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 wasn't. It did not help that the 1:50000 map which I had of the Liestal area was outdated.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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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