The magnificent Cathedral
It can be seen from nearly every point in the city centre and from many places elsewhere: The magnificent Cologne Cathedral hovers above the roofs and chimneys of the city. It is not only used as a point of orientation but is the pride of the people in Cologne. The panorama of the city has been dominated by the Cathedral’s gigantic pair of towers (the North Tower (157.38 m) is 7 cm higher than the South Tower) since their completion in 1880.
The Cathedral is still the second highest building in Cologne after the telecommunications tower. Its footprint is no less impressive, with the full length of the Cathedral measuring 145 m and the cross nave 86 m. In comparison, a football pitch is “only” around 100 by 70 m. The total area of the Cathedral measures almost 8000 square metres and has room for more than 20,000 people.
The foundation stone of the Gothic Cathedral was laid on 15 August 1248 on the celebration of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Apparently the Old Cathedral was no longer sufficiently representative to house the mortal remains of the Three Kings, which Archbishop Rainald von Dassel brought back to the cathedral city in 1164 from the conquered city of Milan. These relics made the Cathedral one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in Europe. In the early 16th century, building was stopped – partly due to lack of money, partly due to lack of interest.
At this point the chancel, the lower section of the South Tower with bell tower as well as the long nave and the cross nave were completed up to the lower arcades. The North Tower was almost completely nonexistent. For more than 300 years, the city’s panorama was dominated by the mighty torso with a huge building crane on the incomplete South Tower.
Around the turn of the 19th century the supporters of the German Romantic movement reawakened public interest in the completion of the Cathedral thanks to their enthusiasm for the Middle Ages. Continuation and completion of the building now became a matter of national interest to the Germans. In 1842 King Friedrich Wilhelm IV laid the foundation stone marking the continuation of building work. The Cathedral was completed in 1880 – in accordance with the plan originating from the Middle Ages – in a record time of just 38 years.
It is nothing short of a miracle that, although badly damaged, Cologne Cathedral survived the Second World War in spite of extensive bombing. Nowadays the main factors affecting the Cathedral are weather and environmental influences. Over 80 stonemasons, glaziers, roofers and other specialists are constantly at work on the maintenance and restoration of the Cathedral building.