Essential Architecture-  Germany

Cologne Cathedral Kölner Dom




Köln, Germany


1248-1880 (world's tallest building from 1880 to 1890)




Height  Antenna/Spire 157.4 m (516 ft.)


  The massive facade was left incomplete for 400 years.
  Cologne Cathedral across the Rhine.
  An American soldier and a destroyed Panther tank in front of the cathedral on 4 April 1945.
  The destroyed German Tank at the Cathedral. It lost a sudden violent duel with new 3AD Pershing M-26. comment:
Unidentified 3AD soldiers inspect a German Mark V Panther tank several days after it had been knocked out on March 6, 1945, by an M-26 commanded by Sgt. Robert Early, E Co, 32nd Armored Regiment. The Panther took three hits from the M-26's 90mm gun. At least three of the five-man German crew were confirmed killed. The M-26 was not hit.
  Spearhead infantrymen hunker down near the Cologne cathedral as snipers are encountered.
  Most destructions in Cologne during world war 2 were caused by the first thousand bomber raid of the war. More than 1.000 bombers attacked cologne at night on 30th May 1942. 600 acres of the city were destroyed - about 30.000 houses damaged or destroyed. Only 300 houses were not damaged during the two hours attack. About 1.500 tons of bombs were falling on the city. There were "only" about 500 deaths owing to the fact that many inhabitants had already left the city during the war
Before the war 770.000 people were living in Cologne, at the end of the war 40.000 people. 30.000 people died during the air attacks, 1.500.000 bombs were spread over the city .
  The Cathedral in 1856 showing the unfinished South Tower with its ancient crane, the Gothic eastern end and south transept.
  The nave looking east and the arcade, gallery and clerestory of the east end.
  A "Bird's eye view" of the Dom from the east shows the cruciform plan, the proportion of the spires to the building and the radiating buttresses of the east end.
  The spires
The Cologne Cathedral (German: Kölner Dom, officially Hohe Domkirche St. Peter und Maria) is the seat of the Archbishop of Cologne, under the administration of the Roman Catholic Church and is renowned as a monument of Christianity, of Gothic architecture and of the faith and perseverance of the people of the city in which it stands. It is dedicated to Saint Peter and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The cathedral is a World Heritage Site, being one of the best-known architectural monuments in Germany, and Cologne's most famous landmark, described by UNESCO as an "exceptional work of human creative genius".[1] Cologne Cathedral is one of the world's largest churches, being the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. For four years, 1880-84, it was the tallest structure in the world, until the completion of the Washington Monument followed by the Eiffel Tower. It has the second-tallest church spires, only surpassed by the single spire of Ulm Cathedral, completed ten years later in 1890. Because of its enormous twin spires, it also presents the largest façade of any church in the world.

The choir of Cologne Cathedral, measured between the piers, also holds the distinction of having the largest height to width ratio of any Medieval church, 3.6:1, exceeding even Beauvais Cathedral which has a slightly higher vault. [2]

Construction of the Gothic church began in 1248 and took, with interruptions, until 1880 to complete – a period of over six hundred years. It is 144.5 metres long, 86.5 m wide and its two towers are 157 m tall. [3]

Cologne Cathedral, despite having been left incomplete during the medieval period, eventually became unified as "a masterpiece of exceptional intrinsic value" and "a powerful testimony to the strength and persistence of Christian belief in medieval and modern Europe",[1] as was befitting a worship-place of the Holy Roman Emperor and the traditional shrine of the Three Kings.


Ancient site
When the present Cologne Cathedral was commenced in 1248, the site had been occupied by several previous structures, the earliest of which may have been a grain store, perhaps succeeded by a Roman temple built by Mercurius Augustus. From the 4th century the site was occupied by Christian buildings including a square edifice known as the "oldest cathedral" and commissioned by Maternus, the first Christian bishop of Cologne. A second church, the so-called "Old Cathedral", was completed in 818. This burned down on April 30, 1248.

Medieval beginning
In 1164, the Archbishop of Cologne, Rainald of Dassel had acquired relics of the Three Kings which had been taken from Milan in Italy by the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa. The relics had great religious significance and could be counted upon to draw pilgrims from all over Christendom. It was important that they were properly housed. The loss of the old five-aisled cathedral prompted a building program in the new style of Gothic architecture based in particular on the French Cathedral of Amiens.

The foundation stone was laid on August 15, 1248, by Archbishop Konrad von Hochstaden. The eastern arm was completed under the direction of Master Gerhard, was consecrated in 1322 and sealed off by a temporary wall so it could be in use as the work proceeded.

In the mid 14th century work on the west front commenced under Master Michael. This work halted in 1473 leaving the south tower complete up to the belfry level and crowned with a huge crane which was destined to remain in place, and the landmark of Cologne for 400 years.[4]

Some work proceeded intermittently on the structure of the nave between the west front and the eastern arm but during the 16th century, this ceased.

The Cathedral in 1856 showing the unfinished South Tower with its ancient crane, the Gothic eastern end and south transept.
19th century completion
With the nineteenth century romantic enthusiasm for the Middle Ages and spurred on by the lucky discovery of the original plan for the facade, it was decided, with the commitment of the Prussian Court, to complete the cathedral. It was achieved by civic effort, the Central-Dombauverein, founded in 1842, raised two thirds of the enormous costs (over US$ 1 billion in today's money), while the Prussian state supplied the remaining third.

Work resumed in 1842 to the original design of the surviving medieval plans and drawings, but utilising more modern construction techniques including iron roof girders. The nave was completed and the towers were added.

The completion of Germany's largest cathedral was celebrated as a national event in 1880, 632 years after construction had begun. The celebration was attended by Emperor Wilhelm I.

World War II and post-war history
The cathedral suffered fourteen hits by aerial bombs during World War II. It did not at all collapse, but stood tall in an otherwise flattened city. Believers said it was divine intervention. The truth is however more prosaic. In a world without GPS, the tall building was perfect for allied aircraft to use as a landmark from which to calculate bearings to other bomb targets in Germany and southern Europe, and thus was left intact for pilots of future missions use as reference points.[citation needed]

The repairs to the building were completed in 1956. In the northwest tower's base, an emergency repair carried out with bad-quality brick taken from a nearby war ruin (see German Wikipedia "Kölner Domplombe") remained visible until the late 1990s as a reminder of the War, but then it was decided to reconstruct this section according to the original appearance.

Some repair and maintenance work is almost constantly being carried out in some section of the building, which is almost never completely free of scaffolding, since wind, rain, and pollution slowly eat away at the stones. The Dombauhütte, which was established to build the cathedral and repair the cathedral, is said to employ the best stonemasons of the Rhineland. There is a common joke in Cologne that the leader of the Dombauhütte, the Dombaumeister (master builder of the cathedral), has to be Catholic and free from giddiness. The current Dombaumeisterin is Barbara Schock-Werner. Half of the costs of repair and maintenance are still borne by the Dombauverein.

On August 25, 2007, the cathedral received a new stained glass in the south transept window. With 113 square metres of glass, the window was created by the German artist Gerhard Richter. It is composed of 11,500 identically sized pieces of coloured glass resembling pixels, randomly arranged by computer, which create a colorful "carpet". Since the loss of the original window in World War II, the space had been temporarily filled with plain glass. Joachim Cardinal Meissner, who had preferred a figurative depiction of 20th-century Catholic martyrs for the window, did not attend the unveiling.

World Heritage Site
In 1996, the cathedral was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List of culturally important sites. In 2004 it was placed on the "World Heritage in Danger" list due to nearby high-rise building and its visual impact upon the site, as the only Western site in danger. The cathedral was removed from the List of In Danger Sites in 2006, following the authorities' decision to limit the heights of buildings constructed near and around the cathedral.

As a World Heritage Site, and with its convenient position on tourist routes, Cologne Cathedral is a major tourist attraction, the visitors including many who travel there as a Christian pilgrimage.

World Youth Day 2005: there were nearly 1 million visitors.

The cathedral is open every day from 6.00am to 7.30pm; admission is free except for tower ascent and the treasury. Visitors can climb 509 steps of the spiral staircase to a viewing platform about 98 metres above the ground.

On May 12, 2001, the American rock band R.E.M. performed a free concert in Roncalliplatz, the square to the south side of Cologne Cathedral. The concert was organised to promote the eradication of violence in schools, and was in part broadcast live on MTV Europe.

On August 18, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI visited the cathedral as part of his apostolic visit to Germany as part of World Youth Day 2005 festivities. An estimated 1 million pilgrims visited the cathedral during this time. Also as part of the events of World Youth Day, Cologne Cathedral hosted a televised gala performance of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Choir conducted by Sir Gilbert Levine.

The design of Cologne Cathedral was based quite closely on that of Amiens Cathedral in terms of groundplan, style and the width to height proportion of the central nave. The plan is in the shape of a Latin Cross, as is usual with Gothic cathedrals. It has two aisles on either side, which help to support one of the very highest Gothic vaults in the world, being nearly as tall as that of the ill-fated Beauvais Cathedral, much of which collapsed. Externally the outward thrust of the vault is taken up by flying buttresses in the French manner. The eastern end has a single ambulatory, the second aisle resolving into a chevette of seven radiating chapels.

Internally, the Medieval quire is more varied and less mechanical in its details than the 19th century building. It presents a French style arrangement of very tall arcade, a delicate narrow triforium gallery lit by windows and with detailed tracery merging with that of the windows above. The clerestory windows are tall and retain some old figurative glass in the lower sections.

The whole is united by the tall shafts which sweep unbroken from floor to their capitals at the spring of the vault. The vault is of plain quadripartite arrangement.

The quire retains a great many of its original fittings, including the carved stalls, which is made the more surprising by the fact that Napoleon's troops had desecrated the building. A large stone statue of St Christopher looks down towards the place where the earlier entrance to the cathedral was, before its completion in the late 19th century.

The nave is enhanced by a good many 19th century stained-glass windows including a set of five on the south side called the "Bayernfenster" which were a gift from Ludwig I of Bavaria, a set highly representative of the painterly German style of that date.

Externally, particularly from a distance, the building is dominated by its huge spires which are entirely Germanic in character, being openwork like those of Ulm, Vienna and Regensburg Cathedrals. [8]

Treasures of Cologne Cathedral

The Shrine of the Three Kings.

The most celebrated work of art in the cathedral is the Shrine of the Three Kings, a large gilded sarcophagus dating from the 13th century, and the largest reliquary in the Western world. It is traditionally believed to hold the remains of the Three Wise Men, whose bones and 2,000-year-old clothes were discovered at the opening of the shrine in 1864.

The Crucifix of Bishop Gero, a unique 10th century sculpture.

Near the sacristy is the Gero-Kreuz,[2] a large crucifix carved in oak and with traces of paint and gilding. Believed to have been commissioned around 960 for Archbishop Gero, it is the oldest large crucifix north of the Alps and the earliest-known large free-standing Northern sculpture of the medieval period.

The Altarpiece of the Three Kings by Stephan Lochner.

In the Sacrament Chapel, is the Mailänder Madonna ("Milan Madonna"), dating from around 1290, a wooden sculpture depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus. The altar of the patron saints of Cologne with an altar piece by the International Gothic painter, Stephan Lochner is in the Marienkapelle ("St. Mary's Chapel"). Other outstanding works of art are to be found in the Cathedral Treasury.


Petersglocke Note person to right of bell clapper.

The cathedral has twelve church bells, of which four are Medieval. The first was the 3.8-ton Dreikönigenglocke ("Bell of the Three Kings"), cast in 1418, installed in 1437, and recast in 1880. Two of the other bells, the Pretiosa (10,5 tons; at that time the largest bell in the Occident) and the Speciosa (5,6 tons) were installed in 1448 and remain in place today. The largest bell, the 24-ton St. Petersglocke ("Bell of St. Peter", "Dicke Pitter" in the Kölsch dialect), was cast in 1922 and is the largest free-swinging bell in the world. [10] (See below: Gallery, Petersglocke)

Consecration Bell - 0.425 tonnes
Vespers Bell - 0.28 tonnes
Angelus Bell - 0.763 tonnes
Hail Bell - 0.83 tonnes
Chapter Bell - 1.4 tonnes
St Joseph's Bell - 2.2 tonnes
Ursula Bell - 2.55 tonnes
Bell of the Magi - 3.8 tonnes
Pretiosia - 5.6 tonnes
Speciosia - 10.5 tonnes
Petersglocke - 24 tonnes

Church music

Josef Zimmermann
Clemens Ganz (1985–2001)
Winfried Bönig (2001)


Parts of the cathedral
Groundplan.External length 144.58 m
External width 86.25 m
Width of west façade 61.54 m
Width of transept façade 39.95 m
Width of nave (interior) 45.19 m
Height of southern tower 157.31 m
Height of northern tower 157.38 m
Height of ridge turret 109.00 m
Height of transept façades 69.95 m
Height of roof ridge 61.10 m
Inner height of nave 43.35 m
Building area 7,914 m²
Window surface area 10,000 m²
Roof surface area 12,000 m²
Interior volume 407,000 m³

This medieval statue of St. Christopher, Patron of Travellers, welcomes visitors to the Cathedral.

Detail of a window showing the patrons of the Cathedral, St. Peter and the Virgin Mary.

Cologne Cathedral floodlit.

^ a b UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Cologne Cathedral [1]
^ Banister Fletcher, A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method
^ Cologne Cathedral official website
^ Wim Swaan
^ Wim Swaan gives the latest date as 1560, but a date of 1520 is considered more probable by other scholars.
^ Gerhard Richter digitizes Cologne cathedral, Google translation from German to English, Original German article
^ Fortini, Amanda. "Pixelated Stained Glass", The New York Times, 2007-12-09. Retrieved on 2008-01-12.
^ Wim Swaan, Banister Fletcher
^ Howard Hibbard
^ The World Peace Bell in Newport, Kentucky is larger, but turns around its center of gravity rather than swinging about its top.

Wim Swaan, The Gothic Cathedral, Omega Books (1969), ISBN 090785348X
Banister Fletcher, A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method.
Howard Hubbard, Masterpieces of Western Sculpture, Thames and Hudson, ISBN 0500232784
Wolff, Arnold, Cologne Cathedral. Its History - Its Works of Arts, Verlag (editor) Kölner Dom, Cologne: 2nd edition 2003, ISBN 9783774303423