The lovely preserved city of Aachen happened as a day trip from Cologne. I had been there once before and had been drawn by its legacy as the crown jewel of Charlemagne’s empire. Moreover, it is a really pretty city and is an hour’s drive from Cologne, our hometown. This time, our focus was the magnificent Aachen Cathedral and to explore it to the fullest, we reached there early on one fine spring morning. That day the sun was bright on a bold blue sky and yellow canola fields glowed neon. Spring, despite being a temperamental season, was generously kind with sunny days this year, and Aachen had swarmed with people. The crowd too added to the festive cheer and we eagerly made a beeline for the Aachen Cathedral. The preserved old town was quintessentially European with cobbled streets, street cafes, and fountain-filled squares, and the city’s jewel, Aachen Cathedral loomed high into the sky.




A UNESCO World Heritage Site

Though not a huge fan of the medieval European style of architecture, I found the Aachen Cathedral to be beautifully eccentric, and the octagonal palace chapel was the great emperor, Charlemagne’s dream. Often referred to as Kaiserdom or the Imperial Cathedral, Aachen Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most famous examples of Occidental architecture. It is also the oldest cathedral in northern Europe and the burial site of its famous ruler, Charlemagne. More than thirty German kings and twelve queens have been crowned within its opulent interiors and pilgrims have flocked there since the early 12th century. Designed by Odo of Metz, the Aachen Cathedral or the Palatine Chapel (as it is also known) was commissioned by none other than the great Charlemagne himself, and the enthusiastic emperor added his ideas to the design. The talented architect based the emperor’s dream monument on the Byzantine church of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy (as well as Little Hagia Sophia in Istanbul), and thus, the grand holy cathedral turned out to be a superb hodgepodge of octagonal shapes, striped arches, marble floor, golden mosaics, and ambulatory.

The Devil´s Thumb at Aachen Cathedral

The first German building to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage list, Aachen Cathedral is surrounded by folklore, legends, and interesting anecdotes and its dark Byzantine interiors had been crammed with exquisite works of art. The Devil’s Thumb is one of the quirkiest tales associated with the Aachen Cathedral and it is believed that millions of hands have touched it throughout the centuries. According to legends, when the construction fund for the famous monument ran dry, the devil himself appeared with an offer to lend money for its completion. In exchange, he demanded for the soul of the first mortal to enter the cathedral after its dedication and the cash-strapped city had readily agreed to this condition. Like all great works of art, the Aachen Cathedral took years to finish, and during that time, the cunning Aacheners came up with a plan to fool the devil.

The wolf and the cathedral

Since the condition demanded a mortal soul, the citizens of Aachen chased a wolf into the cathedral ahead of them and the gullible devil tore out its soul, without even looking. This rip-off got the devil into such a state of rage, that he stormed out after slamming the heavy cathedral door behind him and in the process tore off his thumb by accident. The confused citizens placed his severed thumb inside the head of one of the two lions decorating the cathedral entrance and till today, the faithful digit is said to have remained there for heavy petting by the Aachen Dom’s visitors. Though the unfortunate thumb is the most interesting tale associated with the Aachen Cathedral, it is not the only one. The entrance of the grand monument dedicated to Mother Mary was the first bronze casting north of the Alps. Being used to the grandeur of the magnificent Cologne Dom, the eccentric exteriors of the Aachen Cathedral did not impress me much, until I streamed behind the crowd past the 1200-year-old heavy bronze doors, into the dim cavernous interior.

The stunning mosaic of Aachen Cathedral

A fantastic art gallery opened up inside the mighty cathedral and the glittering palace chapel took my breath away. The mighty emperor Charlemagne had the habit of collecting relics during his lifetime and most of them are still kept at the Aachen Cathedral. Thus, the ambulatory was nothing short of a treasure chest, and the four most important impressive ones were the cloak of the Blessed Virgin, the swaddling clothes of the Infant Jesus, the loin-cloth worn by Christ on the Cross, and the cloth on which lay the head of St. John the Baptist after his beheading. Apart from the religious relics, the emperor’s throne is also housed within, and exquisite art is crammed in every corner. Stunning blue-gold mosaic work depicting scenes from the Bible filled the walls and angels, cherubs, flowers, mythical merchants, prophets, etc stared from every inch of the cathedral interior. Beautiful blue gold vines rapturously entwined in the space and sunshine filtering in through the usual arched windows in soft stained glass colors made the mosaic-decorated passage glow sapphire gold in the ethereal light. The effect was most breathtaking and despite the crowd, Aachen Cathedral did not fail to mesmerize.


Pfalzkapelle, the final resting place of Charlemagne

Though the exquisite mosaic art of the Aachen Cathedral is enough to stun the visitors, its oldest and most impressive section is the Pfalzkapelle, which in my eyes, is nothing short of a masterpiece. An outstanding example of Carolingian architecture, the Pfalzkapelle was completed in 800, the year of Charlemagne’s coronation and it was topped by an octagonal dome encircled by a 16-sided ambulatory. Beautiful antique Italian pillars supported the holy place and the vast twelfth-century gilded Barbarossa chandelier hung low over it. Charlemagne, himself rests in eternal slumber underneath the stunning chandelier, and scattered stained glass rainbows cast colorful shadows over him. His remains are encased in a 13th-century gilded shrine and in the 14th century, a soaring, light-filled Gothic choir, fondly referred to as the “Glass House of Aachen” was added over it, to help ease the crush of visiting pilgrims.

Aachen Cathedral exterior

The Dom that carries the soul of an emperor

The tide of visitors visiting the Aachen Cathedral continued into the present century as well and I found the cathedral to be one of the most impressive in the world. Its patron, Charlemagne, was an ambitious man, who dreamed of creating a “new Rome” and in his lifetime achieved building a large and prosperous empire. Such a feat was not previously achieved in Middle Ages Europe and it was no wonder that nearly all German kings were crowned at Aachen Dom for 600 years. The beautiful cathedral is a magnificent dream of a mighty man and in my eyes, the two became one. The powerful ruler somehow managed to channel his charisma and strength into his vision and thus, the Aachen Dom is nothing short of a monument built to captivate, humble, and keep the legend of its patron alive. If immortality can ever be achieved, then Charlemagne is still living today; as mighty as he had been in his lifetime and he will rule, until his spirit, which is the Aachen Dom exists on the face of the earth.

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Stunning beauty of Aachen Cathedral

Has it all.

The coronation site

#Aachen #Aachentravelblog #Travelbloggerindia #Travelblog #Germanytravelblog #Germanytourism

For German emperors

For around 600 years

Art is intricately

Entwined with politics

And religion here.

It was mighty Charlemagne´s dream.

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