Cologne’s Cathedral Quarter – Cologne, Rhineland, Germany

Two Thousand Years of European Art

The 14th-century poet Petrarch thought Cologne’s twin-towered Dom one of the finest cathedrals in the world. Take a 509-step hike to the windswept gallery high in the 515-foot south tower and you have climbed the highest church tower in the world, in its day the tallest manmade construction of any kind.

It took more than 600 years to complete the Dom. Construction was begun over some Roman ruins after Frederick Barbarossa donated the relics of the Three Magi to Cologne, establishing the city as a major pilgrimage destination. They are still on display in their original 12th-century reli­quary behind the high altar, which itself dates back to the early 14th century.

Head into the far more distant past at the nearby Germano-Roman Museum, just south of the Dom. While building an underground air-raid shelter in 1941, workers unearthed ancient Roman foundations, including a per­fectly preserved mosaic floor from a Roman trader’s villa.

Once you surface, you can head back to the future at the Wallraf-Richartz Museum and the Museum Ludwig, on the other side of the Dom. Housed in a huge art complex, the Wallraf-Richartz contains paint­ ings from the 14th to the 20th centuries. The Ludwig is devoted exclusively to 20th-century art, its collection rivaled only by that of New York’s Guggenheim. In effect, you can view 2,000 years of Western art and architecture without leaving the shadow of the cathedral.

At the end of the day, put your feet up at the Dom Hotel, nestled up against the great Gothic cathedral. The Dom Hotel proudly offers suave, old-fashioned, but friendly serv­ice that few hotels even aspire to anymore, with an almost one-to-one ratio of staff to indulged hotel guests.

Deluxe rooms face the Dom Platz and have an angled view of the cathedral, which may also be admired from the glass-enclosed Atelier am Dom, the hotel’s see-and-be-seen outdoor cafe. A view like that calls for a glass of the popular Kolsch beer, a light, clear local brew. Then you have an appointment with Petersglocke, the world’s largest church bell, which tips the scales at 24 tons. When it rings out the hour, you’ll know.

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