Glamour and gloom, war and peace – several centuries of world history are reflected in the fate of the town of Speyer and its cathedral, which was consecrated in 1061. Emperors and kings have been laid to rest here, and its architecture is unique. So much so that it has been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List and classed as a protected cultural asset.
According to the chronicles, Emperor Conrad II wanted to build the largest church in the Western world – a major project for such a small town. That was in 1030. The cathedral, which is now considered the world's largest preserved Romanesque church, was consecrated just 30 years later. The crypt, which opened in 1041, is the oldest part of the cathedral. The baptismal font in front of the high altar dates back to 1100. Eight emperors and kings, four queens and a number of bishops are laid to rest in this cathedral. Even non-historians can tell that major events in history took place here.
The Swedes, French and Spanish were all here. They turned the cathedral into a storage facility and military hospital; they looted it and set it ablaze. And more recently, it became the venue for important historic events, for example when Charles de Gaulle led a military parade past the cathedral in 1945. The imperial cathedral defied them all by surviving all of this. It is still a prominent landmark in the town today. It is both a keeper and an admonisher, and houses art treasures dating back around 1,000 years, major sculptures spanning seven centuries and prominent frescos such as the "Coronation of the Virgin" in the newly restored Emperor's Hall. Spectacular, powerful: Speyer Cathedral has seen many events play out throughout history. And visitors who come to the cathedral say they can sense it.
Opening hours: November to March: 9am to 5pm; April to October: 9am to 7pm
Nearest train station: Heidelberg
Accessible tourist attraction; an International Music Festival with an organ competition is held every year from August to October; www.speyer.de