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Aachen cathedral (begun 792 AD). Round arches with red and white stripes

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 ADCharlemagne thought of himself as re-creating the Roman Empire. 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, the Pope actually shipped some of the marble and mosaics at Aachen to Charlemagne from Rome and Ravenna for this church.

Interior of the Dome of the Rock

Interior of the Dome of the Rock

The alternation of red and white blocks in the arches, however, seems to owe more to recent Islamic buildings. That’s more like the Mosque at Cordoba (built about 784 AD), and to the older Dome of the Rock (built in 691 AD) than it is like 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. That 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:


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