Medieval building discovered by archaeologists in Germany

Archaeologists working at Magdeburg’s Cathedral Square in eastern Germany have uncovered the remains of a large medieval building thought to be over a thousand years old. 

The archaeological dig, which is being carried out by the State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt and the University of Heidelberg, only began last month but has already produced outstanding results.


For the first time, actual architectural remains were found in the form of two walls – the outer wall of a semicircular room (apse) and a wall base at its north end that runs west – which can be assigned to a building from the Ottonian period (919–1024). On the former outside of the building, both walls to the west have a sloping base made of plaster mortar, which was primarily used to protect against moisture. The outer wall of the apse appears to have been structured by half-columns or pilasters. It was part of the western end of the building, which extended to the east parallel to a cathedral that was built around the same time.

The gypsum mortar base with the footprint of a half column in front of the profile of the excavation cut with a clear sequence of layers. On the right edge of the picture is the remains of the wall of the bishop’s palace from the 12th century. Photo by Holger Grönwald / State Office for Monument Preservation and Archeology Saxony-Anhalt

“These are the remains of two walls from the time of Otto the Great (912-973) or his successors,” excavation manager Holger Grönwald said to Aussidlerbotte Zeitung. “The remains come from the outer wall of a semi-circular room, a so-called apse, as well as a wall base.”


Magdeburg was an important city for Emperor Otto I (912 to 973), known as the Great, in the 10th century. Here, the founder of the Holy Roman Empire endowed the Moritz Monastery and the first Magdeburg Cathedral, magnificently furnished the new buildings with imported antique marble columns and established a basis for Magdeburg’s rise to one of the most important cities of the Middle Ages. This discovery should help answer questions about the location and architecture of these buildings and allow historians to piece together what 10th-century Magdeburg looked like.

Despite its massive and high-quality construction, this Ottonian building did not last long. Its remains are clearly overlaid by walls and the remains of a door frame, which was part of a bishop’s palace, built by Norbert von Xanten, Archbishop of Magdeburg (1126-1134). This later building was in turn destroyed by a fire that swept through the city in 1207.

A trace of a half-column that once served as a representative structure for the outer wall of the Ottonian monumental building. Photo by Holger Grönwald / State Office for Monument Preservation and Archeology Saxony-Anhalt

The new findings provide a glimpse of the Ottonian building assemblage, which was believed to have been largely lost. The excavations highlight the considerable potential for archaeological research at this historically highly important site.

Top Image: The excavation trench seen from the east. Photo by Holger Grönwald / State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt