Cologne Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church in Cologne, Germany and the seat of the Archbishop of Cologne. It is a renowned monument of German Catholicism and Gothic architecture and is a World Heritage Site.
Construction of Cologne Cathedral commenced in 1248 and was halted in 1473, leaving it unfinished. Work restarted in the 19th century and was completed, to the original plan, in 1880. It is 144 m long, 86.5 m wide and its towers are approximately 157 m tall. The cathedral is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe and has the second-tallest spires and largest facade of any church in the world.
Cologne's medieval builders had planned a grand structure to house the reliquary of the Three Kings and fit its role as a place of worship for the Holy Roman Emperor. Despite having been left incomplete during the medieval period, Cologne Cathedral eventually became unified as “a masterpiece of exceptional intrinsic value” and “a powerful testimony to the strength and persistence of Christian belief in medieval and modern Europe”
The cathedral suffered seventy hits by aerial bombs during World War II. It did not collapse, but stood tall in an otherwise flattened city. The great twin spires are said to have been used as an easily recognizable navigational landmark by Allied aircraft raiding deeper into Germany in the later years of the war, which may be a reason that the cathedral was not destroyed.
Especially heavy were the attacks on 30 and 31 May 1942. With 1,000 bombers the British Air Force tried for the first time its new strategy of large-area bombardment. 864 high explosive bombs, 11,000 incendiary bombs, 20 air mines and more than 1,000 phosphorus incendiary bombs and phosphorus canisters were dropped. This huge blazing fire started 12,000 individual fires which united in 1,700 major fires. The heat burned the tubes of the firemen before they reached the fires. The pilots of the next bombing wave could see the volcano-like glow of Cologne already from the North Sea.
Whole neighborhoods were reduced to rubble and ashes, and the attacks on the almost two thousand years old city killed 20,000 people, mostly civilians.