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Aix-la-Chapelle

Article from the 1911 Encyclopedia

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AIX-LA-CHAPELLE (Ger. Aachen, Dutch Aken), a city and spa of Germany, in the kingdom of Prussia, situated in a pleasant valley, 44 m. W. of Cologne and contiguous to the Belgian and Dutch frontiers, to which its municipal boundaries extend. Pop. (1885) 95,725; (1905) including Burtscheid, 143,906. Its position, at the centre of direct railway communications with Cologne and Dusseldorf respectively on the E. and Liege-Brussels and Maestricht-Antwerp on the W., has favoured its rise to one of the most prosperous commerical towns of Germany. The city consists of the old inner town, the former ramparts of which have been converted into promenades, and the newer outer town and suburbs. Of the ancient gates but two remain, the Ponttor on the N.W. and the Marschiertor on the S. Its general appearance is that rather of a spacious modern, than of a medieval city full of historical associations.

Of the cluster of buildings in the centre, which are conspicuous from afar, the town hall (Rathaus) and the cathedral are specially noteworthy. The former, standing on the south side of the market square, is a Gothic structure, erected in 1353-1370 on the ruins of Charlemagne's palace. It contains the magnificent coronation hall of the emperors (143 ft. by 61 ft.), in which thirty-five German kings and eleven queens have banqueted after the coronation ceremony in the cathedral. The two ancient towers, the Granusturm to the W. and the Glockenturm to the E., both of which to a large extent had formed part of the Carolingian palace, were all but destroyed in the fire by which the Rathaus was seriously damaged in 1883. Their restoration was completed in 1902. Behind the Rathaus is the Grashaus, in which Richard of Cornwall, king of the Romans, is said to have held his court. It was restored in 1889 to accommodate the municipal archives. The cathedral is of great historic and architectural interest. Apart from the spire, which was rebuilt in 1884, it consists of two parts of different styles and date. The older portion, the capella in palatio, an octagonal building surmounted by a dome, was designed on the model of San Vitale at Ravenna by Udo of Metz, was begun under Charlemagne's auspices in 796 and consecrated by Pope Leo III. in 805. After being almost entirely wrecked by Norman raiders it was rebuilt, on the original lines, in 983, by the emperor Otto III. It is surrounded on the first story by a sixteen-sided gallery (the Hochmunster) adorned by antique marble and granite columns, of various sizes, brought by Charlemagne's orders from Rome, Ravenna and Trier. These were removed by Napoleon to Paris, but restored to their original positions after the peace of 1815. The mosaic representing Christ surrounded by "the four-and-twenty elders," which originally lined the cupola, had almost entirely perished by the 19th century, but was re-stored in 1882 from a copy made in the 17th century. Interesting too are the magnificent west doors, cast in bronze by native workmen in 804. Underneath the dome, according to tradition, was the tomb of Charlemagne, which, on being opened by Otto III. in 1000, disclosed the body of the emperor, vested in white coronation robes and seated on a marble chair. This chair, now placed in the gallery referred to, was used for centuries in the imperial coronation ceremonies. The site of the tomb is marked by a stone slab, with the inscription Carlo Magno; and above it hangs the famous bronze chandelier presented by the emperor Frederick I. (Barbarossa) in 1168. Charlemagne's bones are preserved in an ornate shrine in the Hungarian Chapel, lying to the north of the octagon. The casket was opened in 1906, at the instance of the emperor William II., and the draperies enclosing the body were temporarily removed to Berlin, with a view to the reproduction of similar cloth. The Gothic choir, forming the more modern portion of the cathedral, was added during the latter half of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th century, and contains the tomb of the emperor Otto III. The cathedral possesses many relics, the more sacred of which are exhibited only once every seven years, when they attract large crowds of worshippers.

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