WHS Logo

Aachen Cathedral

Aachen Cathedral
The Aachen Cathedral with its Palatine Chapel is the oldest in Northern Europe and has high symbolic value. It dates from about 800 AD. The Emperor Charlemange himself had overseen the construction work, until it finally complied with his wishes. What they actually had built was a palace for him, of which now only the church remains.

During the 14th and 15th centuries new features as the choir were added to the church, in the then fashionable Gothic style. More additions followed in the following centuries, the 74 meters high tower as recent as 1884. Obviously this permanent (re)construction of the Cathedral lead to a mixture of styles.

Charlemagne died in 814, and was buried in his own Cathedral. His bones are still preserved in the Shrine of Charles.

Year Decision Comments
1978 Inscribed Reasons for inscription



Visit August 2001

The Cathedral (or Dom) isn't the landmark you would have expected. Compared to its counterpart in Cologne the one in Aachen is no more than a "regular" church. The building is also in very bad repair, large reconstruction works are on the way.

There was a marriage going on in the Cathedral when I was there, so entrance for regular visitors was closed for a few hours. I spent those in the "Schatzkammer" (Treasury), a nearby museum that houses valuable treasures belonging or connected to the Cathedral and its founder Charlemagne. The extreme wealth that is displayed there I found a bit unnerving: Charlemagne thought he was God (or at least closely connected to His Son), and his followers through the ages agreed with him. In the museum you can for example see a golden arm and hand, with 2 real bones in it of Charlemagne. In the afternoon I finally could enter the Dom itself. Focuspoint of attention is the octagonal chapel, with the large 12th century chandelier. The inside looked much better than the outside I must say, so it was half-a-day well-spent. line

Reviews

Jorge Sanchez (Spain):
I visited Aachen during my two years vagabonding around Europe to learn languages and the art of traveling.
I was hitchhiking, coming from Hamburg, and decided to visit a new country in Europe: Luxemburg. In those years (1972) it was much easier (and safer) to get rides from the drivers than in present days.
During my day visit in Aachen I remember having visited the magnificent cathedral. Today I know that it is in the list of UNESCO patrimonies of the Humankind and resolved that it was very beautiful and received a warm felling, like of grandeur, but in those times I did not know and I did not care. Furthermore, it was not yet in the UNESCO list. I ignored the existence of the Palatine Chapel, or the full history related to Charlemagne.

I just wanted to visit the most interesting of the town, using my instinct, without guides, just asking the people and strolling around the downtown at random.
By the way, I slept inside my sleeping bag on a wooden bench in a park near the cathedral, so my first view in the morning was the cathedral.
Then I hitchhiked and after several rides I entered in Luxemburg.
It is my intention, in a near future visit to Germany during the year 2014, to revisit this cathedral more carefully, observing all the details, and then, back to Barcelona, in my dear Spain, I will rewrite this report.
Date posted: February 2014
ursula (ireland):
I love the Aachener Dom.The marble has such a warm feeling to it.mass on new years day is also a wonderful experience and chito it was a wolf that bit of the devils thumb not a goat.
Date posted: September 2013
Hubert Scharnagl (Austria):
The Aachen Cathedral was among the first twelve entries in the WH list in 1978 and was the first German WHS. This is justified because of the historical and architectural significance.
Charlemagne wanted to create a Christian empire north of the Alps in succession of the Roman Empire. He built his palace in Aachen, at the place where today the City Hall is. His Palatine Chapel, the famous octagon, is the core of the Aachen Cathedral. It is considered the oldest (and for a long time the largest) vaulted building north of the Alps. But the Carolingian structure is not visible from the outside, it is covered by a striking Baroque dome (that reminds of a lemon squeezer) and surrounded by a ring of Gothic chapels. The Gothic choir hall, the Baroque dome and the tower of the westwork dominate the unusual outer appearance of the cathedral. However, I liked that mixture of architectural styles, certainly there is no cathedral with a similar shape.
The interior of the octagon is stunning: the massive columns, the high arches of the upper gallery, the huge copper chandelier. And also the mosaics of the dome and in the aisle harmonize with the whole ensemble, though they are relatively new. They were made in the late 19th Century based on medieval motifs. But also parts of the Carolingian artwork have been preserved: the ancient marble columns in the arches of the upper gallery (some of them are in the Louvre), the bronze gratings, and the bronze entrance doors which are decorated with lion heads.
Admission to the cathedral is free (only one Euro donation for taking pictures), but I recommend to take a guided tour. You can walk in the choir hall and have a closer look at the Shrine of Charlemagne. I was impressed by the architecture of the choir hall, it consists almost entirely of glass windows. And you can visit the gallery with the throne of Charlemagne. The throne is simple and plain, decorations are entirely absent (photo). It is made of marble slabs which came from Jerusalem and have been dated to the year 800. Charlemagne, however, was not crowned on the throne, but after him Aachen was the coronation place of German monarchs for about 600 years.
The Aachen Cathedral and the nearby Cologne cathedral are the most important religious buildings in Germany, but they are different in almost every respect: the size, the historical significance, the architectural style, and the appearance of the surrounding square.
Aachen is a charming city, the university (with some interesting modern architecture) is close to the old town and ensures a good night life. There is also a interesting museum of modern art (Ludwig Forum) in a former factory building designed in the Bauhaus style.
Date posted: October 2012
Clyde (Malta):
I visited this WHS in September 2011. The octagonal basilica and cupola with the intricate mosaics are the highlight of the "Charlemagne cathedral". A visit to the thermal baths can be a great way to unwind after a day of sightseeing.
Date posted: September 2012
Marty Howes (USA):
A couple of details not mentioned in previous reviews. The huge chandelier was given to the church by Barbarossa who apparently was a fan of Charlemagne. And there is a large painting in the church's treasury depicting, among others, King Wenceslas, another significant figure.
Date posted: August 2010
chita (indonesia):
I've been to this cathedral so many times and yet i'm still fascinated by it. This cathedral is small compared to the duomo of milan and kolner dom.My friend told me the folk story about this cathedral, it is said that the architect made a deal with the devil and the devil wanted the first soul who entered the cathedral, but the aachener were smart, they let a goat walk inside the church and the devil only got a soul of a goat instead of human. The devil went mad and he banged the door but his thumb got stuck on one of the knob.If you touch the inside of the lion's shaped knob in the main entrance you could feel a cold iron inside it. They said it was the devil's thumb. Interesting story no? Aachen is a beautiful small town that is located close to belgium and Maastricht.You can go to Maastricht through Vaalser and there is a hotel named Kastel Bloemendal that is worth to pay a visit.Don't forget to try the hot chocolate they serve in the small chocolate shop called the chocolate company on the way to elisenbrunen from the church, for me the best time to visit Aachen is always at Christmas time.
Date posted: December 2008
Klaus Freisinger (Austria):
This is probably the most important WH site in Germany and the most significant religious building north of the Alps, and it is no wonder that it was the first site in Germany to be inscribed on the WH list.
It isn´t very big, especially compared to the monster of a cathedral in nearby Cologne, but unlike the Kölner Dom, it does not lack in historic significance. Charlemagne is buried here, in what was his favorite place - because of the thermal springs -, and it was the site of the coronation of German kings for about 600 years. Their simple coronation throne is still visible today and is, besides the famous Octogon, the most interesting part of the cathedral.
One of the best sites in Germany, and one of the most important on the continent, for this is where Antiquity ended and Europe as we know it today was born.
 
Adrian Lakomy (Slovakia):
I have visited this site in the same day as Augustusburg in Bruhl. These two sites plus Cologne cathedral are close to each other so it is a good hit for WH hunters :)
The cathedral itself is "different" among others on the first sight. It is visible that is a mixture of different architectional styles - Gothical and Romanic (or Byzantine). Later as i read it is because of huge volume of pilgrimes.
Interior is very interesting - the Byzantine part is build in Octagon shape (8 sides) and has beautiful overhead decoration. Gothic part has nice long windows so you can feel the atmosphere of the history there.
Unfortunately i came quite late the guided tour had already started so i was not able to see the Charlemagne's throne and other parts of cathedral.
Pic: top of the octagon
 
David Berlanda (Italy / Czech Republic):
In our trip to Germany we have visited the stunning cathedral of Aachen, probably the most important monument of the country, and the place where for more than five centuries its kings were crowned. It was built under Charlemagne in his capital city about from 790 to 800 as his palatine chapel and the nucleus of today’s cathedral. It was constructed as the first church of this type north of the Alps by architects from Metz, called by the king to repeat the structures of the churches that he had seen in Rome and Ravenna (in particular that of Saint Vitale), and consecrated by the Pope Leo III in 805. It had an octagonal ground plan, ringed by an aisle, surmounted by tribunes and roofed by a dome; only part of the original building can still be seen from the exterior on the right side of the cathedral, because a new dome was built in the 18th on the old one. After the fire in 1224 began the construction of the first additions: in 1350 was built the tower on the narthex, in 1414 completed the Gothic choir and then other Gothic chapels, some of which reconstructed in Baroque style (18th century). The main entrance to the cathedral still has the nice original door in bronze with heads of lions, melted at the time of Charlemagne under the direction of Einhard, and gives on the narthex, that keeps a Roman sculpture of a bear of the 2nd century and that of a pinecone of the 10th century. The stunning octagonal Carolingian structure, still well recognizable although the heavy decoration of 1879-81. There are eight arches supported by incredibly massive pillars of two colours, surmounted by a two storeyed tribune with two columns on each side and storey (under triple arches and with gratings of the time of Charlemagne in the first, under only one arch in the second). In the middle of the octagon hangs the huge cooper chandelier (1160-1170), symbol of the heavenly Jerusalem, made under Frederick I Barbarossa. In the tribune there is the Charlemagne’s throne, simple but massive, where the kings received the princes’ homage after the coronation. The surrounding chapels of the galleries are built on others constructed on the ground floor. There are the chapels of Saint Charles (1465-74), with a nice Gothic portal, where the kings prayed the night before the coronation, of Hungary, built in the 14th century and reconstructed in Baroque style, of Saint Anna (1449, in Gothic style), of Saint Matthias (1400, in Gothic style), where the kings were dressed before the coronation, of Saint Nicholas, Gothic, and of Saint Hubertus (1455-74), from which you can reach the cloister, in part Romanesque and in part Gothic, with columns made of black marble, nice vaults and windows. The stunning Gothic choir of the cathedral, built from 1355 to 1414, similar to that of the Saint Chapel of Paris, has modern stained-glass windows and on the exterior statues of the 19th century. There is the Carolingian altar (800) with the beautiful Golden pall, with 16 relieves, melted on the model of that of Venice, in 1020 in Fulda under the emperor Henry II the Saint. Near it there is a lectern in the form of an eagle, of the 15th century, and the statue of the Aachen Virgin, of the 14th century. Another masterpiece of the Ottonian art is the ambo, donated by Henry IIth for its coronation, made of golden and cooper leaves, divided by filigree, and decorated by gems, six Egyptian relieves made of ivory (6th century), an Egyptian cup and a crystal plate (10th century) and various fragments. The last and biggest masterpiece is the silver casket (near an another one similar), with relieves and sculptures, made in Aachen from 1200 to 1215, to contain the bones of Charlemagne; over it hangs a double statue of the Virgin, one of 1488, the other of 1524.
I think that Aachen cathedral is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen because of its incredibly beautiful architecture and its marvellous masterpieces. It’s absolutely worth of a visit as one of the best WHS and fully justifies the inscription. The state of conservation of the buildings is perfect, but the authenticity of the Carolingian part of the church is altered by the many successive Gothic, Baroque and modern additions. In particular the modern ones diminish the authenticity of the Carolingian building and also of the additions: for example the inappropriate stained-glass windows of the choir, the modern mosaics and statues, even if they are imitations of high quality of historical styles. I was very disappointed by the fact that all the chapels are normally closed and you can see the Charlemagne’s casket only from about 50 metres of distance because you can’t walk in the choir. Also the cloister and the museum of the Treasure was closed, so we weren’t also able to see the Charlemagne’s throne, accessible only from the museum. Apart from the WHS, the most important monument of Aachen is the huge Gothic town hall. You can easily reach the town from an exit on the highway A4 going from Cologne to the boundary with the Netherlands; you have to park outside the town center.
Photo: Aachen - Cathedral
 
Joyce (Netherlands):
The cathedral didn’t look very impressive from the outside and I wondered why it was a WHS, until I stepped inside. The dome is incredible and the golden detailed painting on the roofs were beautiful. The very high stained glass windows are very nice too. If you are in the neighbouhood it’s definitely worth taking a peek at.
Date posted: February 2006
Joyce (Netherlands):
The cathedral didn’t look very impressive from the outside and I wondered why it was a WHS, until I stepped inside. The dome is incredible and the golden detailed painting on the roofs were beautiful. The very high stained glass windows are very nice too. If you’re in the neighbouhood it’s definitely worth taking a peek at.
Date posted: December 2005
Charles (USA):
Of the ten German cathedrals I saw in the last two weeks I would have to rank Aachen as third or perhaps fourth on the list. While not as imposing as Koln or Ulm, or as moving as Speyer or Trier, it was, in its own way, breathtaking.
Date posted: November 2005
Ian Cade (England):
Even with what people have said here I was still surprised to see how small the cathedral actually was. The restoration work on the outside seems to be coming to an end from what I gather, there was only scaffolding on the rear, and the majority of the cathedral seems to be in a reasonably good state. The interior of the cathedral was particularly gloomy but I liked this it added more atmosphere to the surroundings. The octagonal chamber was the highlight for me, an architectural oddity and decorated with fantastic tile work, this stands as one of the finest chapels I have been into. I guess this is what the great Byzantine works feel like (though I have yet to visit any of note myself). The fine stained glass windows in the gothic addition helped illuminate the large gold coffin of Charlemagne.
I really liked the architecture of the cathedral it is a real hodgepodge of styles as it was stared in 794 and seemingly added too consistently for the next 1,200 years, the best place to view this is from the Rathaus square (view in the picture).
Unfortunately a massive hangover (damn those Belgian trappists!) and an inability to find the correct door meant I missed the Treasury, and I think this would have really completed the experience. The city of Aachen was quite small and had only a few other things of note, so I think a few hours to see the Cathedral is about enough.
It is about 1 hour from Cologne and is very close to the Dutch and Belgian borders so very well connected. Well worth the trip! I would like to go back at some stage when I am in a better, non post-alcohol state!
Date posted: October 2005
Marcel (Germany):
Well, I'm studying in the town of Aachen and so I'm used to see the beautiful cathedral hidden behind large papers as they are rebuilding it. Of course this cathedral can't be compared to the one in Cologne, but it's definately worth a visit, also maybe in combination with the treasure chambery and of course a guided tour through the cathedral (especially if the cathedral is still hidden). You definately shall try the "Aachener Printen", some kind of gingerbread with chocolate.
Date posted: July 2005
Martha Wiley (USA):
I really liked the Aachen cathedral. Architecturally, it was fascinating. The oldest part, sort of pre-Romanesque, was octagonal, the columns were heavy and there were hardly any windows (thank goodness for electric lighting!). The newer (well, 12th century) part is more what I'd consider high Gothic, with very narrow columns, lots of windows, everything reaching up toward heaven, very light. It's a great combination.

Historically, it was the first place I really felt that I understood a little bit about who Charlemagne was and how he thought. But also, how he fit into European history. I was inspired to hit the books to expand my limited knowledge. Definitely worth a visit!
Date posted: July 2005
Rash (India):
The mosaics on the ceiling had me spellbound. I could have spent hours in this church transported me Charlemagne's time.
 
Erika Tuokkola (Ontario, Canada):
As a graduation gift from my parents I was sent to the south of Holland to visit with my mother's family. My second eldest aunt, and her sister-in-law took me on a day trip to Aachen and we visited the Cathedral there. The exterior is in the midst of restoration, and hence covered with hscaffolding, but the interior of the octagon took my breath away. I had studdied Roman culture and archetecture in high school and was amazed at the quality and magnificent state of preservation of the mosaics that cover the interior ceilings of the Dom.

aside from considering it a beautiful site, I didn't really appreciate the historical significance of the site until I began my university education, and in courses in both art and history, learned about the great significance of the aachen dom to the cultural history of Europe.
 


Have you been to Aachen Cathedral? Share your experiences!

Add your own review