Mainz is famous for its university, its Roman heritage, its status as a media hub and regional capital, and its three most defining features: the Romanesque cathedral, the Gutenberg printing press and the Rhineland carnival. The people of Mainz have good reason to be proud of their city's history spanning almost 2,000 years. This rich cultural heritage incorporates a well-established winegrowing tradition, which only adds to Mainz's appeal.
For over 1,000 years the city's skyline has been dominated by one building, Mainz Cathedral. Towering majestically in its central location, the cathedral is one of the most important churches in Germany. Its foundation stone was laid in 975 AD under the aegis of Bishop Willigis. In its shadows lie the medieval and early modern quarters of Mainz. The hustle and bustle centres around the twisting, narrow lanes, with names such as Nasengässchen and Heringsbrunnengasse, as well as the many small shops, boutiques and cafés surrounding pretty Kirschgarten square with its romantic timber-framed houses and Marienbrunnen fountain. In the evenings, one thing is plain to see: Mainz is Germany's wine capital. Rheinhessen is the country's largest winegrowing region, and a generation of young vintners are proving that they have what it takes to achieve extraordinary feats year after year. Locals enjoy the fruits of the winegrowers' labours in cosy bars and taverns with pious names like Collection Box and Confessional. The Weinmarkt is one of Mainz's three major festivals. It made its first post-war appearance in 1946, with the French occupying forces contributing a remarkable 100,000 litres of wine as a conciliatory and friendly gesture. The city's other major festivals are carnival (we're on the Rhine after all) and Midsummer's Eve, a huge four-day fair that takes place at the end of June. Originally held in memory of Johannes Gutenberg, the fair today comprises a vibrant mix of music, traditional customs, variety entertainment, delicious food and, of course, wine.
In contrast to the lively old quarter, the view of Mainz from the banks of the Rhine is rather distinguished, quiet and almost somewhat austere. The city is dominated by two architectural periods: the modern age, as evidenced by the town hall, the Hilton hotel and Rheingoldhalle complex, and the Renaissance-Baroque with the Neues Zeughaus, the Deutschordenshaus and the Electoral Palace. According to some art historians, the unusually ornate, nuanced design of the Electoral Palace's facade surpasses even that of Heidelberg Castle – though locals in Heidelberg might think differently! Mainz also offers a wealth of fascinating museums. The Gutenberg Printing Museum and the Central Romano-Germanic Museum in the Electoral Palace stand out as the best in the city. The palace's pre-history and early history collections, along with those on Roman and early medieval history, are complemented by large restoration workshops that enjoy an international reputation – even Ötzi the Iceman, found in the Alps, has paid a visit. An even broader spectrum, from the Stone Age to modern times, is explored at Mainz State Museum, founded in 1803 with 36 paintings donated by Napoleon. The Cathedral and Diocesan Museum in the cathedral provides information about the history of the episcopal church and the bishopric. The Museum of Municipal History gives an extensive insight into the development of Mainz, while the Natural History Museum is the largest of its kind in Rhineland-Palatinate. The Kunsthalle Mainz art gallery rounds off the museum highlights in impressive fashion: the strikingly redesigned building at the former customs port is now encased in glass and even features a sloped exhibition floor on a seven degree incline. Of course, if you want to see the world from another perspective, you could just enjoy a glass or two (or more) of the fantastic local wines served in the city's bars and restaurants. But that's not a bad thing, remember. In Mainz, you're sure to be in good company.