The Palatine Chapel and throne of Charlemagne had been burning hot near the top of our travel list for years, so “Charlemagne’s throne room is closed today” was definitely not what we wanted to hear on arriving in the tourist office of Aachen after a journey of two flights and three train rides. I had thoroughly researched, checked and double-checked Aachen’s tourist information website and there had been no warning of the closure. The main floor of the chapel was open, but a TV crew would be filming on the second floor all day so all tours were cancelled. Well, tourist information/visitor services is what I do for a living, in fact, I had recently written about how to talk to visitor services staff, so, while HOB cringed and hid behind a rack of postcards, I had a chat with the young man working at the counter. Within minutes the man agreed to give us a private tour of the chapel’s upper gallery. Three cheers for the customer service hero of Aachen!
Charlemagne’s throne, facing East in the upper story of the octagon-shaped chapel since the 790’s. More than 30 Germanic kings were crowned here until 1531. The steps of the throne were constructed from recycled (aka stolen) columns from a temple in Rome. On one side of the throne there are lines scratched in the side by Roman soldiers for a tic-tac-toe-ish board game (I wonder if Charlemagne ever noticed that….)
The octagon shape of the ceiling symbolized eternity.
This is a picture of the interior San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy, which was a prototype of the Palatine Chapel. (Too bad I look like a lizard in this photo….any moment a long tongue is going to uncoil from my mouth and I’ll start licking those yummy mosaics.)
The area below the windows is known as a cloister vault. The marble pillars were taken from ancient buildings in Rome and Ravenna.
The upper story.
The tour guide told us this mouse is the only non-symbolic animal depicted in the chapel mosaics. Apparently, mosaic apprentice artists throughout Europe were sent to the chapel and if they didn’t find the mouse they were considered a poor candidate for a mosaic-making job.
The 12th century Barbarossa chandelier.
Charlemagne himself helped design the chapel.
In medieval Europe, the pelican was a Christian symbol of the Passion of Christ. In this mosaic from the chapel she is wounding her breast to feed her chicks from her blood.
Here you can see the eight structural piers that angle in to hold up the chapel’s magnificent ceiling.
The Gothic choir was added to help contain the crowds of pilgrims visiting the chapel. The 13th century shrine contains the remains of Charlemagne.
The Infamous Blue Traveling Poncho admires Carolingian architecture.
Nothing makes you looks like an emperor more than proudly holding up an orb.
The gold bust of Charlemagne. He was about six feet tall at a time when the average man was 5’5″–in other words, he was a giant.
Just between you and me, I preferred the cookie bust of Charlemagne.
How we got to Aachen: train from Cologne.
Where we slept: Hotel Stadtnah. Price: €57 for a double. Recommended: yes.