Cologne (Köln), NRW, Germany

Cologne Civic Arms

Köln was one of the most important towns in Germany. It received city rights early in the 12th century. The oldest seals, dating from 1149, only showed St. Peter, the patron saint of the city. The saint itself, nor its symbol , two crossed keys, appeared in the arms of the city itself. They do appear, together with a black cross, on the symbol of the State of Köln, and in many Civic Heraldry around the city. The three crowns, symbolising the three Holy Kings, first appeared in 1315, in a chief above a silver shield. Relics of the Three Kings were taken to the city in 1164 by Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa. Later (around 1500) the shield was 'filled' with ermine . Officially there are 11 ermine tails, symbolising the 11,000 virgins of Saint Ursula. As St. Ursula was a princess of Bretagne (Brittany) the virgins were depicted as ermine tails. The arms of Brittany are a plain shield of ermine. The colours of the shield are the colours of the Hanseatic League, the major league of merchant cities in the early Middle Ages. Köln was a founding member of the League. The Imperial Eagle was granted in the 15th century and symbolised the rank of free imperial city. The arms were granted in 1817 and confirmed in 1897. [Cologne Civic Arms and explanation used with permission of Ralf Hartemink, from his International Civic Arms web site].

Cologne was founded as a Roman colony in about 50 B.C. and it was given city status in the year 48 A.D. It's strategic location on the Rhine River at the intersection of several international trade routes helped it become one of Northern Europe's major cities. The economy was further boosted in 1161 when Archbishop Rainald von Dassel transferred the bones of the Three Magi (Kings) from Milan to Cologne, thus making Cologne the destination of thousands of religious pilgrims each year. Throughout the Middle Ages, Cologne was a flourishing center of commerce, culture and religion, and eventually in 1475, it became a free imperial city. Cologne became the largest city in Germany, an honor it retained until the 19th Century. Cologne made a miraculous recovery from the Allied bombing raids of World War II, which left 90% of the city center in ruins. Today, Cologne is the home of nearly a million people and is a major commercial, technical and communications center.

Dom Towers

The twin spires of the Dom (515 foot tall)

Inner Choir

The Inner Choir, with the High Altar (1310), and behind it, the Reliquary Shrine of the Three Magi (1225).

Bavarian Windows

One of the five Bavarian Windows (donated by King Ludwig I of Bavaria in 1842 and installed in 1848); this window depicts the Descent from the Cross and the Four Evangelists.

Cologne's major attraction for the last 700 years has been it's magnificent Cathedral (Dom). The Dom is a pure example of the French High Gothic style and is the largest if its kind in the world. Construction was begun in 1248 by the Archbishop Konrad von Hochstaden, in order to provide a more fitting cathedral to house the relics of the Three Magi. By 1265, the first of the chapels along the back of the cathedral were completed and in 1322, the Inner Choir with the High Altar was consecrated (even though this section had been completed around 1300). After 1322, the pace of construction slowed considerably, eventually grinding to a halt in 1560 due to a lack of funds. It was not until 1842 that construction was resumed by the King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm IV. It took another 32 years of work to finish the Cathedral, with the last stonework being placed upon the South Tower in 1880. Today, the exterior stonework is being painstakingly replaced with new treated stone that will better withstand the effects of acid rain and time (see the scaffolding on the North Tower in the picture above).

Click here for a stunning view of the Dom and the Cologne skyline that I found on the Internet (best viewed using your browser's "full-screen" mode).


Old City Hall (Alt Rathaus), with rebuilt Gothic tower and Renaissance loggia (1570) in the foreground, which survived the WW II bombings.


Armor Exhibit at the Municipal Museum (Kölnisches Stadtmuseum)

Bad Berleburg & Bilstein Rhine Valley

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Mike Grobbel
This page last updated 19 Dec 2000.
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