapel in the vale.
Cool shades in the valley
I found neither the magic root nor fair Ilse's hidden cave, but a lot of nice motive for photos. Which may have been safer, after all. I'd rather not have spent a few hours in Ilse's magic mountain only to reappear years later. Try to explain that
to people nowadays.
My father said he'd seen a witch - the Harz is witch country, after all - but I love him nevertheless. *grin*
The way to the Ilstestein
The most famous of those enchanted visitors to Ilse's cave was the emperor Heinrich IV
who - according to the legends - came to her realm on his flight from the Harzburg which was besieged by the rebel Saxon nobles. He stayed there for three years. Well, it would have been a good hiding place, and Ilse in this version is something of a Wagnerian Venus, but in reality, Heinrich continued south to Eschwege where he gathered his forces to bring down the rebels and retake his Saxon castles.
And more boulders to climb over
We had a break halfway up the promontory. The peak of the cliff rises about 150 metres above the valley - Ilse's hall got a really high vault - and the way up the mountain is a fine example of a more difficult Harz path, crossed by tree roots and littered with mossy stones and boulders. The handholds you can see in some places are necessary because a misstep would send you down a 150 metres shortcut to the valley.
The cross on the cliff
But that terrain didn't prevent the emperor Otto III from building a castle on top of the promontory. The Ottonian and Salian emperors (you can sort them out in this list
) had their ancestral homelands in and around the Harz, and loved the hunt in its verdant forests rich in game. They originally had a castle in the valley, dating to the late 10th century. Otto III gave it to Bishop Arnulf of Halberstadt in 998, who established a Benedictine monastery there (the monastery was consecrated in 1007). But Otto wanted to continue his hunts in the area and therefore built a small castle on the Ilsestein. Since the castle overlooked the valley all the way to the present town of Ilsenburg, it also served to protect the monastery and was the seat of the monastery's reeve.
The way down wasn't any better
The castle remained forgotten for centuries until some ruins were found during excavations in 1957. Nothing but a few half-buried foundations are left today; most of those still visible can be found on the cliff proper where we didn't go because the way is even more difficult than the one to the main plateau. You can see the cliff with the cross on the peak on the photo above. The castle was about 10x50 metres in ground plan; not a large one compared to other Ottonian sites, but offering a pretty view.
If there is a connection between Heinrich IV and the Ilsestein, it is the possibility that he may have stayed briefly at the castle during his flight; it seems the unnamed lord who held it was loyal to him.
Not much is known about the history of the castle, but there was some tension between the monastery and the lord who held the castle during the time of Heinrich IV, which implies that said lord was no longer also reeve of the monastery as in Ottonian times. A burnt layer in the few excavated remains proves that violent action took place in the castle some time around 1080 - the time of Heinrich's wars with the Saxon nobles. It would fit the historical context: Heinrich not only had problems with rebellious barons and lords, but also with the pope, a fact that brought most ecclesiastic dignitaries to the side of his opponents. The lord of the castle sided with Heinrich who ignored all complaints about harrassments of the castle garrison against the monastery.
View of the forests around the Ilsestein
The castle was rebuilt after the damage of 1080, but it would not last much longer. The 'castrum Ilsinestein' is last mentioned in 1105, when it was destroyed by the bishop of Magdeburg and the landgrave Ludwig the Leaper of Thuringia during the power vacuum after Heinrich IV was forced to abdicate in favour of his son, another Heinrich. Landgrave Ludwig's involvement implies that the castle garrison was rather unpopular in the entire area, and not only with the monastery.
The Paternoster Cliff near Ilse's Rock
We decided to continue the way on the plateau to the right of the Ilsestein for another mile through that lovely forest, to visit another rock formation, the Paternoster Cliff. That one, too, offers some splendid views over the Ilse Valley and the surrounding mountains, and of course, there is a legend connected with it as well.
The Romanesque abbey in Drübeck which we visited on the same tour
It is a rather sad one. A bunch of evil, non specified robber barons had attacked the nearby abbey in Drübeck. Some of the nuns managed to escape and fled to the Ilsestein where a monk lived - probably in the ruins of the castle, good hermit style. The group continued their flight together, but the robber barons came ever closer. In the end, they saw only one way out: the nuns and the monk knelt down at a cliff and said a last prayer, then they jumped into the valley and to their death, to escape the evil lusts of the robbers. Since Medieaval nuns and monks prayed in Latin, the cliff was called for the first words of the Lord's Prayer, 'Pater noster qui es in coelis ...'.
View from the Paternoster Cliff
The Paternoster Cliff is another granite formation. The bedrock parts are connected by a criss-cross system of joints, and that is the point where erosion strikes first. A layer of decayed rock, different in chemical components from the bedrock, develops. That layer is called saprolite and eventually peels off the bedrock like the peel of an onion. Over time, this process gives the bedrock that typical look of a bunch of cushions, or wool sacks. The process is therefore called woolsack weathering or spheroidal weathering. A fine example is shown in the photo below, also taken on the Ilsestein plateau.
A granite boulder with spheroidal weathering
The German emperors of Mediaeval times had long since gone, their hunting horns no longer sounding in the valleys of the Harz, but the legends remained, and in the 18th century, a new interest in those old tales passed on by charcoal makers and miners developed, together with an interest in picturesque and beautiful nature.
The man to start the Harz tourism was the famous German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). He visited the Harz several times, the first time in winter 1777, and then again in 1783 and 1784. Goethe was not only a poet and chief representant of the Weimar Classicism, but also a natural philosopher and statesman. He visited the Harz in those functions, as mineralogist and as minister for mining at the court of Duke Karl August of Saxe-Weimar (the Harz being rich in ore). But was deeply impressed by the splendid nature of the Harz mountains; they found their way into some of his poems (Harzreise im Winter
) and the famous Walpurgis-Night scenes in his tragic play Faust
Another view from the cliff
Hiking in the Harz became a fashion. The cross on the summit of the Ilsestein mentioned above was erected by Count Anton of Stolberg-Wernigerode in 1814, to commemorate his friends who died during the German Campaign of 1813 (the so-called Befreiungskriege
or Freedom Wars) against Napoleon. He would scarcely have put it there if there had been no tourists around to see it.
The Ilse river near the town of Ilseburg
Another German poet and essayist who visited the Harz was Heinrich Heine (1797-1856). Several of his works were banned by the German authorities due to their liberal political content, though his description of his Harz visit (Die Harzreise
, published 1824) was only mildly censored despite some satirical undertones. His Jewish descent also caused him problems which didn't improve even after he accepted baptism. Heine finally went to live in France in 1831.
Heine must have been pretty impressed by the Ilse Valley and the legends about the princess Ilse. He writes in some detail about the lovely Ilse, arrayed in her white gown and sparkling diamonds, dancing over the stones as merry brook; adds a poem about her and Emperor Heinrich IV, and finally describes how he himself climbed up to the cross on the summit, where he seemed to hear faint music from Ilse's cave, and the trees began to dance around him. Heine grasped the cross until the vertigo passed and he could safely descend. I think I'll be excused that I didn't follow him out there, but remained on the main plateau.
"Palaces adorn its every shore" - The Villa Urbana in Longuich at the Moselle
Where the blueish stream expands, behold the multitude
Of villae, proudly gabled, leaning against the rocks,
And as the river wanders in a meand'ring course,
Palaces alternately adorn its every shore. (1)
Decimus Magnus Ausonius, Mosella, lines 283-286; translation by me.
The villa urbana in Longuich, east wing
One of those palaces (praetoriae) praised in the poem is the Roman villa near Longuich at the Moselle. The reconstructed east wing shows only a part of the entire villa as Ausonius would have beheld it, but it is still a pretty example of Roman country estate architecture. The villa is situated on a terrace halfway up the vineyard hills framing the Moselle, with a fine view over the valley and river.
Villa in Longuich, east wing and connecting passage
The land around the Moselle (including most of present day's Luxembourg and western Belgium) was the territory of the Treveri, a tribe of the Belgae, a Celtic speaking people of mixed Celtic-German origins. Part of the tribe joined the Gallic revolt against Caesar under their chief Indutiomarus and, after Indutiomarus' death, sided with Ambiorix
. Others stood with his pro-Roman son Cingetorix whom Caesar later appointed king. The territory became part of the province of Gallia Belgica after Caesar's conquest of Gaul in 50 BC.
East wing, the outside facing wall
The original oppidum
of the Treveri on the Titelberg (now southern Luxembourg) was replaced by Augusta Treverorum aka Trier
during the reign of Augustus and made into the new capital of the Province probably about BC 17 (2). A class of wealthy officials who could afford a country estate soon developed, and there was the - increasingly Romanized - local nobility who could afford a posh lifestyle.
East wing with vineyards in the background
The first villa on the site, dating to the early 2nd century AD, was a villa rustica
, basically a large style farm with a country house where the owner spent some quality time with his family when not working in Trier. Those farms were usually run by a steward and provided agricultural produced for the towns and military settlements. The Roman estates usually were rather large, but there must have been a lot of smaller farms mostly owned by locals and maybe veterans as well (3).
Another view of the east wing
The villa whose remains we can see today was built in the later 2nd century AD and can be classified as villa urbana
, a country estate with a representative main building, the pars urbana
, separated from the actual farm buildings by a wall. Those villae
were built by retired Roman officials and maybe local nobles with enough money who fancied the Roman luxuries. It is often difficult to tell who the owner of the many remains dotting the Moselle valley was. They didn't leave behind their doorplates.
Remains of columns outside the east wing
The remains of the villa in Longuich were discovered in 1984. The main building, or rather, set of buildings around several inner yards, measured 110x28 metres. The former smaller building had been deconstructed when the new 'palace' was erected. The east wing and the connecting passage are only a part (4) of the entire layout which included a great house and a west wing, all connected by passages. Both wings had pillared avant-corpses - you can see remains of the pillars on the photo above.
Covered passage with foundations of other domestic buildings in the foreground
The actual farm or pars rustica
stretched down the hill toward the Moselle where the village of Longuich is now located. Foundations of several farm buildings have been found, but were mostly covered up again. The situation of the villa at a road leading to Trier and not far from the Moselle made it easy to transport the goods to the capital, and traveling would not take much time for the owner, either (it's about 15 minutes by bus).
Garden in one of the inner yards
The east wing contained the baths, and those have been reconstructed. There is no direct access, but I managed to take some photos through the grilles in the doors to the various rooms. So here is a bathing series:
The cold bath
We start with the cold bath or frigidarium
. You can see a hint of the bathtub proper in the niche to the left. The room in the foreground was the toilet.
The hot bath with anteroom
The next room is the hot bath, the caldarium
. The tub is in the corner to the right; in the foreground is an anteroom which may have been used for massages, rest and such.
The sweating bath with connection to the heating room
Next comes the sweating bath (sudatorium
) with the connection to the heating room, the praefurnium
. You can see the brick built chute to the left which would have been covered by tiles and which transported the heated air to the hypocaust under the baths.
The sewer pipe outside the east wing
The dirty water was drained to the outside, as you can see here. What remains is only the brick-built encasement (minus the cover) of the pipe which would have been a proper lead pipe. I could not find any information where the sewer finally led; maybe to the fields and vineyards.
Interior of the passage
The baths were decorated with a fine mosaic floor and frescoes. A few traces of those remain and have been placed in the original spots during the reconstruction, but it was impossible to get any clear photo in the dim light, using a zoom to catch an impression of the rooms in the first place.
View out of the passage
The villa was in use until some time in the 4th century. Some of its pillars and stones found their way into the church of Longuich during the Middle Ages, and probably other houses that no longer exist. Roman remains almost always served as quarries.
Pretty view from the porticus of the east wing
1) The original Latin text:
Talia despectant longo per caerula tractu
Pendentes saxis instanti culmine villae
Quas medius dirimit sinuosis flexibus errans
Amnis, et alternas comunt praetoria ripas.
2) The original capital of Gallia Belgica had been Durocortum Remorum = Reims.
3) The latter would have been more common along the the Rhine where the legionary and auxiliary forts were located, not along the Moselle.
4) I'd say about a third, judging from a sketch of the entire front on the leaflet provided by the tourist office.
Vera Rupp, Heide Birley (ed.): Landleben im römischen Deutschland. Stuttgart, 2012
Andreas Thiel: Die Römer in Deutschland. Stuttgart, 2008