Past Cities

Aachen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

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Aachen, a city located in the western part of Germany, in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, has a rich and multifaceted history that spans over two millennia. Known for its historical significance, architectural marvels, and vibrant cultural heritage, Aachen has played a pivotal role in shaping the political, economic, and cultural landscape of the region.

Situated near the borders of Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands, Aachen occupies a strategic location within the fertile Meuse-Rhine Euroregion. The city lies in a valley surrounded by the Eifel and Ardennes plateaus, fostering connections between various trade routes and facilitating cultural exchange. The presence of hot springs and mineral-rich water sources attracted settlements to this area since ancient times.

Aachen's origins can be traced back to the Celts, who established a settlement in the area as early as the 5th century BC. However, it was during the Roman period that Aachen gained prominence. The Romans recognized the therapeutic value of Aachen's hot springs and built the "Aquae Granni" complex, which attracted visitors from far and wide. Roman influence extended beyond the thermal baths, shaping the city's infrastructure and road networks.

The most notable era in Aachen's history unfolded during the reign of Charlemagne, who chose Aachen as the center of his empire in the late 8th century. Charlemagne's palace, the Palatine Chapel, and the Aachen Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, stand as enduring testaments to his legacy. Under Charlemagne's rule, Aachen became a thriving cultural and intellectual hub, attracting scholars, artists, and dignitaries from across Europe. The Aachen Palace School emerged as a prominent center for learning, nurturing a renaissance of education and arts.

Following Charlemagne's death, Aachen remained a significant political and religious center within the Holy Roman Empire. German kings sought coronation in Aachen's cathedral, reinforcing the city's role as the imperial capital. The coronation rituals, known as the "Aachen tradition," emphasized the symbolic unity of the empire and its connection to Charlemagne's heritage. This tradition lasted for centuries, with 32 German kings receiving their crowns in Aachen.

During the medieval period, Aachen's economic prosperity grew, driven by its strategic location along the trade routes. The city became a member of the influential Hanseatic League, a commercial and defensive confederation of northern European cities. Aachen thrived as a center for textile production, metallurgy, and commerce, attracting merchants and fostering a vibrant urban culture.

The Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) inflicted significant damage on Aachen, leading to a decline in its economic and political prominence. The city suffered sieges, fires, and the plague, resulting in a population decrease. However, Aachen gradually recovered and witnessed a resurgence during the 19th and 20th centuries. The industrial revolution brought new economic opportunities, and Aachen became known for its coal mines, textile industry, and railway connections.