Germany 8 - Charlemagne and a medieval English crown

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September 30th 2014
Published: October 1st 2014
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We had always wanted to go to Aachen. It is one of those magical places with a history that stretches back into antiquity. It begins with Charlemagne. Sounds like a hint to start some horrible history here.

But before that we had found another stellplatz handy for our visit to Aachen. So we headed off and found it. But the reality didnt actually manage the blurb we had read. We found ourselves on a bit of waste ground full of cars and old caravans. Not quite what we expected . There were supposed to be showers and electric. But nothing like this on this car park. Whilst Glenn parked up I took off to check out the next road which was blocked off by road works. After a bit of a walk I found what I was looking for. The proper stellplatz. And this time it had some semblance of order to it.

We set off again and paid our 15 euros to park up for the night. There were a few other motorhomers here but none English. A good site with a lot of information which sadly was in German. We picked up the bus time table and also the introduction to the city which luckily was in English . A quick chat with the caretaker of the site was a bit unproductive. He told me there was a bus and mentioned going out of the site turning right and petrol station. When I asked about walking he said right out of the site, right , petrol station. Seems like everything is right, right right and petrol station. The walk was 2 .4 kms so it wasnt really what we wanted to do. So if we can find the bus we go on it. Lazy or what!

We had a quiet night and set out early for the bus stop. Turning right was easy as we negotiated the workers dump trucks. The sign showed a bike route to the city to the right so we stood and did what we normally do. Contemplated our navels for a while, looked dumb, easy to do and waited. And along came a lady. And a very friendly one at that. We asked where the centre was. She told us we needed the bus and she was going that way. She walked with us to the Marien Hospital and told us which buses to catch and where to get off - the Elisenbrunne. The bus arrived punctual as ever. Well this is Germany and would you expect anything else? We paid our 8 euros 25 which was a return ticket for up to five travellers. The bus had an overhead display which showed which stop was coming up and a disembodied voice pronounced the name of the next stop so it was easy to find where we needed to get off. Ten minutes and we were in the heart of the city.

Aachen is sometimes known as Bad Aachen or Aix la Chapelle and was the home of Charlemagne and later became the home of the coronation of the German kings.

Our first stop was a coffee shop set on the town square. The scene was set with a man playing an old fashioned barrel organ , stalls covered with fruit and vegetables beautifully set out and fresh and another covered with gladioli - eat your heart out Dame Edna , asters and wreaths. You just dont get this sort of thing back home and we relished in wandering from stall to stall tasting the temping biscuits set out for you to taste.

We had planned three places to visit. The main one was the cathedral which houses the tomb of Charlemagne which didnt open until 11.00,. To fill in time we planned to drop in on the Rathaus and the Treasury both of which opened for vistitors at 10.

The Rathaus construction began in 1330 on top of the foundations walls of the derelict Palace of Aachen which had been built during the Carolingian dynasty. Dating from Charlemagne part of the palace masonry was incorporated into the building. Completed in 1349 it served as a administrative centre of the city , held munitions and arms and served as a jail. It was a stunning building sitting on a large empty square. We stood in front of the building and saw couples standing and waiting, tables laden with glasses. Oh no its wedding day in Aachen and the world and his dog are getting married in the Rathaus. We saw the notice - closed. What a way to treat visitors. We were not able to see the coronation hall nor any of the replica crown jewels. Sion decided that there must have been too many rats and the ratcatcher was busy and that was why we couldnt go in.

Still too early to go in the cathedral so we walked to the Treasury and what a delight that was. 4 euros each entry fee and worth every penny."Since I have seen every royal marvel, no-one living has seen a more marvellous thing," wrote Albrect Durer in his travel diary when he visited Aachen in 1520 on the occasion of the Coronation of the Emporor Charles V. By a quirck of fate the unique collection, the most important north of the Alps has survived intact in the Cathedral and its Treasury to this day. Only after being anointed at Aachen could the ruler be crowned Holy Roman Emperor in Rome. Countiless precious objects entered the collection as royal donations, others were essential parts of the coronation ceremonies.

As they grew over the centuries, the contents had a tumultuous history. They were sent away during the Thirty Years War and again in 1794 when the French Revolutionary troops occupied Aachen and incorporated it into the Department of the Ruhr. So what is there in the Treasury? It is another one of these places where
gold is everywhere. Carved silver, gold and ivory bookcovers, reliqueries heavily jewelled and containing bones of saints or parts of the belt of Christ. There are so many bits of belt it must have been a long belt . The golden bust of Charlemagne, the Cross of Lothar covered in cabochon cut gems, blingy objects and the codices. On one floor there were copies of Charlemagnes coronation robes which were copied in the Medieval period. Copies of the rest of the regalia are in the Rathaus. Our favourite pieces were the Persephone sarcophagus which is the marble sarcophagus from the early 3rd century in which Charlemagne was buried. the hunting knife of Charlemagne with sheaf and the Crown of Margaret of York. . The crown was visually stunning but tiny and belonged to Margaret the sister of Edward IV of England and the wife of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. The crown made of silver gilt, blue and white enameling, inlaid with precious stones and pearls and is only one of two surviving English crowns from the medieval period. The other is in Munich. We have had little success with royal crowns in Britain, King John foolishly lost his royal regalia in the Wash and Cromwell melts the rest Margaret's crown of silver-gilt, enamel, precious stones and pearls is one of only two English crowns from the medieval regalia to have survived Cromwell's ravages. There are perhaps two men who got rid of our history effectively. Henry VIII with his dissolution of the monasteries and the medieval church treasures and Cromwell with his religious zeal. The Crown reminds us of what we have lost.

After our visit to the treasury we tentatively went to see if we could sneak inside the cathedral. There were services and we were told we would not be able to go in until after they ended which was around 12. However we latched on to a party going in and managed to get a peek before the next service started. The cathedral is known as the Imperial Cathedral and is the oldest in northern Europe. For 595 years from 936 to 1531 it was the coronation church of 30 German Kings and 12 queens.

Charles the Great or Charlemagne began construction way back in 796 alongside his building of his palace. It suffered great damage around 881 by the Northmen and restoration took place around 983. Some Gothic additions were added during 1355 and further restoration in the 1881. The cathedral uses two distinct architectural styles Romanesque and Gothic. Personal thoughts what a lovely space. Not dark nor gloomy but absolutely stunning and covered in golden mosaics. It looked like the churches we saw in Ravenna particularly San Vitale which houses some magnificent mosaics. Gold everywhere and we even thought that there were little hints of the black and white zebra banded cathedrals of Sienna and Orvieto and the red and white Mesquita in Cordoba. The building stunned us with its beauty and we have to say it was probably one of the most beautiful we have been in although it seemed smaller than we imagined it would be. Each space glistened and shone under the huge chandileer hanging from the ceiling. What words should we use ? Wow was used a lot. It is a spiritual building even if you are not a believer. You cannot be failed to be impressed by the building. What a space. Small, shiny, heavily decorated but stunningly beautiful. Everything that glistens is gold in this place. Sadly we couldnt linger long as the priest arrived and started to clothe the seats around the altar with cloth as if trying to drop the hint that the service was going to begin.

Out into the street with its bustling market, the biscuit shops and the hurdy gurdy man. If you want somewhere to go then we can recommend Aachen. Back to the bus which arrived again on time and took us home to our home on wheels and our next destination Belgium. Only a few days and we will be home again.


4th October 2014
Margaret of Yorks Crown

The Crown
These things are so lovely but I can't really imagine parading around in one. A bit much for me.
4th October 2014
Margaret of Yorks Crown

the crown
I was amazed how tiny it was. it must have sat on top of her head like a cherry on a cake

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