The Cologne Cathedral

It can be seen from nearly every point in the city centre and from many places elsewhere: The magnificent Cologne Cathedral hovers above the roofs and chimneys of the city. It is not only used as a point of orientation but is the pride of the people in Cologne. The panorama of the city has been dominated by the Cathedral's gigantic pair of towers (the North Tower (157.38 m) is 7 cm higher than the South Tower) since their completion in 1880.

The Cathedral is still the second highest building in Cologne after the telecommunications tower. Its footprint is no less impressive, with the full length of the Cathedral measuring 145 m and the cross nave 86 m. In comparison, a football pitch is "only" around 100 by 70 m. The total area of the Cathedral measures almost 8000 square metres and has room for more than 20,000 People.

Building history

The foundation stone of the Gothic Cathedral was laid on 15 August 1248 on the celebration of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Apparently the Old Cathedral was no longer sufficiently representative to house the mortal remains of the Three Kings, which Archbishop Rainald von Dassel brought back to the cathedral city in 1164 from the conquered city of Milan. These relics made the Cathedral one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in Europe. In the early 16th century, building was stopped - partly due to lack of money, partly due to lack of interest.

At this point the chancel, the lower section of the South Tower with bell tower as well as the long nave and the cross nave were completed up to the lower arcades. The North Tower was almost completely nonexistent. For more than 300 years, the city's panorama was dominated by the mighty torso with a huge building crane on the incomplete South Tower.

Around the turn of the 19th century the supporters of the German Romantic movement reawakened public interest in the completion of the Cathedral thanks to their enthusiasm for the Middle Ages. Continuation and completion of the building now became a matter of national interest to the Germans. In 1842 King Friedrich Wilhelm IV laid the foundation stone marking the continuation of building work. The Cathedral was completed in 1880 - in accordance with the plan originating from the Middle Ages - in a record time of just 38 years.

It is nothing short of a miracle that, although badly damaged, Cologne Cathedral survived the Second World War in spite of extensive bombing. Nowadays the main factors affecting the Cathedral are weather and environmental influences. Over 80 stonemasons, glaziers, roofers and other specialists are constantly at work on the maintenance and restoration of the Cathedral building.

The Interior

The stone mass seems to rise, almost weightlessly, up to the 43m-high baldachin-style arches. The narrow main nave that leads to the chancel is accompanied by two side naves. In the northern side nave, the light shines through five spectacular glass windows, which stem from the later years of Cologne glass painting (1507/1509).

In 2007, a totally new lighting concept was created in the south cross nave of the Cathedral. The light, plain glass window that had replaced a window destroyed during the Second World War was removed. Gerhard Richter, an artist living in Cologne, created a new work of art out of endless coloured squares covering the 100m2 area, which is in tune with the visions of the master builders from the Middle Ages.

The crossing features the modern bronze altar by Elmar Hillebrand (1960). Behind this lies the high chancel with the choir ambulatory - one of the finest sanctuaries in the Western world. The choir stalls have 104 seats making them the largest in Germany. The chancel paintings were added in around 1340. Above these, you will see the older chancel pillar sculptures of Jesus, Mary and the 12 Apostles. In addition to the Adoration of the Magi, the entire circle of glass windows in the upper floor of the central nave depicts a further 48 royal figures.

Behind the high altar, the Shrine of the Three Kings rises up; the relics of Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar-the city patrons of Cologne-rest here alongside the relics of Saints Felix and Nabor and Saint Gregory of Spoleto. This impressive work of medieval gold craftsmanship surpasses all other shrines in the Western world in terms of size and grandeur.

On the way to the choir ambulatory, you pass under the organ loft. The Gero Crucifix hangs in the crucifix chapel and is the oldest remaining large sculpture of the crucified Christ this side of the Alps. The oldest window in the Cathedral (from around 1260) can still be found in its original position in the Axis Chapel (Chapel of the Three Kings). It shows topically related scenes from the New and Old Testaments in two parallel rows.

Another large work of art can be found in the chancel of Mary's Chapel. It is a triple-winged altar picture (triptych), painted by Stefan Lochner for the Town hall chapel, that portrays the city's saints - the Three Holy Kings, St. Ursula and St. Gereon along with their fellow martyrs.

The Shrine of the Three Holy Kings in Cologne Cathedral is 153 cm high, 220 cm long, 110 cm wide and weighs approx. 300 kg.

Open daily:

6am-7.30pm (Nov.-Apr.)
6am-9pm (May-Oct.)

Opening hours on sundays and Holidays:


Guided Tours

The varied programme offered by the Cologne Tourist Board includes exciting and informative tours to suit all tastes, from the experience tour to the art history tour around Cologne's Romanesque churches.

There are daily guided tours of the city in several languages, departing from the Cologne Tourist Board. The "journey through time" by bus that travels through the Rhine metropolis provides an overview of the 2000-year long history and development of the city from a Roman colony to the megacity of today. The bus tour incorporates the main places of interest from all eras.

For example, visitors are shown the remains of the Roman and Medieval city walls, some of the Romanesque churches, the 4711 traditional house and the WDR radio station studios. A further highlight is Cologne's Rhine panorama with its Cathedral and Old Town, which can be seen from the right banks of the Rhine.

The English-language tour "Highlights of Cologne" runs on Saturdays from April to October and is just one of the many public guided tours available. This journey of discovery on foot takes visitors through the area immediately surrounding the Cathedral and the narrow alleyways of the Old Town. The walk passes by the Romano-Germanic Museum with its famous Dionysus mosaic, the Town Hall, Alter Markt and Groß St. Martin.

For groups there is an extensive selection of tours on offer by the Cologne Tourist Board, available in different languages and to suit different requirements. Besides city sightseeing tours and walks, guided tours of the Cathedral and museum, the Cologne Tourist Board offers an attractive range of topical and alternative guided tours. The "Local Characters, Anecdotes and Specialities" tour portrays the typical endearing side of Cologne, while the "Kölsch Tour" focuses on the local beer and the brewhouse culture.

The excellently trained and experienced tour guides adapt their tours according to the needs of the group - whether they are tourists, members of study groups or high-ranking guests from politics and industry - and between them they hold around 10,000 guided tours each year in more than ten languages.

The Cologne Tourist Board also offers the i-Guide for independent travellers. Visitors can borrow the electronic city guide from the Cologne Tourist Board and follow the 120-minute guided tour through the 47 interesting sites within Cologne's Old Town.


Cologne Zoo was founded in 1860 and is one of the oldest - yet also one of the most modern - zoological gardens. In no other zoo the development of the zoological gardens over the years can be seen so clearly: the buildings starting from the menagerie of the 19th century to the wildlife reserve of the 21st century, from the Moorish-style elephant house and the former birdhouse in the style of a Russian basilica dating back to the 19th century, to the ape island created in a Hagenbeck style and modern natural worlds such as the rain forest.

Since the big cat enclosure opened ten years ago, designed as a biotope habitat, visitors to Cologne Zoo have been able to view the animals in glass-fronted enclosures without bars. The conversion of the old birdhouse into the South America house for primates shows that tradition and progress must by no means be mutually exclusive. In mid-2004, the elephant park was opened, providing the zoo's elephants with the most space north of the Alps.

Cologne Zoo is also famous for its primate collection. The zoo has around 500 different species of animal from all the world's continents and oceans, including predators as well as the magnificent aquarium with a terrarium and insectarium.

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