Cologne Cathedral is a structure of superlatives - it is by far Germany's largest church, the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe (you need to go as far south as Milan to find the next largest), it was the tallest building in the world for four years (1880-1884) until Ulm Münster topped it, it has the largest Gothic frontage of any Cathedral and is visited by an estimated 20,000 people every day!
The Kölner Dom (or to be fully accurate Hohe Domkirche St. Peter und Maria) took an exceptional 632 years to complete. Work began in 1248, initially as a structure to hold the reliquary of the Three Kings (which is still here) and also as the place of worship for the Holy Roman Emperor.
Before the work began there was a Roman Temple, then a 4th Century Church which became a Cathedral by the 6th Century. A rebuild was completed in 818 (the "Old Cathedral") which burnt to the ground on April 30, 1248. Fortunately this fire did not destroy the relics of the Three Kings which had arrived in Cologne in 1164.
On August 15, 1248 the foundation stone of the new Cathedral was laid. In 1322 the eastern end of the Cathedral was completed and consecrated and a "temporary" wall was put in place to allow worship and construction to co-exist. The magnificent west front was begun around this period.
All work ceased in 1473 leaving the south tower half completed and the "temporary" wall still in use. The south tower was left crowned with a massive crane that would stay in place for 400 years.
In the 19th Century, with Germany in the ascendant and approaching the creation of a unified country, it was decided to begin working on the Cathedral once more. A lucky discovery of the original plans allowed work to continue in a style matching the already ancient work and by 1842 enough money had been raised to start work in earnest. The towers were complete by the 1870s when the bells were installed.
Cologne Cathedral was finally completed in 1880, a mere 632 years after the foundation stone had been laid. In attendance was Kaiser Wilhelm I.
World War II was not kind to the City of Cologne which was thoroughly and frequently bombed. It is said the Cathedral towers were not targeted as they were a good navigation aid for Allied Aircraft. The Cathedral did suffer 70 direct hits but it did not fall. A great deal of the south side of the Cathedral was damaged and repair work continued until 1956, although the striking modern stained glass windows were only installed in 2007 - the work of Gerhard Richter.
Today the Cathedral appears to be in a continuous state of repair, there is always scaffolding somewhere on the Cathedral!
In 1996 the Cathedral found its way onto the UNESCO World Heritage List. There is a viewing platform in one of the towers, however, as you cannot see the Cathedral from here, the view is one of the least exciting in Cologne. In 2005 Pope Benedict XVI visited the Cathedral.
Standing quite literally outside Cologne's main train station the Cathedral is perfect for people to visit if they are changing trains and have only a short time to spare.
Photo - Andrew J. Müller
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