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Vortigern Studies > Fectio > Roman Sites > Wittnauer Horn 2000

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Wittnauer Horn Switzerland
Sunday 9 July 2000
Wittnauer Horn
Late Roman Settlement (Refugium)
Bad access for the disabledFree access to the monument
Roman name: -
Roman Province: Maxima Sequanorum
Country: Switserland
Province: Aargau
Nearest town: Frick
Nearest village: Wittnau

Click to enlarge the map.
Map of the site.

This visit was a bit of an Indiana Jones-style adventure. No, of course it wasn't, but Roman sites tend to be fairly well signposted and this one ... wasn't. It did not help that the 1:50000 map which I had of the Liestal area was outdated. My wife and I were in Switserland for a short week on a visit to a few friends, and we stayed at Hellikon on a nice Swiss working farm. This tended to keep our daughter (3) fairly occupied, and my wife was not that mobile with her 4-months pregnancy (our son was eventually born in November). And, as is my habit, wherever we stay I have a close look at the map for Roman remains, and this one looked fairly promising. Wittnauer Horn it's called, and it's perched on a hill high above Wittnau, being classified as a Refugium. This means a settlement in a remote place, where the locals either flee to or continuously live during insecure times. Well, that fitted to Horn quite well. the hill is very narrow and steep, so a stout cross-dyke or wall could do the trick. It was only up to me to find it. First, something about the site itself.

The Horn

First described only in 1899 and recorded in 1915, the site was first thoroughly researched in 1935. It was after that when the remains of the ruins were conserverved. Several periods of occupation have been established. Wittnauer Horn was first occupied during the Bronze Age. A second occupation lasted during the the late Bronze Age to the Urnfield period (1200 - 450 BC). A very wide and deep ditch (marked green on the map) is the first line of defence. The main wall (marked red on the map) was about 2 metres thick and 45 metres long. The north tower, which lies high above the late Roman gatehouse, stood on a platform of 10.5 x 7.5 metres, the south tower, rounded off, on a platform 4.5. x 4.5 wide.
A third occupation lasted from 70-250 AD, based on coins mainly of Titus, struck in Antioch, London, Lyon and Rome. After 250 the site was partly detroyed. The new wall, marked
blue on the map, replaced the old one with a gate-tower 6 x 5 metres large, with a 2.5 metres wide passageway. The settlement, which in all likelyhood consisted of a number of wooden houses, existed from roughly 260 to 350 AD, a dating based on coins and ceramics found on the site.
The last period of occupation is dated to the 8th century. St. Martin, patron saint of the Franks, is also the patron saint of Wittnau. Finds from the site can be seen in the Fricktal Museum in Rheinfelden.

The visit

I set out on an overcast morning, with the family resting back home. You need to take the pass-like road from Rothenfluh to Wittnau, which a quite good one, and then about halfway look for a crossroads and head north. Well, there it started, because it was not allowed for cars, which meant a nice walk across a straight road along the Limperg to Buschberg, a hamlet of sorts, where I expected to head east to the Horn. Then, trouble started. No signposts of course, and guessing at the next track east caused me to loose my way. After some time I gave up and headed back to the farm. Vexed by this wamdering around, I tried again the same day. The weather had cleared up a little, and this time I ignored the signs and drove the car as far as my modesty allowed me to Buschberg. As it turned out, I had to cross the property of a farm (or so it seemed) before finding the forest-covered Horn. After that it was easy, because the hill is so narrow that you're bound to hit the ruins either way around. And, indeed, here was the long-awaited sign: Wittnauer Horn, 652m, Refuguimmauer, that way.

Finally, the signpost to the ruins.
Finally, the signpost to the ruins.
The very nice bronze plaque with loads of information.
The very nice bronze plaque with loads of information.
The impressive defensive ditch which guards the site to the west.
The impressive defensive ditch which guards the site to the west.
Seen from above, this was clearly a big obstacle.
Seen from above, this was clearly a big obstacle.
The Late Roman gate, or rather the built-up remains of the tower.
The Late Roman gate, or rather the built-up remains of the tower, seen from the Bronze Age tower.
Maya ruins?
Maya ruins?

The site is very wooded, and reminded me of the North American rainforest. Thick cover of beeches and firs made a good overview impossible, it was hard to see more than a few metres at times. Spooky but thrilling. I headed through the immense defensive ditch, climbing out of it on the other side of the hill, where I ran into a big gatehouse.

The Late Roman gate on the north side.
The Late Roman gatehouse on the north side.
Remains of the earlier defences, Late Bronze Age or Urnfield wall and tower.
Remains of the earlier defences, Late Bronze Age or Urnfield wall and tower.
Complicated remains.
Complicated remains.
The view south, to the hills of Aarau.
The view south, to the hills of Aarau.

Of course the ruins were built-up to protect them, but they were so overgrown that the word 'fake' never entered my mind. The atmosphere was that of Maya ruins in a forgotten forest, the site is so remote and silent. And wet, at least that day. I starting climbing uphill across the green and mossy stones, and soon lost the overview of the ruins. The archaeologists have partly reconstructed every wall, so the earlier as well as the later defences are equally pronounced. It was a bit of a complicated mess, but climbing and slithering over it did not diminish the experience. Hopping from one wall to the other, I felt the king of the hill.

After taking some pictures of the stone walls, I headed back. Returning through the ditch, I ended up at the signpost, and decided to take the official route back, only to start cross-country where the road seemed to descend where I wanted to get uphill. The map did not help and again, I was lost. This was even worse, scrambling across fallen treetrunks with no idea where to head for. However, with a good portion of sheer luck, I ended up near where I left the car. I need better maps next time! But to give you an idea of a better route, here's what I used. The exclamation mark ! means this is where the paths don't agree with reality!

Detail of the map used during this trip.
Detail of the map used during this trip.
Coming from Rotenfluh (arrow), I guess one should park at the designated spot, marked with a P here. I walked north to Buschberg and then east, but there are alternatives, though not tried by me.
1 should be the best, follow the crosses along the path, to a crossing where you head north.
2 means parking further along the road (if possible!), and a longer route. Stick to the same road.
3 drive up this side-valley for the shortest route.


  • Drack, Walter and Rudolf Fellmann (1988): Die Römer in der Schweiz (Konrad Theis, Stuttgart/Raggi, Jona SG).*

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