Skip to Content

Top 15 Interesting Facts About Cologne Cathedral

This church in Germany is considered to be one of the most magnificent cathedrals in the world, and there’s plenty to say to confirm this.

It’s the greatest landmark in Cologne and took over 6 centuries to be completed between the 12th and 19th centuries.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most interesting facts about Cologne Cathedral so you discover all its secrets.

1. It’s located in the west of Germany

Cologne is the biggest city in the German federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia. It has just over a million inhabitants which makes it the fourth-largest city in Germany.

The city is located in the west of Germany and is situated on the left bank of the Rhine River in the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Region. The Cologne Cathedral also referred to as the “Kölner Dom,” is one of the most prominent landmarks of the city.

facts about Cologne Cathedral

2. Cologne Cathedral was declared a World Heritage Site in 1996

Cologne Cathedral is one of the most important monuments in German Catholicism and has therefore been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the year 1996.

The motivation as to why it got added to the list reads:

“Apart from its exceptional intrinsic value and the artistic masterpieces it contains, Cologne Cathedral bears witness to the strength and endurance of European Christianity. No other Cathedral is so perfectly conceived, so uniformly and uncompromisingly executed in all its parts.”

Cologne cathedral view

3. The cathedral holds some unique records

One of the most remarkable features of the cathedral is its twin spires which reach a height of 157 meters (515 feet). This makes Cologne Cathedral the tallest twin-spired church in the world.

Art-Facts Youtube Channel

It’s also the second-tallest church in Europe after “Ulm Minster” and will remain so until the completion of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona which will eventually surpass both.

Finally, the cathedral is the largest Gothic-style cathedral in Northern Europe and because of the huge towers that hold its spires, it has the largest façade of any church in the world!

Cologne Cathedral facts

4. It was built to keep an amazing reliquary

The cathedral holds various important medieval treasures. The High Altar was installed in the year 1322 and was constructed with black marble, has white marble niches, and has multiple figures with the Coronation of the Virgin at the center.

Cologne Cathedral High Altar
The High Altar / Roland Unger /

It also holds a unique crucifix named the “Gero-Kreuz” or “Gero Cross.” It was commissioned around the year 960 for Archbishop Gero, carved from oak, and is believed to be the oldest large crucifix north of the Alps.

gero cross
Gero Cross / Elya /

The most important treasure in the Cathedral though is the Shrine of the Three Kings, which is believed to hold the remains of the Three Wise Men. These remains were brought to Cologne by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa at the conquest of Milan in 1164.

The shrine itself was made of bronze and silver, was completely gilded, and has the shape of a church. The shrine was opened in the year 1864 and contained bones and clothing.

It’s considered to be one of the ultimate masterpieces of Romanesque art.

Shrine of Three Kings
Shrine of Three Kings / Arminia /

5. It’s a masterpiece of Gothic Architecture

The original idea to build a cathedral on the location came in the year 1164, the year that the Shrine of the Three Kings was brought to the city and was acquired by the Archbishop of Cologne at the time, Rainald of Dassel.

These relics are of huge importance in Christendom and a place was needed to safely store them. Therefore, a plan for a massive cathedral in the Gothic Architectural Style was made. This style evolved from the earlier Romanesque Style and flourished in Europe during the High and Late Middle Ages.

Cologne Cathedral gothic style

6. Several buildings preceded the cathedral in its location

Finding a location in the city of Cologne wasn’t too difficult. After all, the site that the Cathedral was constructed on had been occupied by multiple other buildings earlier, dating back to a Roman Temple that was built before the 4th Century B.C.

A cathedral was built on the site as early as the time of Maternus (285 – 315), followed by a free-standing baptistery in the 7th century, which was eventually demolished to make way for the second cathedral which was completed in the year 818.

Cologne cathedral interesting facts
The cathedral / Coldrerio /

7. Construction started in the year 1248

The second cathedral on the location was subsequently destroyed by fire in the year 1248. This actually happened as the second cathedral was being demolished to make way for the current cathedral.

The foundation stone of the Cologne Cathedral was laid on August 15, 1248, by Archbishop Konrad von Hochstaden.

The work was conducted by Master Gerhard, the first master mason of Cologne Cathedral who started the eastern end, which eventually was completed in the year 1322.

Eastern end of Cologne Cathedral
Eastern end of Cologne Cathedral / Mkill /

8. A large crane dominated the Cologne skyline for 400 years

Work on the western end started in the mid-14th century, just a few decades after the first phase was completed. Unfortunately, this work was halted over a century later in the year 1476.

Only small changes were made in the following centuries but these were also halted in the 16th century. This left the cathedral in a peculiar shape for multiple centuries as a large crane stood on top of the unfinished building for more than 400 years!

How the Cologne cathedral looked like in 1856, with a 15th century crane on top of it.
How the cathedral looked like in 1856, with a 15th-century crane on top of it. / Wiki Commons

9. Cologne Cathedral was completed 632 years after construction began

It wasn’t until the 19th century that the construction of the cathedral resumed. The medieval plans of the façade were rediscovered and there was an overall enthusiasm for medieval architecture, resulting in the Gothic Revival Style used in multiple structures at the time. Big Ben in London is a great example of that.

One of the most amazing facts about Cologne Cathedral is that work on it resumed in 1842 after it was halted for multiple centuries, and was completed in the year 1880, a total of 632 years after construction had started.

Large festivities celebrating the completion of the largest cathedral in Germany at the time took place on August 14, 1880.

Cologne Cathedral Rhine

10. It became the tallest building in the world

With a total height of 157.4 meters (516 feet), it became the tallest building in the world at the time.

It only held this record for 4 years though, until it was surpassed by the Washington Monument in Washington D.C., the capital of the United States, 4 years later.

cologne cathedral from the south
The Cathedral from the south / Velvet /

11. Cologne Cathedral was seriously damaged during World War II

Disaster struck when the Second World War commenced and Cologne was heavily bombed by allied aircraft. Being the tallest building in the city wasn’t a benefit as the twin spires were an easy target for the bombers, which left the cathedral in ruins.

Remarkably, even though the entire city was basically destroyed after the bombings, the cathedral was only hit 14 times but was still standing, making it possible for it to be restored. This work was completed in the year 1956 which brought the cathedral back to its old glory!

Cologne Cathedral amidst the destruction in March 1945
Cologne Cathedral amidst the destruction in March 1945. / Wiki Commons

12. The cathedral was the witness of an epic tank battle in March 1945

The cathedral had a front-row seat during an epic battle that took place in a street just west of it. A German tank was destroyed by allied troops in a battle that lasted several hours.

The German tank managed to destroy a Sherman first which killed 3 men. The tank was kept in its location until the war was finished all over Europe.

The destroyed German tank in front of Cologne Cathedral
The destroyed German tank in front of Cologne Cathedral. / Wiki Commons

13. 4 of the 11 church bells date back to Medieval times

The Cathedral has a total of 11 bells, and 4 of those were put in place in medieval times. One of those named the “Pretiosa” was put in position in the year 1448 and remains in position and working until today!

At the time, with a weight of 10.5 tonnes, it was the largest bell in the Western World.

The largest bell is named the “St. Petersglocke” was cast and put in position in the year 1922 and weighs a total of 24 tonnes. It was the largest free-swinging bell in the world at the time until a larger bell was cast for the Cathedral in Bucharest.

bell in cologne cathedral
The St. Petersglocke / Randal J. /

14. A new stained glass window cost 400,000 € in 2007

Another interesting feature of the Cologne Cathedral is the stained glass, most of which dates back to the 19th century.

One of those was destroyed during World War II and replaced with plain glass. In the year 2007, this plain glass was replaced by a massive stained glass window that covers an area of 113 square meters (1,220 square feet) and cost a whopping 400,000 €, all paid for by donations.

The stained glass, located in the south transept, was created by German visual artist Gerhard Richter and resembles pixels that form a colorful carpet.

stained glass cologne cathedral
The stained glass from the outside / © Raimond Spekking / CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

15. The cathedral has an observation deck that tourists can visit

Over 20,000 tourists visit the Cologne Cathedral on average every single day. This makes it one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Germany.

Apart from its amazing architecture, fascinating history, and multiple treasures it holds, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the cathedral is the observation deck, which is located about 100 meters (330 feet) above the ground.

Do you want to reach the top and get an amazing view of the city and the Rhine? Then you’ll have to climb a spiral stair with exactly 533 stone steps to do so!

Cologne Cathedral from the east
The Cathedral from the east / Thomas Wolf /