Over 1100 years ago, Charlemagne (747 – 814) made Aachen the capital of his empire and from 786 had the octagonal Palatine Chapel built based on the model of Byzantine palace churches. The Palatinate Church, which forms the core of today’s cathedral, was the burial place of Charlemagne and was the coronation site of German kings for over 600 years. According to zipcodesexplorer, it was the first German cultural monument to be included in the World Heritage List.
Aachen Cathedral: Facts
|Aachen Cathedral with Carolingian Palatine Chapel
|Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia
|Aachen, city center
|one of the great models for sacred architecture and a unique testimony to religious art up to the time of the Hohenstaufen
|8th century building of the Palatine Chapel under Charlemagne; 813-1531 coronation of 32 emperors of the Holy Roman Empire; after 935 “Karlsthron”; since 1215 the bones of Charlemagne have rested in the gilded Charlemagne shrine; 1350 addition of a tower to the palace chapel; 1355-1414 extension of the choir; 1664 Baroque dome on the Palatine Chapel; 1719 further baroque transformation; after 1879 remodeling in line with historicism; war damage in World War II; extensive restoration by 1966; by 2000 elimination of static problems such as the choir drifting; 2011 Completion of the 25-year renovation program
But they have to be Roman…
In the first, the Carolingian Renaissance, Karl resurrected the “myth of antiquity” in the service of his imperial idea. Since then, the timeless elegance of the central building has wafted through the floors around the central octagon of the Aachen Palatine Chapel. The new “Caesar of the Western Empire” concentrated both the administrative center and the future coronation site in a previously insignificant former Roman thermal bath.
The center of the Franconian Empire was visible to everyone as a point of contact with the tradition of the Roman Empire. The Franconian building tradition, which had only just outgrown the wooden long houses and palisade-reinforced earth walls, was now faced with the task of redefining the continuation of the “ancient Germanic nation” through a programmatically effective building. In search of a suitable, exemplary antiquity, Karl saw himself as a Frankish king, future emperor and first protective power of Catholic Rome in the succession of the Germanic imperial administrators of the late Roman western empire. Stilicho, Alaric and of course the great Theodoric were his models.
The “miracle”, to which Aachen owes its fateful importance as a stone relic of two Central European nations, goes back to the genius of the master builders of Charlemagne to convey impressions and to combine certain motifs in carefully calculated recourse. In the splendid domed church of San Vitale in Ravenna, Theodoric’s residence, Charles’s shrewd building experts found the “missing key” for the construction of the planned Aachen Palatine Chapel. In Byzantine terms, San Vitale was up to date, reminiscent of the Jerusalem Church of the Holy Sepulcher as a central building and reminded – at least a little – of the Roman pantheon, an unattainable example of perfect architecture.
The Palatine Chapel functioned from the start as a generously dimensioned »reliquary capsule«. The statically superfluous column veil inside presented stone contemporary witnesses, as it were. Originals from Rome or Ravenna had to be found, at least according to tradition. However, given the neglected state of the streets of the old empire, transportation was an almost impossible proposition. But they had to be Roman…
Whether original or not, the whole thing was far more than just a pious fraud, rather the proof that the appreciation of everything “Roman” was ultimately primarily a question of the prevailing zeitgeist. Charlemagne succeeded in laying down the central rules of the European Middle Ages in advance. He himself, Aachen and the octagon of his palatine chapel received the status of “relics of the first full-fledged antique revival”. The motifs of the ingenious palatine chapel have been quoted many times, varied or simply and poignantly imitated. A unique creation with a building history of over a thousand years was created in Aachen itself. Every age tried to leave its calling card. A mighty cathedral developed from the palatine chapel, which as a building ensemble more or less carefully surrounds the myth of its nucleus. Of course, the last German emperor for the time being was only too aware of the potential of this stone relic.
The artistic value of the historicizing marble armor, which Wilhelm II imposed on the precious Carolingian substance in an admiring and possessive manner, is an excellent argument. The emperor’s wish to elevate the cathedral to a national sanctuary was more alarming. This request stood in striking contrast to Karl’s visions and the European dimension of the Aachen Cathedral, which fortunately we feel strongly connected to today.