The first time I saw Cologne’s Cathedral was on a train journey from Amsterdam to Heidelberg many years ago. The Cologne train station is immediately adjacent to the cathedral and as the train crossed the Rhine I vividly recall seeing the cathedral’s massive spires (157 m or 515′ tall) and saying to myself, “some day I’m going to visit that church”.
It took almost 20 years but thanks to friends Bernd and Monika, we had a chance to visit Cologne and its great cathedral last month. The cathedral is classic Gothic and is Germany’s most visited landmark, averaging more than 20,000 visitors a day. Its construction began in 1248 and proceeded in stages until it was finally finished in 1880. The highlight of the church is the golden Reliquary for the Three Kings (said to contain the remains of the 3 Wise Men who visited the baby Jesus in Bethlehem). Cologne Cathedral was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
Cologne is an industrial city that was heavily bombed during the second world war. Much of the city was completely flattened, but the Cathedral was only minimally damaged, despite a number of direct bomb hits — even most of its stained glass windows survived the bombing, a miracle really. It’s well worth the hour or two it takes to explore the inside of this wonderful, historic church.