Aachen Cathedral was the very first site to be granted UNESCO World Heritage status in Germany, and with good reason: built in around 790 to 800, the cathedral is of world importance in terms of the history of art and architecture, and is one of the great examples of church architecture. The final resting place of Charlemagne, it was also where German emperors were crowned for 600 years.
Charlemagne's ambition was to create a new Rome when he made Aachen the centre of his empire in around 800. The imperial palace's chapel – the oldest part of the cathedral today – was to be the religious centre. The mighty octagonal domed building is now thought to have been built in a mere ten years or so. A unifying architectural masterpiece, it brought together forms from the eastern and western parts of the Holy Roman Empire. Charlemagne was buried in the Palatine chapel following his death in 814. His sarcophagus can be found in the Gothic chancel, near to the still-intact imperial throne.
Containing exquisite relics from late antiquity and medieval times, the cathedral treasury in the cloister is one of the finest in Europe. It also features artefacts such as the silver and gold bust of Charlemagne and the Cross of Lothair dating from around 1000, which is still shown to faithful followers as a liturgical object on major religious holidays. Since the Middle Ages, the cathedral along with its relics has become increasingly important as a pilgrimage site. However, it was the imperial coronations that kept Aachen at the centre of world politics over the centuries. More than 30 German kings were crowned here between 936 and 1531 – in a building that could hardly be more solemn and majestic, and that makes every visit to the former imperial city of Aachen a memorable one.
Aachen Cathedral and treasury: open daily
Guided tours of the cathedral: several times a day, 2pm in English
20 to 29 June 2014: Great Aachen Pilgrimage, www.heiligtumsfahrt2014.de
20 June to 21 September 2014: exhibition 'Charlemagne – Power. Art. Art. Treasures', 3 exhibitions in Aachen, www.karldergrosse2014.de
Aachen Cathedral is part of the 'Savoir vivre and sophistication' UNESCO route. Other stops on the route are:
UNESCO World Heritage sites: