Port of Mainz

A view from the eastern side of the Rhine.
Former wine warehouse on the southern jetty of the port Zollhafen

The Port of Mainz (or Mainzer Hafen in German) is the port of Mainz, Germany. Lying on the western bank of the Rhine river, it has a long history reaching back through the Middle Ages to Roman times. The modern port facilities, existing for approximately 120 years in their general environs, are located mostly to the north of the city proper, and will be extended to the north of their current location during the coming years to make space for a new residential area.[1]


Roman times

Mainz ('Mogontiacum' in Latin times) during Roman times was a major colonial town, the centre of Roman life in the area for many centuries. The facilities included a trade port at the 'Dimesser Ort' (in the area of the current port),[2][3] and a military port (in the area of the current old town),[2][4] from which the vessels of the Roman river navy patrolled the Rhine.

During the gradual Roman retreat from their remaining possessions in front of invading German tribes, some of the naval vessels were abandoned in a section of the port (likely around 407 AD, when the city was sacked for the second time).[5] Their remains rested in the earth and mud of the riverbank before being recovered 1981/1982 during excavation works for a Hilton hotel. They are now exhibited together with two life-sized replica ships in a dedicated local museum.[4]

Middle Ages

Sailing barges in the 19th century.
Excursion riverboats in the early 20th century.

For the early Middle Ages, there is limited information about any port facilities, possibly reflecting the much-reduced stature of the city. However, in 1317 Mainz, in addition to becoming a market town, received staple rights. This meant that any river trading ship had to unload its goods and offer them for sale to the local citizenry for three days. Only after this period was it allowed to travel on with its remaining goods. This legal control over the merchant shipping on the Rhine helped make the city rich.[6]

Modern age

Industrial Age

The increasing importance of the wine trade in Mainz helped keep the port prosperous after the end of the Middle Ages. During 1860-1885, the Rhine was also being channelised and dredged to become a major route for the increasing trade of an industrialising Europe. This resulted in two new port areas being built for the city, the Winterhafen ('Winter port') south of the old town (just north of the Südbrücke), while a new Zollhafen ('Customs Port') was constructed north of the city, in the general area of the old Roman trade port. The Zollhafen was surrounded by fortresses, but its commercial function was clearly expressed in the many stately warehouses that were soon erected around the 12 ha water and on the 15 ha land area. At the time, it was considered one of the most modern river ports of the world.[7]

Beyond World War II

During the Second World War, the Zollhafen (by now clearly the main industrial port), was about 85% destroyed. Of the old buildings, few survived, amongst them the massive wine storage building, a concrete structure erected in 1912. However, the port quickly recovered, and as early as 1950 reached its pre-war average annual turnover, with 740,497 tonnes. The 1 million tonnes mark was reached in 1952.[8] In the following decades, most changes were operational or technical only, such as the installation of modern cranes in the 1980s. In the 1990s, plans were then begun for a possible extension or relocation of facilities[8] that were increasingly by their location close to the growing residential areas of the city.