Aachen, Germany – The Ancient Capital of the Holy Roman Empire

Aachen is near Belgium and the Netherlands on the western border of Germany.

On a recent business trip to Eindhoven, the Netherlands, I had an extra day and drove southeast to Aachen, Germany, about 105 km from Eindhoven.  Aachen is located in western Germany, near the border with the Netherlands and Belgium. It is an ancient city, dating back to Roman times (1stcentury AD) when it was known as a spa town for its warm mineral springs. As geographical boundaries have changed over the years, Aachen has been part of France and the former country of Prussia in addition to modern-day Germany.

Aachen town square with a fountain and statue of Charlemagne.

The great Charlemagne (known as “King of the Franks” and the Carolingian Empire) chose Aachen as the site for his palace because of the hot springs. He was a highly educated king who spoke several languages and was also a great military leader. He was crowned “Emperor of the Romans” in Rome by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day in 800 AD. Thus began the long history of what is known as the Holy Roman Empire which lasted in some fashion for 700 years. The Palace Chapel, which is now part of the Aachen Cathedral, was built in the early 790’s. The kings of the Holy Roman Empire were crowned here from 813 to 1531.

The unique Aachen Cathedral. The round middle structure is the Palace Chapel and immediately to the left is the Gothic medieval choir (14th and 15th centuries).

The Palace Chapel (also called the “Oktogon”) is where Holy Roman Empire kings were crowned for 700 years. Charlemagne’s throne is displayed on a upper floor.

The Choir of Aachen Cathedral, Charlemagne’s tomb is in the distance below the stained glass windows.

If your time in Aachen is limited, I suggest visiting the unique cathedral and the nearby historic Town Hall, which provide a good overview of the history of Aachen. The Town Hall was built in the mid 1300’s on the ruins of Charlemagne’s palace and contains the Coronation Hall and numerous other rooms. The Aachen town council still meets in the Council Hall of this building. The cathedral houses Charlemagne’s throne and tomb and also has a treasury with beautiful religious artifacts. The old town around these two impressive buildings is also enjoyable.

The medieval Town Hall in Aachen, Germany. This structure was built in the 1300’s on the grounds of Charlemagne’s Palace. There are remnants of his palace incorporated into this structure.

The Coronation Hall in the Town Hall. Completed in 1349, it was the largest secular hall in the Holy Roman Empire. Used for coronation banquets throughout the Middle Ages.

Given the importance of Aachen to the history of Europe, I find it surprising that Rick Steves barely mentions this town in his Germany & Austria guidebook.  It is well worth a stop for a few hours at least.

Sources: Tour pamphlets from Aachen, Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia 1986, Oxford Illustrated History of Medieval Europe 1986.