Exploring the Saarland

The Saarland is an oft overlooked region of Europe, difficult to reach and lacking in major cities. The densely forested borderlands served as a natural barrier between France and Germany, overlooked by everyone. That is, until someone discovered coal and iron on the Saar, propelling the region into the industrial revolution. The Saarland was characterized by its rough landscape and way of life, and this is reflected in its hearty food and minimalist architecture. Lets go on a tour of the historical cityscapes of the Saar.

What is the Saarland?

The region I refer to as the Saarland is a bit larger than the modern day state, whose borders were drawn by the French after World War One seeking to maximize the amount of wealth they could extract from the peace settlement. My version of the region includes:

  • The lower half of the Saar valley: The Saar begins its journey to the Mosel deep in the forests of Lorraine, merging with the Blies only at its arrival in Germany. Historically the Saar river bound the region together. It was divided culturally only when the French state finally annexed Lorraine at the end of the 18th century.
  • Most of the Blies Valley: The Blies River ties much of the eastern Saarland together. It’s gentle plains once served as the main center for agriculture and wine production. Modern agriculture has since made more arable regions more productive and the Blies has been increasingly returned to nature.
  • The Hunsrück Highlands between the Saar and Mosel: The border here is dependent on whether the water flows into the Saar or the Nahe rivers. This offers a cultural divide, as the Nahe connects to the cities of the Rhineland and Palatinate, whereas the Saar connects to the Mosel and Lorraine.
  • Parts of the Palatine Forest at the Eastern Edge: The eastern reaches of the Saarland are more accessible from Lorraine than they are from the Rhineland.
Justin Bunch | CityscapeTravel When looked at from space, the natural borders between the Saarland and the Rhine look more impressive than those to the south.

Historically this encompasses the County of Saarbrücken, the County of Pfalz-Zweibrücken and territories of Lorraine which would come into the possession of Trier, Luxemburg and France at various points. It’s an open question whether the Saarland should really be included as parts of other nearby regions. Politically it was bound to the Rhineland courts in Mannheim and Nassau but culturally it was closer to Lorraine. The forests of the Palatinate and the Highlands of the Hünsruck serve as a natural barrier to encapsulate the region.

Places to Visit

Justin Bunch | CityscapeTravel My suggested travel destinations with the top three destinations highlighted.

The main sights in the region are the city of Saarbrücken and the baroque architecture of the towns which dot the rolling landscape. The exception is the vast monument to the Industrial Revolution inVölklingen, which is the counterpoint to the otherwise rural and thinly populated region.

The cultural influences on the region are quite varied. Its proximity to France has heavily influenced the language, and have given the Saarland dialect and cuisine a profoundly French flavor. The Romanesque churches of the Saar, Mettlach and Merzig trace back to the traditions of Gorze in Lorraine (Well, as do many of the churches in the Rhineland Romanesque paradigm). The Monastery of Tholey is one of the first French Gothic constructions within the borders of modern day Germany and the Baroque style of the region’s cityscapes is heavily influenced by French patterns, especially from Lorraine. However, the late Gothic hall church in St. Wendel is clearly in line with the Bohemian and South German Gothic tradition, and the Rococo Architecture of Saarbücken and Zweibrücken has clear Rhineland influence.

Gorze Abbey on the left and St. Peter in Merzig on the Right. Probably not a fair comparison, as the architecture of Gorze likely contributed to the Rhenish Styles which then influenced Merzig, but likewise later renovations, i.e. the vaulting, were done in the same Rhenish styles it influenced originally.

Exploring the Region

As to how you should travel through the region, of course not everything on the map is equivalent in interest. However, the most interesting destinations may be quite spread out and not necessarily convenient to reach. Here’s my take on how to see the Saarland.

Top Three Destinations in the Saarland

The Saarland is an under-explored region hidden in the western borderlands of Germany. Much of the region is covered by dense forests and mysterious ruins, dotted with timeless villages. So what are the best places to experience in this region of woodlands and concrete jungles?

Culinary Overview of the Saarland

Traditional Foods of the Saarland

The Saarland has a rich tradition of rich foods for its hard working people in the mines and mills of the Saar. Come explore the nuanced and French influenced cuisine of an under-explored region.

Thematic Guides of the Saarland

Justin Bunch | CityscapeTravel The black lines follow my suggested route, the dotted lines and yellow dots are optional and the white ones are special interest destinations.

The Saar Valley

The Saarland is a quiet, rugged region with few cities and a long history as a war-torn borderland. This guide follows the history of the region from the Thirty-Years War to the Industrial Revolution.


For more pictures of the many places to see here, head over to my gallery of the region: The Saarland

Selected Bibliography

  • Horst Heydt, and Gerhard Heisler. 2008. Ludwigskirche Und Ludwigsplatz Zu Saarbrücken : Ein Sachbilderbuch Für Wissbegierige Kleine Und Grosse Menschen, Die Sich Am Schönen Freuen Können Und Gerne Zusammenhänge Erfahren Wollen. Merzig: Merziger Druckerei Und Verl.
  • Fontaine, Arthur. 2003. St. Peter Merzig Eine Gründung Des Frühen 13. Jahrhunderts. Merzig Provesa-Verl.
  • Franziskus, Anton. 2007. St. Wendelinus-Basilika Zu St. Wendel. München ; Berlin: Deutscher Kunstverlag.
  • Konrad Hilpert, Stefan Sieg, and Geistkirch-Verlag. 2015. Die Basilika St. Johann in Saarbrücken Ein Kurzporträt von Konrad Hilpert (Wort) Und Stefan Sieg (Bild). Verlag: Saarbrücken Geistkirch-Verlag.

Image Credits

Return to the Saarland


Forgotten Borderlands

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