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10 Facts about the City of Cologne

Updated on April 13, 2014
Cologne, Germany
Cologne, Germany | Source

Cologne, one of the largest cities in Germany, is a nodal point of west German commerce and industry, and a leading cultural center. It faces the Rhine River, mainly along the left (west) bank, between Düsseldorf and Bonn. Cologne has a population of 1.017 million (2012). Here are 10 important facts about Cologne:

1. Cologne was the chief Roman city on the Rhine and the key to the Rhine defenses of Gaul against Germanic invaders. It began as a settlement of the Ubii in the 1st century B.C. The Romans based legions there and colonized the town with Roman army veterans. About 50 A.D. the Emperor Claudius granted the town municipal rights and named it Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinenisum after his wife, Agrippina, who was born in the area. Shortened to Colonia, the name became Köln in German and Cologne in French and English.

Cologne Cathedral
Cologne Cathedral | Source

2. Under the German Empire (1871–1918), Cologne emerged as a modern industrial center and absorbed suburbs in all directions. During World War II it was one of the first targets of mass Allied air raids. About 90% of the inner city was destroyed. The cathedral, though damaged, survived.

3. Cologne is noted for its great Gothic cathedral and its Romanesque churches, for its international trade fairs, and for its pre-Lenten carnival. Foremost among the city's educational institutions is the University of Cologne, established in 1388; closed by the French in 1798, it was refounded in 1919 by Konrad Adenauer, who was then lord mayor of the city.

Cologne bombing
Cologne bombing | Source

4. After suffering severe damage during World War II, Cologne was rebuilt in the postwar decades with foresight and taste. City planners grasped the opportunity to cut new streets and widen old ones. Historic structures were restored -landmarks such as the cathedral, many other churches, the Gürzenich (a 15th century banquet hall), and the 14th–16th century Rathaus (the Old Town Hall), as well as quite ordinary old buildings. New structures of handsome modern design were erected, notably the municipal theater and opera house, several churches and bridges, and various commercial, industrial, and civic buildings.

5. Compact central Cologne -the Altstadt, or Old City- is bounded on the east by the gently curving Rhine and on the other sides by a semicircular boulevard, the Ring, which traces the course of the former medieval city wall. West of the Ring is a wide concentric greenbelt of parks and sports fields occupying the site of 19th century fortifications. Directly across the river lies the Deutz section, containing the splendid Rhine Park with fair and exposition buildings and the Tanzbrunnen (Dancing Fountain), a plaza surrounded by water displays.

Shrine of the Three Kings
Shrine of the Three Kings | Source

6. The focal point of the city is the cathedral. Nearby are the main railroad station, bus station, and post office, the headquarters of Westdeutscher Rundfunk (the regional broadcasting corporation), and some of the city's best stores, hotels, and restaurants. Also close to the cathedral is the riverbank, with attractive promenades.

7. Cologne Cathedral is one of Europe's most imposing edifices, its two towers rising more than 515 feet (157 meters) and its nave reaching an interior height of 141 feet (43 meters). Construction began in 1248 under Master Gerhard. It proceeded fitfully, stopping altogether between 1559 and 1842, but the work was finally completed in 1880 to the original plans. The main shrine, a masterpiece of goldwork, is the reliquary (1181–1220) of the Three Kings, or Magi, by Nicholas of Verdun. The beautiful stained-glass windows in the choir date from about 1275. Two chapels contain remarkable works -the monumental Gero Cross (about 970) and a mid-15th century altarpiece by Stephan Lochner depicting the adoration of the Kings.

8. Cologne's dozen Romanesque churches by themselves would have made the city a noble center of religious architecture. Some, such as St. Gereon's (mainly 11th–12th century), were built over Roman structures. New churches, by distinguished architects, were erected mostly in outlying districts of the city after the war.

9. Just south of the cathedral is the Roman-Germanic Museum, completed in 1974 and built mainly to house a large mosaic floor from a Roman villa of about 200 A.D. The mosaic, discovered on the museum site in 1941, depicts the drunken god Dionysus. Chief among the city's other museums is the Ludwig (Wallraf-Richartz), a gallery of Western paintings that range from the medieval Cologne school to contemporary idioms.

10. Situated at the crossing of historic east-west and north-south trade routes, Cologne is a major rail junction and river port and is served by several autobahns (express highways). Its harbor traffic includes vessels of many nations, and small seagoing ships as well as rivercraft. The city shares a busy airport with the West German capital, Bonn. Industries in Greater Cologne produce motor vehicles, machinery, electrical equipment, chemicals, steel, pharmaceuticals, beer, and eau de Cologne toilet water. The city is also an insurance center.

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