Cologne Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
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Cologne Cathedral was listed as a World Heritage site in 1996. This impressive Gothic structure was started in 1248 and took six centuries to complete. It is a huge edifice that contains artistic masterpieces and dominates the skyline of Cologne. It was originally built to house the Three Wise Men’s shrine whose relics were brought to the town in 1164.Architecturally the cathedral is a Gothic and Neo Gothic basilica with five-aisles and a two-tower façade and a projecting transept. If you study it in depth you will see that the early western section (begun in 1330) has subtle style changes but these are hard to perceive in the overall building.
The later work in the 19th century followed the medieval techniques and forms faithfully and there are many of the original liturgical ornamentations that still exist intact. These include the semi-circular nave with the beautiful stained glass windows that are the largest 14th century window sequence in Europe, the high altar that sits on an enormous slab of black marble, the 14 statues sitting on pillars in the choir that date from the 13th century and the early 14th century carved oak choir stalls. Also of note are the painted choir screens again dating from the early 14th and a series of tombs of 12 archbishops that date from 976 up to 1612.
The cathedral was extensively damaged in World War II after it was hit by 14 bombs. Restoration work started immediately after the War ended and it was completely restored by 1956. Inside the cathedral is just awe-inspiring and draws 20,000 every day. Visitors can climb the North Tower and visit the Treasury for a fee and these are both worth doing if you have the time. The views from the Tower over Cologne are excellent and the Treasury is the largest and richest in the whole of Germany. Illuminated at night, this building is one of the outstanding highlights of the visit to Cologne.
Good times to visit are during a service so that you can hear the choir sing and hear the whispered prayers which are very moving, or during music concerts as the acoustics are excellent. Also at Christmas the cathedral is decorated with a Christmas tree and other decorations. Guided tours are available in English every day and this is well worth the cost as you see parts of the building that aren't open to individual visitors.