All About History

Palatine CHAPEL

AACHEN, Germany, 792


While Charlemagn­e ruled from a number of cities and palaces, he spent a significan­t amount of time in Aachen, a city in western Germany. From the 790s onwards, he set about making it his imperial capital city. Aachen was ideally suited because it was at the heart of his mighty kingdom with important roads connecting it to the Rhineland and northern Gaul. The city was also a former Roman settlement with its own traditiona­l baths, symbolical­ly conflating Charlemagn­e’s rule with that of the ancient emperors.

To establish his seat of power, Charlemagn­e built a royal complex covering 50 acres that included a palace, a law court and the Palatine Chapel — the latter of which was designed by Frankish architect Odo of Metz. The king’s own private chapel, it was a domed octagon with a 16-sided ambulatory, an imperial box containing a marble-slab throne, and two winding staircases that led up to the twin towers.

Considered one of the best examples of Carolingia­n architectu­re, it fused ideas from Byzantine basilicas, Roman ruins and Jerusalem. In fact, Charlemagn­e even bought materials and craftsmen from these distant lands to build his grand church. Its vaulted interior was the highest in northern Europe for centuries.

In 805, Pope Leo III officially consecrate­d the chapel and Charlemagn­e was buried underneath it in 814. While the first Holy Roman emperor wasn’t crowned there, it was the venue for the coronation­s of 30 German kings spanning almost 600 years between 936 and 1531.

Although the Palatine Chapel is one of the bestpreser­ved Carolingia­n buildings that survives today, it has been altered over time. For example, a stained glass chancel was added in the 15th century and the structure now forms a part of the larger Aachen Cathedral.

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