There have been churches on the site of Cologne Cathedral since the 4th century. However, it was not until 1248 that this city on the Rhine became home to one of the foremost cathedrals in the Christian world – a masterpiece of Gothic architecture. When it was completed in 1880, it was the tallest building in the world.
This new style, which was referred to only much later as 'Gothic', originated from France where people were marvelling at magnificent churches such as Notre Dame. The people of Cologne wanted to have their own version; but, of course, it had to be even grander, taller and more beautiful.
Attracting more than six million visitors every year, Cologne Cathedral is one of Germany's most popular tourist attractions. The two mighty towers are the tallest dual spires in the world and offer fantastic views of Cologne and the surrounding region. The cathedral is dedicated to St. Peter and St. Mary rather than the Three Kings, whose relics were transferred to Cologne from Milan in the 12th century and have since been kept in a golden shrine that made the cathedral an important pilgrimage site.
The cathedral treasury also contains priceless artefacts including St. Peter's reliquary and chain, and the Gero Cross, the oldest intact life-size crucifix in the western world. Other attractions include the stained glass windows, carved choir stalls and 14th century paintings. A number of cultural events are held in and around the cathedral, including the organ recitals that take place every Tuesday in summer, and the choir performances held once a month from September to June in front of the shrine housing the relics of the Three Kings. A rather more secular feature of Cologne is its famous carnival – a time of year when the people of the city really let their hair down!
UNESCO World Heritage since 1996
From the selection criteria
The Cologne Cathedral, built from 1248 to 1880, is considered a masterpiece of Gothic architecture.
Throughout the entire construction period, the original blueprints were not changed.
The Cologne cathedral builders have completed the cathedral as a construction model. One of most ambitious
reliquary of the Middle Ages is the Reliquary Shrine of the Magi, the largest Reliquary Shrine in the Occident.
The Ottonian Gero Crucifix on the altar in the cathedral is the first monumental sculpture of the crucified Christ still in existence.