In the days of Roman dominion, a city called Civitas Ubiorum was built
by the Rhine upon the site where now stands the fortified mediæval town
of Cologne. Remains of the Roman occupation are still to be traced in
the city in the bases of walls, but the amphitheatre was demolished long
ago. Agrippina was born here, and Trajan ruled in the fortress.
In the Middle Ages Cologne was a prosperous city, with a wide trading
repute, and celebrated for its arts and learning. William Caxton came
here to learn printing, an industry which he introduced into England.
Militarism and clerical domination appear to have been the chief causes
of the long spell of misfortune that fell later upon Cologne.
Persecution was one of the principal occupations of a number of the
people at this period; and much zeal was expended in expelling heretics,
Jews and Protestants from the city.
Cologne also suffered decline through the closing of the Rhine as a
navigable waterway by the Dutch, and it was not until 1837 that the
river was re-opened to trading vessels plying to foreign ports. To-day
the city is an important commercial and industrial centre.
Perhaps the best general view of Cologne is from the opposite bank of
the Rhine. The city is a forest of spires and towers; there were at one
time over two thousand clerics within the walls, and religious buildings
were more numerous then than to-day.
The wide river is spanned by two bridges; the more important is a
wonderful structure, over thirteen hundred feet in length, and made of
The Cathedral was begun in the thirteenth century, but it remained for a
considerable time in an unfinished state, and portions fell into decay.
Frederick William III. restored the building, and added to it; and since
this time the work has been continued in several parts of the edifice.
Externally the Cathedral is a stately building with its flying
buttresses, host of pinnacles, and splendid south doorway. The
architecture is French–rather German–Gothic.
In the choir are very brilliant stained windows, some mural pictures,
and numerous statues of Scriptural characters. The painted windows
here, and in the aisles, are extremely gorgeous examples of this art.
Among the objects of interest in the chapels are memorials of the
archbishops of the city, and an early painting, known as the Dombild,
depicting the saints of Cologne.
The Church of St Ursula and of the Eleven Thousand Virgins is remarkable
for its treasury of the bones of the adventurous virgins of the famous
legend. These relics are embedded in the walls of the choir. There are a
few pictures, but none of note, in this church.
St Maria Himmelfahrt, the church of the Jesuits, is highly flamboyant in
its embellishments. Amongst its treasures are the rosary of St Ignatius
and the crozier of St Francis Xavier. In St Gereon’s Church is a
collection of the bones of the martyrs killed during the persecution by
the Romans. Architecturally, this church deserves careful attention for
it has ancient portions, and presents several styles. The baptistery and
sacristy are very ornate in design.
One of the works of Rubens is in St Peter’s Church. This is the
well-known altar picture of “The Crucifixion of St Peter.” Sir Joshua
Reynolds and Wilkie have both recorded their impressions of this great
work. Rubens esteemed this as the best picture that he ever painted; but
Reynolds thought the drawing feeble, and surmised that it was finished
by one of the pupils of Rubens, after the master’s death.
The Church of Santa Maria is on the site of the Roman capital, and on
the same ground stood a palace at a later date. It is interesting for
its decorated choir, and the old doorways. There are several other
churches in Cologne that should be visited.
In the museum there are many pictures, including one by Durer, “St
Francis,” by Rubens, “A Madonna,” by Titian, and a work by Vandyk.
The paintings of the Cologne school are numerous, and demand attention,
as they represent the art of the period when painting began to flourish
in Germany. Some of the pictures were painted as early as the thirteenth
century. There are many modern paintings in the museum. A number of
Roman antiquities, statuary, and pottery, are also preserved here.
Among the secular buildings of note are the Rathaus, with varied
architectural styles, and the Kaufhaus, where the Imperial councils
were held in former days.
The noble historic stream upon which the city stands, “Father Rhine,”
flows through its finest scenery above Cologne, among the Siebengebirge
“Beneath these battlements, within those walls
Power dwelt amidst her passions; in proud state
Each robber chief upheld his armed halls,
Doing his evil will, nor less elate
Than mightier heroes of a longer date.
What want these outlaws conquerors should have?
But history’s purchas’d page to call them great?
A wider space and ornamented grave?
Their hopes were not less warm, their souls were full as brave.”
So wrote Byron in his verses upon the majestic river, whose “castle
crags,” and wooded glens have been described again and again by poets of
The Rhine has a life and a population of its own. On its banks are the
homesteads of vine-growers and farmers, while fishermen ply their craft
in its prolific waters. Upon the river itself float the voyagers in sea
vessels, and the enormous timber-rafts, which are one of the curious
sights of the Rhine. A steamboat trip on the river will delight the
tourist, but he should leave the boat at Bonn, for below that old town
the stream flows through a tame, featureless country.
I must not forget the celebrated perfume for which Cologne is famous.
The spirit known as Eau de Cologne was the invention of Farina in the
seventeenth century. It is still manufactured in the city, and provides
an industry for a large number of people. George Meredith’s novel,
“Farina,” comes to mind as we wander in Cologne, and note the name of
the discoverer of the world-famous scent.
Every visitor to the city should read “Farina,” for its vivid
description of the life there, “in those lusty ages when the Kaisers
lifted high the golden goblet of Aachen, and drank, elbow upward, the
green-eyed wine of old romance.”
Here is Meredith’s picture of Cologne, on the eve of battle: “The
market-places were crowded with buyers and sellers, mixed with a
loitering swarm of soldiery, for whose thirsty natures wine-stalls had
been tumbled up. Barons and knights of the empire, bravely mounted and
thickly followed, poured hourly into Cologne from South Germany and
North. Here staring Suabians, and red-featured warriors of the East
Kingdom, swaggered up and down, patting what horses came across them,
for lack of occupation for their hands. Yonder huge Pomeranians, with
bosks of beard stiffened out square from the chin, hurtled mountainous
among the peaceable inhabitants.”
- The Project Gutenberg EBook of Old Continental Towns, by Walter M. Gallichan.