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Cologne Cathedral: An experience 600 years in the making

July 27, 2011 - 2:26am
Cologne Cathedral: An experience 600 years in the making
As one of the longest and most important rivers in Europe, the Rhine is host to a number of historic cities and landmarks that predate any modern U.S. landmarks. Cologne, Germany, stands out among the rest thanks in large part to the Cologne Cathedral, which is one of the most recognizable monuments of Christianity.

With upwards of 20,000 visitors a day, the Cologne Cathedral is Germany's most-visited landmark. The largest Gothic church in northern Europe, construction of the cathedral was a lengthy process. The first stone was laid by Konrad von Hochstaden in 1268, and it would be more than 600 years before the building was entirely completed.

It's no surprise that the construction took so long given the enormous scope of the building. When it was finished in 1880,the height of its northern tower reached an impressive 157 meters, which is more than 516 feet. In fact, until the Washington Monument was completed in 1884, the Cologne Cathedral was the tallest structure in the world.

Visitors to the cathedral have the opportunity to climb the more than 500 steps to reach the building's viewing platform, which offers an impressive panorama of the Rhine from 98 meters (321 feet) up.

There are plenty of highlights inside the cathedral as well, including the renowned Shrine of the Three Kings. Rumored to carry the remains of the Three Wise Men, the shrine is situated behind the cathedral's high altar. Along with its historical and religious significance, the shrine is outfitted with an elaborate decorative overlay. It features images of dozens of important figures from Christian history, including Jesus, the Apostles and Mary, as well as famous Biblical events.

Another celebrated work of art that is housed in the cathedral is the Gero Cross. Completed in the 10th century, this famous sculpture is more than six feet tall and is displayed in the building's sacristy. Carved from wood, many experts believe the Gero Cross to be one of the earliest examples of the now well-known image of Christ nailed to the cross.