Germany's first UNESCO World Heritage Site
In 1978, the cathedral became the first ever German cultural monument to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its history dates back to the Emperor Charlemagne.
In 1978, Aachen Cathedral became the first ever German cultural monument to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. The cathedral is immensely significant in terms of both architecture and art history. It is one of the best preserved architectural monuments of the Carolingian period.
The cathedral’s foundation stone was laid sometime around 790 AD by Charlemagne with the towers of his Palatine Chapel (Pfalzkappelle) dating from this time. Upon Charlemagne’s death in 814, the Aachen Cathedral was chosen as the emperor’s burial place. His remains were later transferred to the Shrine of Charlemagne, which can still be admired at the cathedral today. His grave is part of the cathedral’s treasury. It is not least because of this that the cathedral’s treasury is among the most important ecclesiastical treasuries in Europe.
Otto I made Aachen Cathedral a coronation church in 936: more than 30 German rulers were crowned here over the course of 600 years. Inside the cathedral the coronation throne may be viewed, but only on guided tours. The Gothic choir hall, which can also be seen on guided tours, is home to the largest window of the Gothic era, which measures some 27 metres high.
Other impressive sights include the huge chandelier housed in the octagon, which was originally donated by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Or the impressive cathedral gate, the first bronze casting north of the Alps. Its lion heads are the source of a fascinating legend: the thumb of the devil is said to be stuck in them.
Every seven years the Aachen Cathedral stages a special highlight event for pilgrims: then the golden Shrine of St. Mary (Marienschrein) is opened and the four reliquaries it holds are displayed to believers. These include Mary’s dress, Jesus’ swaddling clothes, the decapitation cloth of John the Baptist and the loincloth of Christ. The shrine itself is shown during guided tours.