The Cologne Cathedral – More than 600 Years of Construction

Cologne Cathedral
Image: Thomas Wolf,

On August 14, 1880, after more than 600 years the construction of the Cologne Cathedral, the most famous landmark in Cologne, Germany, is completed. The World Heritage Site is Germany’s most visited landmark, attracting an average of 20,000 people a day. The cathedral is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe and has the second-tallest spires and largest facade of any church in the world.

The Cathedral as we know it today was to be constructed in 1248, but it wasn’t the first building on that specific spot. Beginning in the 4th century the site was used by Christian buildings and the latest building (the Old Cathedral) was completed in 1818 but destroyed by a fire in spring, 1248. The new building project started after the Achbishop of Cologne acquired relicts of the Three Kings and tradition required an adequate housing for the religious very significant objects.

Archbishop Konrad von Hochstaden laid the foundation stone on August 15 1248. The first part, the eastern arm was finished in 1322 and a few years later, work on the western part started. When the south tower was complete about up to the belfry level, the main construction work halted for nearly 400 years. In the 19th century, architects as well as artists re-discovered their interest in designs and constructions of the middle ages. When the construction plans for the cathedral were discovered, it was decided to complete the building. This was a huge project, costing about 1 billion USD which was achieved by private funds and governmental support. Luckily, the old plans were well preserved and could be mainly completed.

The Cathedral’s completion was celebrated on August 14, 1880. Unfortunately the church faced several damages during World War II and had to be repaired. Luckily the completion of the building in the 19th century took place with the old design plans but were realized with newer and more stable techniques that were established in between the years.

The cathedral’s architecture was originally based on the Amiens Cathedral and was realized with an extra aisle on each side, forming a cross, which was usual for Gothic buildings. The interior is characterized by its many treasures, like the High Altar which has been installed in 1322 and is made of black marble. The Shrine of Three Kings is presumably the most famous installation and was created by Nicholas of Verdun.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a video lecture on Gothic Architecture by Jeanne Willette.

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