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« Germany 5.3: Castles … | Home | 9 dolla suit »

Germany 6: Cologne

This entry might as well be called "holy crap thats a big cathedral." Cologne (Köln to zie Germans) does have a lot of other interesting things too though. It was founded by the Romans in 38 BCE so there is a lot of history. They say you can't dig anywhere in the city without hitting Roman ruins.

Like so many things I've already posted about, we saw stuff in Cologne that was just really hard to capture on film. The cathedral is huge. It sits on the site of an older cathedral (818 - 1248) and in 1248 construction began on this gothic structure. Most construction on the structure stopped in 1473, with some intermittent work continuing into the 16th century. In 1842, money was raised (over a billion in today's US dollars) and the cathedral was finished by 1880 according to the original gothic design. From 1880 to 1884 it was the tallest structure in the world until eclipsed by the Washington Monument.

It sits right in the middle of Cologne. When you step out of the train station it greats you instantly.

Here I am looking tiny.

They conduct frequent tours, with daily tours in ENGLISH. We were excited. But we had some time to kill before the tour so we wandered around.

Immediately next to the cathedral is a museum of Roman artifacts. They were building a bunker in 1941 (something like 95% of Cologne was destroyed in WWII so it was a good idea) and stumbled into this.

This floor mosaic dates from 220-230 AD and is pretty much intact. Once they found it, they left it alone in its original location, and a museum was eventually built around it. The rest of the museum contains examples of pottery, coins, tools, etc... and lots and lots and lots of Roman grave markers.

A block over is the Praetorium. This was the Roman governor's mansion. They excavated it after WW2. Today there is a building built on top of it. The room we're in is over a football field long and has the ruins for about half the building. The little model is what it would have looked like.

Here it is during the excavation. The gothic ruins in the background are Cologne's "rathouse" the center of city government. The building was rebuilt, but you can still see which parts are original and which are reconstructed. Its sad how much was lost in WW2.

Embedded in the sidewalk all around the historical center of Cologne are these plaques that show the modern city superimposed on the walled Roman city. Usually with a little "you are here" type marking. We're way off to the left. The cathedral is just inside the wall in the upper right.

Besides building on top of Roman ruins all over the city, some people have just incorporated the ancient with the modern. This is an old Roman guard tower that is currently part of a private residence. Cuz hey, why not?

Ok, enough of that, back into the cathedral.

The cathedral was built because in 1164 the Archbishop of Cologne, Rainald of Dassel had acquired what were believed to be the relics of the Three Kings (yes the three kings who visited baby Jesus). This attracted a lot of pilgrims, so the newer bigger church was conceived. Here's what all the hubub is about. This box is about a ton of gold and silver with the relics inside. They actually open it once a year and supposedly you can see the skulls wearing crowns inside.

Its worth pointing out, the relics are in the Nave which is the oldest part of the building. Long before the rest of the church was built, the completed part was walled off and used by priests for prayer 7 times a day and by pilgrims for... well... pilgrimages.

Here's a picture of the old cathedral. I'm not sure why that dude is holding it... I forget what thats all about.

Since the church was built over such a long period of time, the stained glass dates from several periods starting with the Romanesque glass in the 13th century. This window is from a later period.

Much of the glass was taken out and put in a bunker during WWII. The rest was destroyed along with the roof because 14 arial bombs hit the building during WWII. Except for the nave, all the glass from the upper windows is replacement stuff from the 50s.

The inner height is about 120 feet.

This is a large crucifix carved in oak and with traces of paint and gilding. Believed to have been commissioned around 960 for Archbishop Gero, it is the oldest large crucifix north of the Alps and the earliest known large free-standing Northern sculpture of the medieval period. Though the crucifix itself is that old, the baroque sun behind Jesus was probably added in the 14th century.


For a piddly sum of 2 euro you can climb the famed south tower. Its 509 steps and you get to go through the belfry and up to the base of the spire about 100m off the ground. The belfry was pretty neat, it holds the largest free swinging bell in the world (24 tons) and some other gigantic bells cast and installed in the 1400s. Pay attention to the time. There's a single ring every 15 minutes with more lavish ringing to mark important times. The bells are a little loud.

The unfinished south tower with its ancient medieval crane became the symbol for cologne for the hundreds of years that construction was halted on the church. Here's a picture from 1856.

Climbing the tower is pretty much how you think. Its hundreds of stairs spiraling up until you even get to the belfry. From the top, you could see another church we had been in (to the left), the rathouse (the tower in the center) and the building that covers the Praetorium (in front of the rathouse).

A look down. The people look tiny.

A distinguishing element of the german gothic cathedral is that the spire isn't solid. This is the view up from where we are at 100m to about 150m off the ground.

I was a little tired when we got to the bottom.

Kristine was pretty much cathedral'd out at this point, but I think you could really make a day of this one building. There's a crypt underneath you can go into, and as the guided tour blasts bast ancient thing after ancient thing you get the feeling there is a lot more you could learn about.



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