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 VIA REGIA - The Revitalization of an historical road 1. The history
The history of the Via Regia, or "Kings road", which connects, since centuries, Kiev to Santiago de Compostela, crossing Poland, Germany and France....

L’association VIA REGIA - CULTURE POUR L’EUROPE (Erfurt, D) nous a fait parvenir un dossier très complet sur son projet "Via Regia". Pour commencer, un peu d'histoire...
The project Via Regia of the association Via Regia Culture for Europe
european institute of cultural routes
Fanny Egretaud
12 April 2005
The VIA REGIA, From Galicia to Galicia...

The origins...

The old VIA REGIA, also called « Royal Road », belonged to the most important system of roads of the Early Middle Ages. This road still exists today. In the written sources, it appears with different names. In 1252, the “strata regia? was mentionned for the first time in Latin, in a document written by the margrave Heinrich the Illustrious (1215/16-1288) for the bishopric of the town of Meißen. The German name “Hohe Straße? (High Road) reappeared between the 15th and the 16th century: it was then the name of the German speaking region that went from Frankfurt am Main (Germany) to Wroclaw (Poland). But the history of the VIA REGIA in Europe began surely before Jesus Christ.

The Roman army

Roman army

From the Roman Empire to Merovingians

At the time when Gaul was occupied by Romans, there were stable provision roads between Paris (Lutetia) and the South of France, and these were used later by the Franks.

The Roman generals Drusus and Germanicus had drawn a line going from the Moguntiacum (Mainz) camp to the Elbe river because they wanted to use this river as the oriental border of the Roman Empire. According to the texts, they fought and defeated the Chatte tribe et so arrived to the Elbe river, through the Wetterau, through Thuringia, going along the Saale river.

Then, the Roman merchants always used this road.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, there was a regular development of a first East-West road. This development is certainly linked, in the Eastern part of it, to the constitution of the Kiev Rus and the interests of the princes Vladimir the Holy and Jaroslaw the Wise, and in the Western part of it, to the expansion of the Franks kingdom to the East and to the South.

The Battle of Legnica, 1242

In the geographical center of the road, the development of the VIA REGIA to the East was the result of the constitution of the Thuringian kingdom in the 5th/6th centuries.

After the fall of that kingdom in 531/534, the territory, through which the road went, was under Merovingian domination. Until the second quarter of the 10th century, Thuringia was then a direct border with the colonisation area of the occidental slavonic families. That is why, this area had a particular strategic and economic importance for the Franks. It involved the progressive, but inevitable, realization of a network of ways and roads that allowed to do all the segneurial works in the fastest and surest way.

In the Western, the “road? connected the capitals of the partial kingdoms that were born after the death of the king of the Franks, Clotaire I., that is to say Reims, Soissons, Paris and Orleans.

From Charles Martel to Napoleon

Two events were particularly important Europe´s following history:

- in the Western part of Europe, the military missions of Karl Martel against the Arabian people, that were in Spain, in Tours and Poitiers, in 732, and
- in the Eastern part of Europe, the battle of the German-Polish knight´s army against the Mongols in Legnica, in 1241,

Both were closely connected with the origins of the road VIA REGIA and both these events stopped for a long time the conquest of the young Europe by non-European cultures.

The political relationships that already existed in the Early Middle Ages between the European countries, the far trade that had rapidly developped since the 10. century, the pilgrim as a main form of far travels in the Middle Ages and countless ways of war around power and influence´s spheres permitted the development of the meaning of the road VIA REGIA through the centuries.

Particularly interesting is the section in the Polish and Ukrainian part of the “road? because not only the importance of such town centres as Wroclaw, Krakow, Lviv or Kiev is expressed, but also the thousand year long history of these people that was changing and often bringing sorrow in these regions is connected with the events along the VIA REGIA.

Charles Martel in Tours

The history of the old VIA REGIA as military road begins, according to the written sources, with the invasions of the Francs and ends curiously with a campaign of the French people.

Last time, this road attained a European importance through Napoleon´s troops that used this road as their way to the conquest of Russia and Spain but also as their way of return. Between these two times, there are 1500 years of European history that is closely connected with the VIA REGIA.

The VIA REGIA in the industrialization time

Since 1835 and the construction of the railroad, roads lost a bit of their importance. People, that had principally walked on the roads until now, had the new possibility to go faster on these ways by train and also to go further.

The transportation of goods was no more so painful as on the bad roads that were rarely prepared for far traffic anyway. During the following years, the industrialization promoted the fast construction of railroads. Trains were a suitable mean of transport for heavy transportation of the industry as well as for taking care of the rapidly growing towns and cities. When also the pavement of streets had been begun already in the 12./13. centuries in a few cities, the largely undevelopped roads´condition and the absence of suitable transportation means led to a decade-long neglect of the whole roads system.

Mail car to Gotha/ Thuringia/ Germany; engraving by G. E. Opitz, 1825

In the framework of this development, there were new changes of the roads´courses.

The VIA REGIA never had the exact same course through the centuries anyway. As the biggest part of the East-West trade took place on this road already in the Middle Ages, every sovereign tried to possibly get the road on its territory because the income given by escort rights and duties was substancial. Only a few points, fixed by the nature, as river crossing and mountain passes or combs for example, were the same for a long time.

So, the course of the road, frequently changing with the time, is also a mirror´s image of the changing political relations. At the same time, the economical and technical changes marked the image and the course of the VIA REGIA.

From the construction of the A4 to the Second World War

With the invention of the car, the road had to correspond to new traffic-technical demands in order to be driven.

The development of a new VIA REGIA, that is today called highway A4 in France, Germany and Poland, began at first at the end of the thirties, in the 20. century. The beginning of the Second World War led to the fact that the road could be worked on only in a very limited way. When, in 1943, the construction was finally finished, the part in Germany, with the exception of a few bridges that had to be passed by (still partly one-lane) was done and could be used by the armed forces.

Relict of the innergerman/ European division

After the Second World War, the courses of the railroad, highway and trunk road, that were bundled up like a cable rope, crossed, between Hessen and Thuringia, the border between the American and the Soviet occupied zone.

The following division of Germany and of Europe also divided the famous road, that had connected Eastern and Western Europe, in economic and political separate camps.

Europe on the whole was no more accessible on this road. The designation Eastern-Western had in the history of the continent in those decades a totally new meaning. The VIA REGIA was almost forgotten. Its symbolism as a connecting line of the European countries was a taboo in the Eastern countries.

The VIA REGIA today, heart of the construction of the EU

The development that took place during the last years has deepend the process of integration of the European Union, the opening of the Eastern countries and the liberalisation of the international trade.

The changes of political relations, the birth of new production´s systems, the enlargment of the supply circles and the expansion of markets also have an effect on the transportation.

So, for example, the transnational and the transit traffic increase constantly. Of course, the traffic volume on the old/new VIA REGIA does still concentrate at the moment mainly upon the German areas, no equal strong traffic density is to be stated all over Europe.

At the Hermsdorfer cross, the “turntable of the East?, the traffic is still the most thick, and clearly decreases further in direction of the East.

Traffic jam on the motorway A4

However, the renewal of the VIA REGIA is very important for Poland.

At the crossborder point Ludwigsdorf, the transborder good traffic increased from the entrance of around 160,000 counted vehicles in 1996 to around 277,000 in 2000. The numbers of departures are also so high.

For the polish conurbations in the South of the country, this connection has an enormous economical role. The A4 is the most important road´s connection between Germany and the coal and industry´s regions in Poland. It should be made longer to join the Ukrainian border, in order to make the transit traffic from Western Europe to Ukraine and to South Russia easier. And with that, the course of the road follows in our time the same old intentions. A complete four-lane highway is planned, that can be enlarged to a six-lane highway without any more reconstruction.

The VIA REGIA, an axis for meeting

The historical road as a recent linear way becomes today a runway for the realization of the individual mobility. Technically, it becomes a high-tech asphalt line that cuts landscapes and settlement spaces, and that makes possible a safe trip for the individual but only with the support of luxurious technical aids.

The whole new part of the highway A4 that was built in the new Bundesländer, is a model of engineer´s performances in Germany considering the aspect of security and mechanization.

The most modern communication and information´s technologies were used to be able to control and coordinate the travel´s security.

Countless high-mechanized anti-traffic jam and anti- accident measures were introduced on the highway, measures that make first possible a fluid traffic in this intensive traffic volume.

In order to fulfill the human needs and the care interests, rest areas with gas stations and parkings were built.

The stay at a rest area is so organised and mechanized that one is in the position to get everything without saying any word. Confort and speed of cars are so advanced that there is no more necessity to look for an accomodation on the road. The travellers often are under time pressure and leave quickly the rest areas or sleep in their own vehicle.

In these circumstances, can the highway bring together cultures and peoples as did the old VIA REGIA? Can the road still mean “life??

An essential road

Today, people would be mobile. Before, it was not particularly different.

Being on the road meant trade, wars, weddings… On the road, people were never alone, and until the 19. century, it was even more sure to be part of bigger groups in order to travel in less dangerous conditions.

One had always the possibility to communicate with others, to meet and get to know others. As one was curious and interested and often depending on the help of others, the travellers often used their small knowledge of foreign languages and collected experiences of life and of knowledges on this road.

This meaning of the road is history. But the VIA REGIA, as the way of Bonifacius who arranged the bishopric in Hesse and Thuringia, and, at the same time, stable political and religious structures for Roma and Karl Martel, or as the future six-lane highway A4, is since around 2000 years a “European road? of a crucially economical, cultural, political and military importance, living and bearer of a high community symbolism.

Görlitz/ Saxonia/Germany : View over the river Neiße to the polish town Zgorcelec/ Dolnoslaskie/ Poland. In the background there is the Oldtown Bridge that has been damaged in 1945 and is reconstructed now. (Photo made in 2004)

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 more infos ...
 other web sites
 Via Regia : the website
 Via Regia. Symposium
 Via Regia 2
  The symbolic.
 Via Regia 3
  The network.
 Le projet Via Regia
 Via Regia. List of the cities
 media library
 Via Regia 1995
 Via Regia 1996
 Via Regia - January / February 1997
 Via Regia. Novemnber/December 1997
 Via Regia 1997


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