UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Danube Limes

On 30 July 2021, the Danube Limes was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List under the designation “Frontiers of the Roman Empire – Danube Limes (Western Segment)”.

The “western segment” of the Danube Limes begins above Regensburg and extends to below Bratislava. Along this stretch of almost 600 kilometres, there are 33 selected sites with Roman monuments (22 in Austria, 9 in Bavaria, 2 in Slovakia). Hungary, which has numerous Roman sites along the Danube, has regrettably dropped out of this joint transnational project.

According to the UNESCO definition, the Roman sites and their buildings along the Danube, which are lined up like a string of pearls in the sense of a “serial monument”, represent a monument of “outstanding universal value” for humanity that must be preserved and conserved. The protective function is paramount, but the status of “World Heritage Site” should also help to make these monuments known and to promote the interest of visitors.

Historically unique

The historical uniqueness of the Danube Limes is based on its dimensions and its diverse functions:

The basic framework was formed by a chain of military bases, from legionary camps to forts and watchtowers, according to the requirements of the respective section of the limes. Where such installations still exist today, they bear witness to highly developed military architecture. The Limes road laid out parallel to the Danube represented a large-scale west-east traffic connection, as did the shipping traffic secured by a Danube lot. They not only had military functions, but also served the civilian traffic of people and goods. In peaceful times, the Limes enabled the controlled passage of people and goods.

Beyond military protection, Rome promoted the civilian development of the border region. With the emerging towns and settlements, Roman culture and traditions reached these remote regions of the empire. Roman settlement centres and road connections still characterise the appearance of the Danube region today.

World Heritage Site in Zeiselmauer

Among the World Heritage Sites on the Austrian Danube Limes, Zeiselmauer is one of the few that have largely preserved Roman buildings. In November 2015, the municipal council of Zeiselmauer-Wolfpassing approved the inscription of the following structures on the UNESCO World Heritage List:

Church or lower church (flag sanctuary) with church square, primary schools with horseshoe tower, Körnerkasten and Fächerturm with the intervening eastern camp wall and the small fort (burgus). Since this core zone was already under protection, nothing changed for the owners of the properties.

At the request of UNESCO, the buffer zone was extended in 2019 as an “area of archaeological interest”: In the north to the Hauptgraben, in the south to Altmanngasse. As this is building land in the local area, there are no further restrictions, but “increased attention” is required during construction work, as well as advance information from the Federal Monuments Office.

In September 2018, the ancient building stock of Zeiselmauer was surveyed and evaluated by experts of the International Council on Monuments and Sites ICOMOS. The result was recorded:

Although the overall impression of the fort has been impaired by overbuilding and later use, the individual objects are in an excellent state of preservation, and the existing building fabric is largely authentic.

Frontiers of the Roman Empire

With the transnational project “Frontiers of the Roman Empire”, it is hoped that one day the entire Roman border system will be protected over a length of approx. 7,500 km, a dimension surpassed only by the Great Wall of China. This includes the European sections, the “Limes Arabicus” in the Near East and in North Africa the “Limes Africanus”.

In Europe, the project has progressed furthest:

“Hadrian’s Wall” in Great Britain was already declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, the “Antoninus Wall” running parallel in Scotland followed in 2008. On the continent, the over 400 km long “Lower Germanic Limes” follows along the Rhine border in Holland and Germany (2021), as well as the 550 km long mainland border between the Rhine and the Danube, the “Upper Germanic-Rhaetian Limes” (2005). With the nearly 600 kilometres of the western segment of the “Danube Limes” (2021), 5 distinctive Limes sections in north-western Europe are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The inclusion of the further 1,800 km long Danube border from Hungary to the mouth into the Black Sea depends on the interest and willingness to cooperate of the riparian states.