When the Düsseldorf side of the Rhine was little more than a swamp full of frogs, what is now Neuss was already a mighty Roman fort – Novaesium – home to as many as 6,500 legionnaires. From the Roman settlement emerged one of Germany's oldest towns, which celebrated its 2,000-year anniversary in 1984. Even if the former swamp on the opposite bank has over time become Düsseldorf, the town of Neuss is still very much worth a visit.
Townsfolk, pilgrims and the region's oldest inn
The Romans had several good reasons for settling in Neuss. It was located at the end of a Roman road that ran from Lyon through Gaul all the way to Trier and the Rhine. There was also access to other rivers, namely the Erft, Lippe, Ruhr and Wupper.
So it is hardly surprising that economic life in Neuss is centred around the port and trade to this day. A walk through the centre soon shows the civic pride inherent in the town, which had the right to mint and issue its own coins, and enjoyed the same privileges as the members of the Hanseatic League. After the arrival of the relics of Saint Quirinus in 1050, the town's religious importance increased significantly. The late-Romanesque Quirinus Minster, erected in the saint's honour and designated a minor basilica by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, has become a popular place of pilgrimage for the faithful from all over Europe. Other important religious buildings are the neo-Gothic Church of St. Mary with striking windows by Emil Wachter, the Chapel of St. Mary at the Collegium Marianum, the Church of St. Sebastian and the late-historicist Church of Christ, the oldest Protestant church in the town. Any tour of historical Neuss should include Obertor gate, the Blutturm tower and the Kybele sacred site from the Roman era. Equally unmissable are three beautiful old houses, the Old Coffee House from 1571, the House of the Three Kings from 1597 and Zum Schwatte Päd from 1604, the oldest inn on the Lower Rhine, which proves that people in those days were not just pious but also fond of a glass of wine.
Gun powder and marching bands: the Schützenfest fair
The ability to handle a drink or two also comes in handy at the Neuss Schützenfest. With a main parade featuring over 6,750 marksmen and 1,200 musicians it is the largest festival of its kind in the world to be organised by a single club. The event includes a competition to find the best marksman, a procession honouring the winner, parades and plenty of other entertainment. A highlight of the social calendar not just for Neuss itself but for all the surrounding region, it attracts up to 1.5 million visitors.