Aachen - Palatine Chapel - Charlemagne
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Aachen Chapel

Aachen
Aachen cathedral (begun 792 AD)

One of the first ambitious buildings in Western Europe after the fall of Rome was Charlemagne's chapel at his capital of Aachen (now in northern Germany) about 792 AD. Charlemagne thought of himself as re-creating the Roman Empire, so he wanted to build an impressive church that would show that he was a very important, Roman kind of guy.

Charlemagne's architect, Odo of Metz, built the Aachen chapel in an early version of the Romanesque style. Odo probably was thinking of late Roman buildings in Ravenna, which this looks like. According to Charlemagne's historian Einhard, some of the marble and mosaics at Aachen were actually shipped to Charlemagne by the Pope from Rome and Ravenna for this church. The alternation of red and white blocks in the arches, however, seems to owe more to recent Islamic buildings like the Mosque at Cordoba (built about 784 AD), and to the older Dome of the Rock (built in 691 AD) than to any Christian building. The Cordoba mosque also showed how Roman the new rulers were by re-using Roman materials.

Aachen's chapel is also one of the first European buildings to have three arched doors in the west wall, as soon became common for many Romanesque and later Gothic churches. Odo may have gotten the idea from Islamic mosques that also have three arches in the entryway.

Learn by doing: build a red and white arch out of Lego
More about Charlemagne
More about the Romanesque

Bibliography and further reading about Aachen:

Medieval architecture
Middle Ages
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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