The Cultural Landscape of the Rivers Saale and Unstrut

Located in the heart of Germany, the Cultural Landscape of the Rivers Saale and Unstrut is characterised by a high density of outstanding monuments from the High Middle Ages, all being situated at the confluence of these two rivers, which act as the landscape’s structuring and connecting axes. The landscape has two main facets: the built landscape still materialized in the urban morphologies, especially in Naumburg and Freyburg, and the rural landscape around the villages of
Ebersroda, Schleberoda, Gross-Wilsdorf and Flemmingen, and the vineyards of Dechantenberg, Schweigenberg, Köppelberg, and Saalhäuser. Altogether four castles and four monastic complexes, two planned cities with their original grid-based street layouts as well as villages, vineyards, fertile fields and pastures bear witness to the elaborate settlement process of this unique borderland region between Western and Slavic cultures in the High Middle Ages. The highest-ranking buildings and works of art, most of all
Naumburg Cathedral with its globally unique artistic and iconographic founder figures, bear extraordinary testimony to the claims to power and the self-confidence of the worldly and spiritual rulers within the pan-European network of patrons and artists between the 11th and 13th centuries as well as to the region’s crucial role as a place of interchange between Western and Eastern realms.

The Cultural Landscape in the Saale-Unstrut valley is nominated under UNESCO Criteria I, II and IV.

It represents a masterpiece of human creative genius (I.), it exhibits an important interchange of human values within a cultural area of the world on developments in architecture or technology (II.), and it is an outstanding example of a landscape which illustrates a significant stage in human history (IV.):

(i) Naumburg Cathedral is a masterpiece of human creative genius representing in a double-choir structure the self-assurance of its worldly founders in an unprecedented and vivid manner. The workshop organisation of sculptors and stonemasons which was likely established in the early 13th century and is known under the name of the “Naumburg Master” constitutes one of the decisive conveyors and pioneers of the ground-breaking innovations in architecture and sculpture of the Late Hohenstaufen period in the 2nd half of the 13th century that were particularly developed at the cathedral in Reims and have been lost in other places. The quality of the work of the Naumburg Master has since justified Naumburg’s reputation far beyond its region. The Cathedral’s artistic significance is complemented by the works in the chapel of Neuenburg Castle and in the minster of the Monastery of Pforta.
(ii) Naumburg Cathedral and its cultural landscape were decisively and intensely shaped during the High Middle Ages when the region was a thriving trading hub allowing the exchange and interaction along the border between German Christian and Slavic cultures. The landscape exhibits examples of planned villages developed in former forest land as well as traces of Slavic settlements that were transformed over time but persist in place names and in the structures of round-shaped village settlements, representative of Central and Eastern European border regions of the Middle Ages.
(iv) Naumburg Cathedral and its cultural landscape illustrate in a condensed and exemplary manner the entire range of built and landscape features created during the High Middle Ages when climatic conditions favoured the expansion and diversification of agrarian activities to satisfy the increase in population and its Eastward movement in Europe. The conquest of territories and its related power struggles are materialised by fortresses, monasteries and castles in a harmonious landscape, the key elements of which represent highest artistic achievements and the most advanced techniques of their time.

The Saale-Unstrut region

The Saale-Unstrut region can be seen as a microcosm demonstrating in an exemplary yet specific way the complex processes of land development in the High Middle Ages. A multitude of secular and ecclesiastical rulers, from the Emperor to dukes and counts, from bishops to abbots, shaped with their diverging interests this cultural landscape of the High Middle Ages. They also shaped the region’s character as a border and transfer area, absorbing and communicating different political and cultural influences.

Castle Goseck viewed from the Saale valley Castle Goseck viewed from the Saale valley

Dominated by the centrally located ecclesiastical center of Naumburg Cathedral, the landscape displays a system of exceptional built and landscape features interlinked by sight lines and functions. In its density and completeness, this cultural landscape is of singular importance for the comprehension of an era, namely that of the European High Middle Ages. The region at the confluence of the rivers Saale and Unstrut demonstrates in an outstandingly concentrated way the process of power and land expansion during the High Middle Ages.
Beginning in 1028 the region developed into an important hub at the crossing of major trans-European trade routes, running North-South and East-West. In only about 200 years, the cultural landscape along the river valleys and around Naumburg Cathedral developed from an ethnic and religious border region into a key transfer region at the European level.
Until today, the matured cultural landscape of the High Middle Ages has survived in an extraordinarily dense way with monuments of outstanding quality, and its settlement and landscape features.
This High Medieval cultural landscape around Naumburg Cathedral includes features of the secular and the religious realms, the latter being dominated by the bishop of Naumburg.

The episcopal realm

Through the joint efforts of the Pope, the emperor and the Markgraves of Meissen, the Ekkehardines, the episcopal seat was moved from Zeitz to Naumburg in 1028 and became the religious centre of the region around the rivers Saale and Unstrut. The bishop and the cathedral chapter were both religious and worldly rulers of the property devoted to the embellishment of the seat by the emperor, markgraves and other rulers.

  • Naumburg Cathedral, Precinct and Immunity with its curias;
  • Town of Naumburg, a planned town by the bishops;
  • Schönburg Castle and Rudelsburg Castle as border fortresses planned by the bishop;
  • Rödel Plateau with its quarries and hollow ways;
  • Village of Flemmingen as an example of the peaceful merging of the former village of Tribun and the invited Flemish settlers;
  • Augustine Monastery of St Moritz Naumburg, founded by the Ekkehardines but fallen to the episcopal realm;
  • Cistercian Monastery Pforte (Schulpforta), which represents the transregional network of the order with its string connection to Western Europe and its important influence in the nominated area and beyond through the founding of sister monasteries in Eastern regions, support of migrant settlers Eastward, transfer of fruit and vegetable varieties;
  • Canal und Weir „Little Saale“ as a technical monument of its time ensuring water management in the area;
  • Vineyards of Köppelberg and Steinmeister bearing witness to the oldest wine-growing on steep hills in Europe in the 13th century;
  • Grangie/Cloister „Romanesque House“ reflecting the way a monastery was run with lay monks

The secular realm

As for the secular realm, the following monuments and landscape features represent the influence of the ruling families in the nominated area:

  • Neuenburg Castle with its exceptional double chapel, built by the Ludowingers, used as the centre of courtly culture, and residence of Saint Elisabeth of Thuringia;
  • Town of Freyburg with its walls and St Mary’s Church as planned foundation of a town by the Ludowinger;
  • Benedictine Nuns Monastery of Zscheiplitz as a testimony of female devoutness and memorial place of the Ludowinger;
  • Vineyard Schweigenberge as an exceptional witness of early wine-growing in the region;
  • Kleinjena castle remains, archaeologically well researched, representing the dynasty of the Ekkehardine Markgraves of Meissen;
  • Saaleck Castle as a vassal fortress of the 13th century, depending on the landgraves of Thuringia;
  • Benedictine Monastery of Goseck with its complete set of landscape features, including open fields and the vineyard of Dechantenberg;
  • Village of Eberoda
  • Village of Schleberoda
  • Village of Groß-Wilsdorf

Freyburg situated by the river Unstrut Freyburg situated by the river Unstrut

The component parts

These settlements developed in the early High Middle Ages. During the high medieval inland colonisation phase that preceded later extensions towards Eastern Europe, the villages were clearly shaped by the dominion powers but did not yet exhibit the uniform and partly monotonous image of many planned rural settlements of the adjacent territories to the east.
These village structures, which were first formed during the rise of the High Middle Ages, are rather an expression of the relocation and development process and bear unique testimony to the early German-Slav contact zone, where features from both settlement cultures merged and are still in an excellent state of conservation.
The component parts of this serial property were selected in such a way as to exhibit the entire range of built and rural features that can demonstrate the outstanding universal value of this region’s High Medieval development and history, representative of Central and Eastern Europe at the time and yet particularly condensed and well preserved in this nominated property and its buffer zone.