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A sublime example of gothic architecture, The Cologne Cathedral is the city’s most recognized landmark. Tourists tend to see the inside and view the structure from the exterior. However, the magnificent church has so much more to offer a visitor, from the treasures in the basement to the spires with spectacular views of the city. To fully appreciate the architectural grandeur, it’s worth visiting again and again.
Purchase a ticket and experience the treasury located in the medieval crypt of the cathedral. All manner of artifacts are exhibited in the low-lit room with stonewalls and arching ceilings. There are silks, chalices and liturgical vestments in glass cases on display. Many objects are covered in gold and precious stones, shining warmly and creating a museum-like atmosphere. The space is used wisely, with exhibits located throughout several rooms to stop overcrowding, allowing a guest to enjoy the relics in peace. As a part of the collection, the cathedral houses the Shrine of the Three Magi, a reliquary believed to contain the bones of the Three Wise Men. A combination of three shrines, the artifact is decorated in gold and silver overlay and adorned with jewels, making it a sight to behold! Religious scenes are depicted on the front and sides, so it’s worth taking the time to see it from all angles. A quiet ambience also creates a place of tranquility inside the treasury.
The architectural design and layout is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the cathedral. From the dominating spires and pinnacles to the façade’s intricate stone carvings, the plans for the structure demonstrate both an engineering and artistic grandness. The building commenced in the 13th century and was only completed in 1880. Such commitment to a structure illustrates the accumulative passion and dedication of architects and builders throughout history to continue constructing without jeopardizing the integrity of the structure. Seen from above, its layout is a crucifix shape, and the spires reach a staggering 15,731 meters in length.
For the more adventurous, the spires are open to the public, but be warned as there are over five hundred steps to reach the top! Nerve is required when climbing the stone staircase as it coils tightly without support rails. The worn steps, however, are food for thought — medieval workers once ascended those towers in order to ring bells that echoed over the city along with the thousands of other individuals who placed their feet on the steps. Unlike modern buildings, there are no lifts or escalators; sheer will power is needed to reach the top. But once there, a feeling of accomplishment and spectacular panoramic views of Cologne will leave a visitor out of breath and tired but utterly inspired!
A single visit is not enough to appreciate the variety of stained-glass windows. Each one sweeps from the floor to ceiling, depicting religious scenes from past kings to scenes of Christ’s life presented in a typological point of view. On close examination, patronage of a window is represented in coats of arms, and the clerestory windows retain original panes of glass in the lower sections. Unveiled in 2007, Gerhard Richter designed a new stained glass window for the south transept. The window is made up of squares, using 72 colors that create a kaleidoscope effect, casting cubes of vibrant light on the stone floor of the cathedral. The new addition complements the historic stained-glass windows and is a superb example of classic and modern architecture working together in harmony.
The architects of Cologne have been sensitive when building around the cathedral. Within the vicinity, no skyscrapers or towers obscure the view of the structure; thus, the spires jut into the sky, and the cathedral dominates the landscape. It creates a stunning opportunity for photographers to capture to architectural magnificence of the cathedral. For close up shots, Trankgasse and Dom Hauptbahnhopf are great locations. But to capture a full length photo, cross over the Hohenzollern Bridge towards Deutz where the perfect site awaits to photograph both the bridge and cathedral together. A nighttime image is also unique and when the cathedral reveals its true beauty. Illuminated by floodlights, the structure has a haunting yet romantic presence. It takes on ethereal qualities with clouds in the background, and when conditions are right, a full moon positioned between the spires. At dawn, the cathedral becomes a jagged silhouette against an orange sky. So with photographic opportunities, a treasury, climbing dizzying heights and marveling at towering stained-glass windows, it’s worth another trip to this gothic masterpiece.