Aachen is a city with a long, proud history, which stretches back to Neolithic times (3000 BC). From the Romans using it as a source of hot springs to Charlemagne using the city as the capital of his Frankish empire to being the capital of its own country (very briefly, the Rhenish Republic). Aachen has had many ups and downs. It has been as an centre of learning, industry, and prostitution throughout its span of history.
As Aachen has such a long history, the town is built in a medieval planning style. It was a more circular city protected by a medieval wall. While the wall no longer exists, the city still has a well-defined city centre with a ring road replacing the wall. Today, only the gates that were set into the walls remain. These include the Ponttor, the northern gate in the old city wall, pictured below. What you don’t see is that this gate now leads to underground pedestrian pathways crossing the intersection (only partially pictured). Today, only two of the gates exist, the other being the Marschiertor on the southern side of Aachen.
The largest attraction (both in size and in numbers) in Aachen is the Aachen Cathedral (Aachener Dom). The Dom is one of the oldest cathedrals in Europe, built on the orders of Charlemagne in 814, and one of the most historically influential. It was the site of 43 coronations (31 German kings and 12 queens). Additionally, it was amongst the first 12 places to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site (1978). Upon entering the Cathedral, it actually seems to be quite small. I love that it is tiled rather than painted; it gives the ceiling that extra sheen that many cathedrals don’t have. The entrance is an octagon that reaches up several stories known as the Carolingian Octagon or Palatine Chapel and was the largest building north of the Alps for over 200 years. In this chapel, the famous Barbarossa Chandelier (a gift from Emperor……you guessed it, Barbarossa and his wife Beatrice) hangs.
From the Octagon, you look toward the high altar and the stained glass windows, which are impressive sites in and of themselves. Next, to the tiling, the stained glass windows are less impressive than they would be in other cathedrals, simply due to the impressiveness of the mosaic work that went into the restoration of this cathedral (after World War II, which saw heavy damage done).
Apart from the Dom, the city centre contains all the attractions in Aachen, so it is very easy to get from one to another. These include the Rathaus (city hall, which was the first picture in this article), the Markt, and the plazas and fountains that are common, without much actual travel time. The centre is also quite compact, so one or two days should be more than enough time to get to know the city and what it has to offer.
How to visit
Parking: The city centre of Aachen itself is mostly pedestrian; pay through the nose and/or register your licence plate to park here. Instead, park towards the end of Kupferstrasse near Salvatorberg. Aachen slopes generally downwards from north to south, so this means that the way will be all downhill from Kupferstrasse. If you are looking for other parking spaces in Aachen, try the website Gratis Parken (free parking in German and Germany).
Here are some more photos from Aachen: