1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Aix-la-Chapelle

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AIX-LA-CHAPELLE (Ger. Aachen, Dutch Aken), a city and spa of Germany, in the kingdom of Prussia, situated in a pleasant valley, 44 m. W. of Cologne and contiguous to the Belgian and Dutch frontiers, to which its municipal boundaries extend. Pop. (1885) 95,725; (1905) including Burtscheid, 143,906. Its position, at the centre of direct railway communications with Cologne and Dusseldorf respectively on the E. and Liège-Brussels and Maestricht-Antwerp on the W., has favoured its rise to one of the most prosperous commerical towns of Germany. The city consists of the old inner town, the former ramparts of which have been converted into promenades, and the newer outer town and suburbs. Of the ancient gates but two remain, the Ponttor on the N.W. and the Marschiertor on the S. Its general appearance is that rather of a spacious modern, than of a medieval city full of historical associations.

Of the cluster of buildings in the centre, which are conspicuous from afar, the town hall (Rathaus) and the cathedral are specially noteworthy. The former, standing on the south side of the market square, is a Gothic structure, erected in 1353-1370 on the ruins of Charlemagne's palace. It contains the magnificent coronation hall of the emperors (143 ft. by 61 ft.), in which thirty-five German kings and eleven queens have banqueted after the coronation ceremony in the cathedral. The two ancient towers, the Granusturm to the W. and the Glockenturm to the E., both of which to a large extent had formed part of the Carolingian palace, were all but destroyed in the fire by which the Rathaus was seriously damaged in 1883. Their restoration was completed in 1902. Behind the Rathaus is the Grashaus, in which Richard of Cornwall, king of the Romans, is said to have held his court. It was restored in 1889 to accommodate the municipal archives. The cathedral is of great historic and architectural interest. Apart from the spire, which was rebuilt in 1884, it consists of two parts of different styles and date. The older portion, the capella in palatio, an octagonal building surmounted by a dome, was designed on the model of San Vitale at Ravenna by Udo of Metz, was begun under Charlemagne's auspices in 796 and consecrated by Pope Leo III. in 805. After being almost entirely wrecked by Norman raiders it was rebuilt, on the original lines, in 983, by the emperor Otto III. It is surrounded on the first story by a sixteen-sided gallery (the Hochmunster) adorned by antique marble and granite columns, of various sizes, brought by Charlemagne's orders from Rome, Ravenna and Trier. These were removed by Napoleon to Paris, but restored to their original positions after the peace of 1815. The mosaic representing Christ surrounded by “the four-and-twenty elders,” which originally lined the cupola, had almost entirely perished by the 19th century, but was re-stored in 1882 from a copy made in the 17th century. Interesting too are the magnificent west doors, cast in bronze by native workmen in 804. Underneath the dome, according to tradition, was the tomb of Charlemagne, which, on being opened by Otto III. in 1000, disclosed the body of the emperor, vested in white coronation robes and seated on a marble chair. This chair, now placed in the gallery referred to, was used for centuries in the imperial coronation ceremonies. The site of the tomb is marked by a stone slab, with the inscription Carlo Magno, and above it hangs the famous bronze chandelier presented by the emperor Frederick I. (Barbarossa) in 1168. Charlemagne's bones are preserved in an ornate shrine in the Hungarian Chapel, lying to the north of the octagon. The casket was opened in 1906, at the instance of the emperor William II., and the draperies enclosing the body were temporarily removed to Berlin, with a view to the reproduction of similar cloth. The Gothic choir, forming the more modern portion of the cathedral, was added during the latter half of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th century, and contains the tomb of the emperor Otto III. The cathedral possesses many relics, the more sacred of which are exhibited only once every seven years, when they attract large crowds of worshippers.

Of the other thirty-three churches in the city those of St Foillan (founded in the 12th century, but twice rebuilt, in the 15th and 17th centuries, and restored in 1883) and St Paul, with its beautiful stained-glass windows, are remarkable. In addition to those already mentioned, Aix-la-Chapelle possesses several fine secular buildings: the Suermondt museum, containing besides other miscellaneous exhibits the fine collection of pictures by early German, Dutch and Flemish masters, presented to the town by Bartholomäus Suermondt (d. 1887); the public library; the theatre; the post-office; and the fine new central railway station. Among the schools may be mentioned the magnificently equipped Rhenish-Westphalian Polytechnic School (built 1865-1870) and the school of mining and electricity, founded in 1897.

There are many fine streets and squares and some handsome public monuments, notably among the last the fountain on the market square surmounted by a statue of Charlemagne, the bronze equestrian statue of the emperor William I. facing the theatre, the Kriegerdenkmal (a memorial to those who fell in the war of 1870) and the Kongress-Denkmal, a marble hall in antique style erected in 1844 on the Adalberts-Steinweg to commemorate the famous congress of 1818 (see below). Of the squares, the principal is the Friedrich-Wilhelmplatz, on which lies the Elisenbrunnen with its colonnade and garden, the chief resort of visitors taking the baths and waters.

The hot sulphur springs of Aix-la-Chapelle were known to the Romans and have been celebrated for centuries as specific in the cure of rheumatism, gout and scrofulous disorders. There are six in all, of which the Kaiserquelle, with a temperature of 136° F., is the chief. In the neighbouring Burtscheid (incorporated in 1897 with Aix-la-Chapelle) are also springs of far higher temperature, and this suburb, which has also a Kurgarten, is largely frequented during the season.

In respect of trade and industry Aixda-Chapelle occupies a high place. Its cloth and silk manufactures are important, and owing to the opening up of extensive coalfields in the district almost every branch of iron industry is carried on. It has some large breweries and manufactories of chemicals, and does a considerable trade in cereals, leather, timber and wine. It is also an important banking centre and has several insurance societies of reputation.

The country immediately surrounding Aix-la-Chapelle presents many attractive features. From the Lousberg and the Salvatorberg to the north, the latter crowned by a chapel, magnificent views of the city are obtained; while covering the hills 2 m. west stretches the Stadtwald, a forest with charming walks and drives.

History.—Aix-la-Chapelle is the Aquisgranum of the Romans, named after Apollo Granus, who was worshipped in connexion with hot springs. As early as A.D. 765 King Pippin had a “palace” here, in which it is probable that Charlemagne was born. The greatness of Aix was due to the latter, who between 777 and 786 built a magnificent palace on the site of that of his father, raised the place to the rank of the second city of the empire, and made it for a while the centre of Western culture and learning. From the coronation of Louis the Pious in 813 until that of Ferdinand I. in 1531 the sacring of the German kings took place at Aix, and as many as thirty-two emperors and kings were here crowned. In 851, and again in 882, the place was ravaged by the Northmen in their raids up the Rhine. It was not, however, till late in the 12th century (1172-1176) that the city was surrounded with walls by order of the emperor Frederick I., to whom (in 1166) and to his grandson Frederick II. (in 1215) it owed its first important civic rights. These were still further extended in 1250 by the anti-Caesar William of Holland, who had made himself master of the place and of the imperial regalia, after a long siege, in 1248. The liberties of the burghers were, however, still restrained by the presence of a royal advocatus (Vogt) and bailiff. In 1300 the outer ring of walls was completed, the earlier circumvallation being marked by the limit of the Altstadt (old city). In the 14th century Aix, now a free city of the Holy Roman Empire, played a conspicuous part, especially in the league which, between 1351 and 1387, kept the peace between the Meuse and the Rhine. In 1450 an insurrection led to the admission of the gilds to a share in the municipal government. In the 16th century Aix began to decline in importance and prosperity. It lay too near the French frontier to be safe. and too remote from the centre of Germany to be convenient, as a capital; and in 1562 the election and coronation of Maximilian II. took place at Frankfort-on-Main, a precedent followed till the extinction of the Empire. The Reformation, too, brought its troubles. In 1580 Protestantism got the upper hand; the ban of the empire followed and was executed by Ernest of Bavaria, archbishop-elector of Cologne in 1598. A relapse of the city led to a new ban of the emperor Matthias in 1613, and in the following year Spinola's Spanish troops brought back the recalcitrant city to the Catholic fold. In 1656 a great fire completed the ruin wrought by the religious wars. By the treaty of Luneville (1801) Aix was incorporated with France as chief town of the department of the Roer. By the congress of Vienna it was given to Prussia. The contrast between the new regime and the ancient tradition of the city was curiously illustrated in 1818 by a scene described in Metternich's Memoirs, when, before the opening of the congress, Francis I., emperor of Austria, regarded by all Germany as the successor of the Holy Roman emperors, knelt at the tomb of Charlemagne amid a worshipping crowd, while the Protestant Frederick William III. of Prussia, the new sovereign of the place, stood in the midst, “looking very uncomfortable.”

See Quix, Geschichte der Stadt Aachen (1841); Pick, Aus Aachens Vergangenheit (Aachen, 1895); Bock, Karls des grossen Pfalzkapelle (Cologne, 1867); and Beissel, Aachen als Kurort (1889).