Köln served as the most northern city in the Roman Empire, built and occupied along the Rhine in about 50 A.D. The city is named as Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium by the first Roman settlers, is situated on the west bank of the Rhine River. It is Germany’s 4th largest city and North Rhine-Westphalia’s largest metropolitan area. The original Roman settlement is buried beneath centuries of Rhine River overbank sediments, emplaced during flood events. But, because Roman buildings and structures were built from local and regional limestone, many survive and have been excavated. This archway is located beneath Köln’s Cathedral and passed as one comes into the entrance to the stairs of the South Tower.
Roman excavations now are housed in the city’s Romanische-Germanische Museum, built above the Roman town villa in which the Dionysus mosaic is located. It is said that colored glass first was blown in Köln and spread from here across the Empire. The museum houses the largest collection of Roman glass, and the earliest tri-colored cup (circa 330/340 AD) is on display. In addition, the Sepulcher of Poblicius, built around 40 AD, is reconstructed and is prominently displayed. Burials were allowed only outside of the city walls. This monument, built of stone, is the burial chamber (mausoleum) of Poblicius, a magistrate of the Imperium .
Köln’s cityscape is dominated by its cathedral, constructed over more than 6 centuries, in which are housed many artistic masterpieces that survived the Second World War. The site first was used by Christians who met for worship in a private house in Roman Cologne near the city wall. Following the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, when religious freedom was proclaimed by Constantine, the building was enlarged as a Romanesque church and enlarged during the subsequent centuries. By the 13th Century, it was known as “the mother and master of all churches in Germany.”
This 13th Century cathedral was considered too small to accommodate the pilgrims who visited it after the relics of the Magi were brought there from Milan in 1164. The foundation stone of the Gothic Cathedral was laid on 15 August 1248 on the celebration of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. By 1560, much of the nave and the four side-aisles had been completed, along with the main structure of the lofty south tower of the west end. It wasn’t until 1880, some 632 years and 2 months, that the building was completed in the medieval gothic architecture.
The Dom is the greatest Gothic German cathedral and continues to be Köln’s most famous landmark. The stone mass rises, almost weightlessly, up to the 43m-high baldachin-style arches. The high altar is placed on a monolithic slab of black marble behind which are found carved-oak choir stalls (1308-1311), painted choir screens (1332-1340), fourteen statues on the pillars in the choir (1270-1290), and stained-glass windows mainly installed during the 14th Century. Behind the high altar is the Shrine of the Three Kings where the relics of Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar– the city patrons of Cologne–lie besides the relics of Saint Felix and Saint Nabor, and Saint Gregory of Spoleto.
Dedicated to the Saint Peter and Saint Mary, the Kölner Dom is the seat of the Catholic Archbishop of Cologne. It is home to the tombs of 12 archbishops, interred between 976 and 1612 AD, in the cathedral, proper, and more recent archbishops are interred in the basilica’s subterranean vaults. In addition, the treasury is located in the 13th Century underground vaults on the north side of the Cathedral, reconstructed following WWII.
The Cathedral’s carillon is located in the Cathedral’s South Tower, which offers a view of the city a height of ~100 m. The climb consists of 533 steps which takes you past the bell chamber. The Cathedral’s carillon has eight bells, of which St. Peter’s Bell (der Dicke Pitter) is the largest freely swinging church bell in the world, with a diameter of >3 m and weighing 24 tonnes. Der Dicke Pitter was installed in 1920, replacing the original 1873 bell cast from sieged French canons after the Franco-Prussian war. The first bell was melted down in 1918 for armaments just before Germany’s defeat in World War I. St. Peter’s bell was silenced when its clapper sheared on 12 January 2011.
The Cathedral doors are reminiscent of those found in the Gothic French cathedrals of Notre Dame and Amiens. Air raids during World War II resulted in severe damage to the cathedral; at least 14 heavy bombs are known to have reduced the structure to rubble. It is the only building to have been left standing in the city center. Restoration and reconstruction work rendered the chevet, the a semicircular east end of the church, usable in time for the centenary celebrations, but the remainder of the building was not restored fully until 1956. Currently, nearly 100 stonemasons, glaziers, roofers, and other specialists continue to maintain and restore of the Cathedral building.
There are 12 other Romaneque cathedrals in the city, of which Gross Saint Martins located on the Rhine in the Altstadt, is memorable. It bookends the Dom, and was begun around 960 AD on the site of a Roman chapel. Its towers were built over the course of a century (1150-1250 AD), and reconstructed after WWII. Reconstruction was finished in 1985, but only opened to the public in 2009 after having been acquired by the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem. Many of the Catholic icons in the church, as elsewhere, are polychrome on carved wood.
From the Roman Empire to Catholicism, Cabarets and Artists, what would Germany be today without its Drag Queen comedians?