Aachen Part 2: Der Kaiserdom

One of the most beautiful chapels we’ve visited in all of our travels is the Palatine Chapel or Palace Chapel built in 786 AD for Charles the Great, aka Charlemagne, the Carolingian King of the Franks.  This remarkable chapel is now part of the Kaiserdom or Imperial Cathedral of Aachen.  The structure in its entirety is quite remarkable and a bronze model of the entire complex stands outside the entrance to the church showing the various additions to the building over time.  The main attraction, however, is undoubtedly the original Palatine Chapel.

With its circular shape and vaulted ceilings, the Palace Chapel of Charlemagne reflects the Byzantine, Romanesque and Early Christian styles that came to identify Carolingian Architecture.  It’s said that Charlemagne was influenced by the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy, importing arches, mosaics, marble and other materials from Italy for use in his palace and the adjoining chapel. The resulting domed structure is decorated with intricate mosaic tiles that sparkle and glitter in the candlelight.  Dating only to the 19th century, the mosaics feature elegant and colorful floral motifs and religious imagery, including a classical depiction of the Four Rivers of the Garden of Eden’ and an image of Pelican in Her Piety’, reminding us of the flag of Louisiana, our home state, which incorporates a similar image of the pelicans.

Other items of historical significance in the cathedral include:

Barbarossa’s Chandelier, the central chandelier within the chapel, commissioned by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa in 1168 for the coronation of Charlemagne.  The chandelier resembles an enormous golden crown and spans a distance of almost 14 feet.

The Golden Pulpit, created in 1020 at the request of Emperor Heinrich (Henry) II, seems to glow in the lamplight and is encrusted with jewels, ancient glass and 6th century Egyptian ivory reliefs.

The Gothic choir or Glass Chapel (Capella vitrea), located behind the altar, dates to the 15th century, though the colorful glass windows were reconstructed in the 1950s following fire and wartime damage.

The Shrine of Charlemagnea golden chest constructed in the year 1215, holds the remains of the emperor.

Aachen’s Kaiserdom was the first of the historical structures in Germany to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And, for us, visiting the Kaiserdom and Charlemagne’s Palatine Chapel was the highlight of our trip to Aachen.


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