Xanten, the main town in the Lower Rhine, has a pedigree going all the way back to its founding as a Roman military camp in 12 BC. Within a century it grew into a respectable town called Colonia Ulpia Traiana. At its peak, some 15,000 people milled about town, enjoying a surprisingly high standard of living.
Xanten’s medieval heyday is best symbolised by the majestic Dom that dominates the tangled old centre with its stately gates, cheerful mills and historical fountains. The town is also the mythological birthplace of Siegfried, the dragon-slaying hero of the 12th-century Nibelungen epic, which became the subject of Richard Wagner’s TheRing of the Nibelung opera cycle 700 years later.