The third federal state in our series introducing Germany’s UNESCO World heritage sites, is North Rhine-Westphalia. A total of five sites are located here, including Germany’s first UNESCO Heritage Site Aachen Cathedral.
Aachen Cathedral (1978)
Inscribed in 1978, Aachen Cathedral was the first UNESCO World Heritage site in Germany. It was praised by the organisation for its symbolic character, marking the unification of the West and its spiritual and political revival under the aegis of Charlemagne. The Franconian king intended it to be the complete embodiment of the Heavenly Jerusalem — the contact of the Earthly and the Heavenly.
The Palatine Chapel is representative of the cathedral’s architectural finesse. It is based on an octagonal ground plan, which is surrounded by an aisle and by tribunes above, and roofed with a dome, gathering light from eight open-arched windows. Despite its various additions and alterations, the chapel displays a harmonious synergy of all its individual elements.
Since its construction about 1200 years ago (793–803), the Cathedral has witnessed various crucial events in German history, such as the coronation of the kings of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation. Until this day, it functions as the burial place of Charlemagne and attracts the faithful from all over the world every seven years for the Aachen Pilgrimage.
Castles of Augustusburg and Falkenlust at Brühl (1984)
The Castles of Augustusburg and Falkenlust at Brühl are set in an idyllic garden landscape in the south-west of the Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia. Augustusburg was the ostentatious residence of the prince-archbishops of Cologne, whilst the latter functioned as a hunting lodge where Clemens August, Prince-Elector of Cologne, practised his favourite sport of falconry.
UNESCO considers the estates as some of the earliest and best examples of 18-century Rococo architecture in Germany, particularly manifested in the staircase of Balthasar Neumann at Augustusburg which is considered an ingenious work of creativity. Its graceful structure unites a lively movement of marble and stucco, jasper columns and caryatids, and culminates in the astonishing frescoed ceiling of Carlo Carlone.
The Castles of Augustusburg and Falkenlust at Brühl were dedicated UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1984.
Cologne Cathedral (1996)
Cologne Cathedral is not only a centerpiece of European Christianity but also an architectural chef d’oeuvre. The construction works, which stretched over seven centuries (1248–1880), have resulted in one of the most prominent German ecclesiastical buildings of Gothic design. The final completion was achieved by outstanding civic engagement, spearheaded by the Central-Dombauverein which raised two-thirds of the enormous costs. The remainder was provided by the Prussian state in a quest to restore relations with the Catholic Church.
According to UNESCO, no other cathedral is so perfectly conceived, so uniformly and uncompromisingly executed in all its parts. Its High Gothic five-aisled basilica is 144.5 metres long and its tower façade 157.22 metres high, which made it the highest building in the world until the completion of Washington Monument.
During WWII, Cologne Cathedral suffered severe damages from fourteen hits by aerial bombings. Nevertheless, the building proved to be a standing fortress in an otherwise flattened city. Reparation works began immediately after the war and were completed in 1956.
On 25 August 2007, the cathedral received a new stained glass window in the south transept, created by German artist Gerhard Richter. It spans over 113 square metres and is composed of 11,500 identically sized pieces of colored glass resembling pixels, randomly arranged by computer, which create a colorful “carpet”.
UNESCO honoured the Cologne Cathedral by adding it to its list of World Heritages in 1996.
Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen (2001)
The Zollverein XII Coal Mine Industrial Complex is representative of the economic significance of primary industry in Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly during the interwar period. Active mining on-site took place from 1851 to 1986. Until today, all original installations, such as the pits, coking plants or miner’s housing, have been fully conserved. The complex was inscribed into the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 2001.
The mine is especially noteworthy of the high architectural quality which was named the “most beautiful coal mine in the world”. UNESCO notes that the architects Fritz Schupp and Martin Kemmer developed Zollverein XII in the graphic language of the Bauhaus as a group of buildings which combined form and function in a masterly way.
Today, the former Coal Washery mine is home to the Ruhr Museum, exhibiting 6,000 pieces that testify to the fascinating history of one of the largest industrial regions of the world, from the formation of coal 300 million years ago to the 115 years of mining activities and its effects on the Ruhr Area today.
Carolingian Westwork and Civitas Corvey (2014)
Situated in a harmonious rural setting and revealed from a distance by the pointed roofs and the bare-stone towers, the Carolingian Westwork and the Civitas Corvey lie on the bank of the river Weser in the east of the town of Höxter, in North Rhine-Westphalia.
Having been consecrated in 844, the Westwork is one of the few Carolingian structures the main parts of which have been preserved, and the last remaining Westwork building from that time. UNESCO describes the complex as a nucleus of innovation and traditional references to ancient models at a high level. Thus, a building type with considerable influence on western ecclesiastical Romanesque and Gothic architecture.
However, Corvey’s significance exceeds its visual idiosyncrasies. Its missionary task was of paramount religious importance with regard to the conversion of Saxony and adjacent areas. It further functioned as a politically and economically prestigious outpost of the Frankish Empire on the edge of the Christian world at that time.
To acknowledge its historical importance, it was added to the UNESCO World Heritages list in 2014.