Empeor Charles V's villa at Yuste
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Aachen Dom (Cathedral) taken from the Katschhof Square at the back of the Rathaus (City Hall)


Aachen, often referred to in history by its French name of Aix-la-Chapelle, lies in Germany, very close to the borders of both Belgium and the Netherlands. It is a lively city, a great place to spend a day or two, with plenty of historical associations. The streets and squares of the altstadt (old town) around the Dom (Cathedral) and the Rathaus (City Hall) have many restaurants and bars, especially pleasant to sit outside on a warm summer evening, but also a good atmosphere inside on cooler days.

We spent a lovely evening sampling the best of the German and Belgium beers on offer – of which there are plenty. We have also enjoyed a meal in the restaurant situated on the corner of the Rathaus, appreciating the historic surroundings and good German food.

The Rathaus (City Hall)

The Rathaus lies between two large squares, the Markt (market place) and the Katschhof (towards the cathedral). It was originally constructed in the 14th century when it was decided that it had to have a hall large enough to hold the coronation feast (after the enthronement of the 'King of the Germans') which until then had been held in the Grashaus. The Rathaus has been damaged by fires (especially in 1656 and 1883), an attack by separatist rebels (1923), and during World War Two. It has been rebuilt/restored on several occasions in various styles, including baroque and neo-gothic.


. There has been settlement in the area since Neolithic times. The Romans built the spa resort of Aquae Granni, centred on the hot springs found there. In the late 8th and early 9th centuries it became the political centre for the first Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne. He built the Palatine Chapel (which became the cathedral in 1930) inspired by the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna. The original Carolingian chapel (798 – 805A.D.) consists of an inner octagon surrounded by a 16-sided outer wall, supporting a high gallery. Some of the columns and other decorative pieces were brought in from Cologne, Ravenna and Rome. A Gothic choir was added during the 14th century. Of particular note in the cathedral are:

• Charlemagne’s throne (Karlsthron) • The Golden Altarpiece (Pala d’Oro) – 11th century • Barbarossa’s chandelier – 12th century – donated by Frederick Barbarossa – hanging from the dome of the octagon. • Charlemagne’s shrine (Karlsschrein) – 13th century – a gold and silver casket containing the remains of Charlemagne. • Mosaics


It was in the Palatine Chapel that most ‘Kings of the Germans’ were crowned between 936 and 1531. Traditionally those elected to be Holy Roman Emperor became 'King of the Germans' (later more often termed 'King of the Romans') until such time as they were crowned by the pope.

Charles V, after being elected Holy Roman Emperor by the seven 'electors' in June 1519, travelled to Aachen from Spain, via England and his lands in the Low Countries. He was crowned 'Klng of the Romans' on 22nd October 1520 in front of the High Altar and enthroned on Charlemagne's throne. It was not until nearly ten years later that Charles was eventually crowned by Pope Clement VII in Bologna on 24th February 1530, Charles' 30th birthday.

Charles then used his influence (and money) to have his brother Ferdinand elected as 'King of the Romans', which by that time had become the title used by the heir apparent if he was elected during the lifetime of the sitting emperor. Ferdinand's coronation in January 1531 was the last to be held in Aachen, after which the ceremony was moved to Frankfurt, where the electors traditionally met for the election.

More can be found in the Charles V website: www.emperorcharlesv.com and in the book ‘Charles V: Duty and Dynasty - The Emperor and his Changing World (1500-1558).

Richard Heath
Richard Heath
Richard Heath graduated in history from the University of Cambridge and was a history teacher for 35 years. He now enjoys travelling with his wife in their VW camper van, exploring historical sites and appreciating all that Europe has to offer.

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