Cologne Gateways

19/04/2024 08:47

Since Roman times, Cologne had strong walls to ensure the defence of the city. Later, in medieval age, new walls and gates were built, some of these have survived to this day.

Between the 1st and 3rd centuries, the Roman city on the banks of the Rhine, on the limits of the Empire, built walls to protect itself in an increasingly unstable border. That first defensive ring was expanded on several occasions until the extension of its walls was doubled around the year 1180. The first expansion was conducted after Viking pirates visits, they sailed with their longships up the Rhine waters. They sacked Cologne in the year 862 and, again, in 882. The city reinforced the Roman walls in the year 950 and, again and now covering a larger area, in the years 1106 and 1180, when about forty thousand people already inhabited it. In this last extension, that of 1180, the wall had twelve gates, fifty-two defence towers and twenty-two fortifications. In Prussian times the walls were remodelled again and some fortresses were added, of which those of the old university and the Agnesviertel neighbourhood are still preserved. But by the end of the century, the wall was a hindrance to the growth of the city and, in 1880, they began to be demolished.

A fragment of the painting Martyrium der heiligen Ursula vor der Stadt Köln (the Martyrdom of Saint Ursula in Cologne) by the Master of the Little Passion painted in 1411 and exhibited in the city's Wallraf-Richartz Museum, shows the walls and gates facing towards the Rhine. A more modern map, the one published in 1800 in London by John Stockdale, still indicates the sixteen gates of the Rhineland city. In a photograph taken in 1880 or 1881, the first demolition work on the wall can be seen with an inscription that reads: Alt-Köln Die erste Bresche in der alten Stadtmauer am Gereonshof, der Anfag zur Stadterweiterung 1880. (Old colony. The first breach in the old city wall at Gereonshof, the beginning of the city's expansion in 1880.)

Currently, the perimeter of the medieval wall can still be explored in some sections, where some fragment of canvas was preserved, for example along the Hansaring or Sachsenring, perimeter roads of the old town. Fragments of the ancient Roman walls can be seen in the Römisch Germanisches Museum, near the cathedral. It is estimated that it was about four kilometres long, with nine entrances and nineteen semicircular towers.

As for the gateways, from twelve that the medieval city had, three have been preserved: the Eigelsteintor gate to the north, the Hahnentor gate to the west and the Severinstor gate to the south.

The first, the Eigelsteintor, was opened with the third expansion of the city, in the 12th century, replacing a previous one that was located a hundred meters away. It is protected by two large circular towers topped with battlements and above the pointed access arch there is a covered wooden balustrade that does not appear in a photograph taken in 1880. Its name comes from the pineapple-shaped ornaments of the tombstones of the ancient Roman necropolis, a symbol of immortality that seemed to the city's inhabitants to be stone acorns, Eicheln aus Stein. During the French occupation it was known as Porte de l'Aigle, gate of the eagle. Seen from the interior, on the other façade, the upper body presents, on two floors, four mullioned windows inscribed in two semicircular arches; to the left of the arch, in a niche, is the sculpture representing the Kölsche Boor, the Cologne farmer who carries the keys and the city's coat of arms with the double-headed eagle.

On Rudolfplatz, to the west of the city, the Hahnentor Gate is very similar to the previous one, although it was built around one century later, it follows the same pointed arch structure flanked by two large crenelated towers. The kings entered through here on the way to the cathedral after being crowned in Aachen. Hahnentor was also used as a prison and here, in 1877, the first tram line was inaugurated, when horses still pulled these.

On Chlodwigplatz in Altstadt Süd, on the route towards Bonn, is the southern gate, the Severinstor, with a short section of wall. Built in the first half of the 13th century, it features the large four-story hexagonal central tower with a crenelated terrace and flanked by two smaller towers covered by a polygonal roof. Five machicolations reinforce the walkway that joins the towers above the arch. From the back of the door you can see the central tower three floors with two windows on the first one and four arched openings on each of the other two levels.

Next to the Rhine stand three towers that have been left isolated. The Treppenturm des Stapelhauses, between Groß St Martin church and the river. The thin, hexagonal tower has risen since 1259 in front of the fish market square. Opposite another church, St Maria Lyskyrchen, is the Malakoffturm. This is much later, completed in 1855 to protect the mouth of the port dock with a battery. Built in red brick, it has a structure of three bodies, one of them is a circular tower and another, the highest, is a two-story octagonal tower, both crenelated. A plaque at the base commemorates the extension of the fort at the end of the 19th century. Another of the towers that have been preserved is the Bayernturm, it is located on Bayernstrasse, further south than the previous one, all of them stand next to the riverbank. The Bayernturm dates back to the year 1220 and reaches about thirty-five meters high. It has a square base with three floors to which, later, the two upper octagonal floors topped with battlements were added. It is currently the headquarters of the FrauenMedia Turm foundation.

From the Severinstor, following along the bounds of the old city, along the Sachsenring, you soon reach Ulrepforte, which was also a medieval gate at the beginning of the 13th century, its lofty tower crowned by a circular timber-covered gallery. Near the entrance a bronze guard stands eternal guard. Few steps away  is a long stretch of wall surrounded by two conical-roofed towers, this is Kartauserwall, another relic of the past.

© J.L.Nicolas

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