COLOGNE, GERMANY (KLTV) - The Cologne Cathedral, a symbol of Christianity's influence through the ages, is the most-visited destination in Germany.
Situated along the shores of the river Rhine, the church is also home to the shrine of the Magi, making it one of the most significant pilgrimage destinations for believers.
After the remains of the Magi were transferred from Milan to Cologne in the late 1100s, Archbishop Conrad of Hochstade envisioned a new cathedral worthy of housing the relics. The new building's cornerstone was laid on August 15, 1248, according to the Cologne Cathedral's website.
Master architect Gerhard set out to construct a high cathedral to dwarf those in France. Work pushed on until the 16th century, when funding ran out and interest in the project faded.
For three hundred years, the cathedral stood frozen in time. A wooden crane perched atop the south tower, giving hope the church would one day see completion.
1794 began a dark period in the cathedral's history when French revolutionaries occupied the house of worship and turned it into a stable and prison camp.
In a state of disarray, work resumed in 1842 with funding from the King of Prussia and the citizens of Cologne.
Finally, after six centuries of work, both towers were completed in 1880.
In the 20th century, World War Two threatened the architectural masterpiece and its priceless treasures. The Allies saw Cologne as a valuable target. The city's destruction might be enough to cripple Germany and end the war.
Starting in 1943, a barrage of bombs dropped from hundreds of planes left the city in ruins. Somehow, the Gothic cathedral survived the shelling largely untouched.
After years of restoration, this house of worship is still an impressive edifice by modern standards.
Amid fountains and flying buttresses, twin spires seem to stretch effortless toward the heavens. Topping out 516 feet above the nave, it was the tallest building on Earth until the Washington Monument was finished in 1884.
Breathtaking panoramic views of the city come as a reward for climbing the south tower's 533 steps.
Of the cathedral's eight bells, Saint Peter's bell carries clout. At just under 53 thousand pounds, it's the largest freely swinging church bell in the world.
Inside, statues and priceless medieval art line the walls. The cathedral is also home to Gero Crucifix, the oldest surviving large crucifix.
Every corner of the massive sanctuary is illuminated by colorful sunlight pouring through stained glass windows.
Preserving these priceless treasures is a never-ending job. Scaffolding cradles the soot-covered sandstone facade as a team of workers move from one project to another.
20 thousand visitors pass through the main portal daily to admire the architecture or spend a few moments in a spiritual setting to contemplate creation.
UNESCO declared the Cologne Cathedral a world heritage site in 1996.
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