Some cathedrals — with their fanciful gargoyles, detailed carvings and elaborate flourishes — are best admired for their exterior. For others, it's all about appreciating what's inside.
What makes Aachen Cathedral so special for me, despite the beauty of its imposing Gothic exterior, are the mystical elements within.
Even with all that I'd heard of Aachen Cathedral prior to our visit, I still found myself surprised by the ornate mosaics that sprawled under its dome and a Byzantine design that hinted of the Near East. As we walked the chapel's inner octagonal ring, I was struck by arches that reminded me of sites like the Moorish Great Mosque and Cathedral of Cordoba and Istanbul's Hagia Sophia.
The core of the Aachen Cathedral — the Palatine Chapel — from which the panorama was taken dates back to the end of the 8th century. Although there have been a few renovations over the centuries, the essence of this design has its origins in the era of Emperor Charlemagne, as he commissioned the building of the chapel as an extension of his palace. More than 30 German kings were crowned in this cathedral between the 10th and 16th centuries. The cathedral also served as an important stop along the “Jacob's Way” pilgrimage route that devotees walked from Germany to Santiago de Compostela, Spain in the Middle Ages.
The scale of history through the lens of this cathedral's past: mind-boggling.
So when you visit the Aachen Cathedral, put your camera down for a moment and simply gaze up for a long, long time. Details in the mosaics and arches will emerge the longer you look. Maybe if you close your eyes you'll imagine the stream of people — from kings to pilgrims — who shared that same space in the last 1,200 years. Although the world outside its walls has known great tumult and change, the space itself has remained a constant.
Open up the panorama below of the Palatine Chapel inside Aachen Cathedral to full screen and press the “up” arrow. Then you'll see what I'm talking about when I say, “Look up!”