Medieval Bishop’s palace discovered in Germany

Archaeologists working in Merseburg, Germany, have discovered the remains of a bishop’s palace dating to the mid-11th century.

The State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt announced the discovery during renovations of the Martinikurie at the southern tip of the Merseburg Cathedral Hill. The well-preserved remains of a large building have been identified as the earliest bishop’s palace in that area. It was built around the time of the second consecration of Merseburg Cathedral in 1042 by Prince-Bishop Hunold (1036-1050).


The archaeologists uncovered a cellar-like basement of a large building. The 1.75 meter thick foundation walls are still up to 3.40 meters high. Steps in the masonry and a pillar inside the building from the time of construction prove that there was once at least one hall-like upper floor. A stately hall serving representative purposes can be reconstructed here. The building, which measures approximately 20 by 10 meters and rises in the topographically most prominent place in the Merseburg Cathedral Hill complex.

Western section of the south wall. The foundation of the lowest layer of stone directly on earlier walls can be clearly seen. © State Office for Monument Preservation and Archeology Saxony-Anhalt, Dirk Höhne.

“The representative hall building that was unexpectedly discovered inside the Martinikurie is of particular importance and can be identified with the first bishop’s palace in the diocese of Merseburg,” explains state archaeologist Prof. Dr. Harald Meller, “The finding, which is unique in Saxony-Anhalt, is one of the oldest profane buildings in the country preserved with still high-standing masonry.”


The Merseburg Cathedral Hill is a fortified settlement site with a deep history.
In the Middle Ages, the place was already important in Carolingian times and was mentioned in the Hersfeld Tithe Register of the 9th century. In the 10th century, King Henry I established his royal court in Merseburg, which he expanded into a Palatinate. This in turn became the seat of the diocese of Merseburg, first under Emperor Otto I ( d. 973) and again under Emperor Henry II (d. 1024). These events are connected to the cathedral hill in Merseburg between St. Peter’s Monastery in the north and the Martinikurie in the south.

In various places in this area, archaeological excavations, particularly over the past 30 years, have uncovered a rampart that surrounded the entire cathedral hill in the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age around 3,000 years ago. The ramparts were still present in the early Middle Ages and served as the basis for the Carolingian and Ottonian fortifications. Thietmar, bishop of Merseburg and chronicler of the Ottonian period, reports that Henry I “decorated” the “Roman work” in Merseburg with a wall. The results of excavations at various points on the cathedral hill now leave little doubt that the “Roman work” is the prehistoric ramparts that were used and re-designed in the Middle Ages.

A depiction of Merseburg in 1650 – Wikimedia Commons

The new research in the Martinikurie in the extreme south of the cathedral hill now shows that this building, as well as its medieval predecessor, were also built directly on the millennia-old ramparts. The wall could be documented inside the monument to a depth of around 4 meters below the medieval floor level.

Top Image: Merseburg, Martinikurie, view of the southern inner wall on the ground floor of the previous building. The masonry from the 11th century is still preserved at height under the barrel vault that was added later. Photo courtesy State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt