Culture and the empire in Speyer

“Get yourselves to Speyer,” was the recommendation of the greatest German poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. And no doubt he would also have suggested having a look around the cathedral. Perhaps, when he visited Speyer, he also climbed the tower to enjoy the fantastic view over Speyer, the Anterior Palatinate and neighbouring Baden. There are 304 steps in the south tower to the viewing platform at a height of around 60 metres. The impressive cathedral is the largest monument to the Romanesque era and the most important, given its history. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981.

Salian Emperor Conrad II had the cathedral built in the 11th century. It is now considered the largest Romanesque church in the world. This is thanks to the emperor’s ambitious plans to build the longest church in the world in Speyer. It was still a building site when Conrad II, the first Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, was buried in the cathedral in 1039. Three further emperors and three medieval kings have their last resting place in the Herrschergruft crypt, which was consecrated in 1040 and is now the oldest part of the church building. The cathedral itself was not consecrated until 1061.

The Speyer cathedral, Palatinate

The Speyer cathedral, Palatinate

The work to convert it began just 20 years later. The nave was given a huge arch, extra height was added to the towers and the walls were crowned with a dwarf gallery. Thus the cathedral came to look as it does today under Emperor Henry IV.

Over the years, the cathedral has not been spared fire and destruction in wars and revolutions. It was almost demolished in 1806 at the time of the French Revolution. When the cathedral underwent a massive renovation in the 1950s, it went back to its Romanesque roots. The 19th-century paintings were removed and the floor restored to its original level. The church’s five bronze portals also date back to this time.

The nave of Speyer cathedral, Palatinate

The imposing nave of Speyer cathedral, Palatinate

In line with the imperial jubilee celebrations organised by the General Directorate for Cultural Heritage in Rhineland-Palatinate for 2020/21, the atrium of the cathedral has been comprehensively restored under the supervision of Hedwig Drabig, the youngest cathedral architect in Germany. Unlike the Romanesque parts of the cathedral, this Neo-Romanesque section has long been underestimated as a piece of art. The semi-open space is now dominated by the two striking tombs of Rudolf of Hapsburg and Adolf of Nassau, the sculptures in the gold-plated niches and the imposing three-bay brick vault.

The richly decorated west façade with its large rosette window, designed by Heinrich Hübsch, is an architectural triumph. It is framed by a square with symbols of the four evangelists in each corner. Under the rosette and above the west portal, you can see the five patron saints, Bernard of Clairvaux, Archangel Michael, the Virgin Mary, John the Baptist and St Stephen.

The doors of the cathedral are open all year round, not only for services and to look around, but also for concerts. For over three decades, the middle of October to November has been the traditional time for the Internationale Musiktage Dom zu Speyer (International Music Festival around Speyer Cathedral, known as IMS), which features exquisite classical music played by leading musicians. It is a highly respected music festival in the Palatinate and beyond.

Relief in Speyer Cathedral, Palatinate

Relief of the emperors and kings buried in Speyer Cathedral, Palatinate

More recommended excursions for culture lovers in Speyer:

More information about holidays in Speyer

Find out everything about events, sights and more destinations in Speyer at Tourist-Information Speyer.

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