Dom Zu Speyer - Cathedral Architecture & Frescoes (RLP - Germany)

This article first appeared in My Travelogue by Bhushavali

The main reason we visited Speyer Cathedral Germany was because is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Germany. It is infact the 2nd site in Germany to be listed under UNESCO after Aachen Cathedral.

Speyer is a city, but not as busy as major cities like Frankfurt or Berlin. It is relaxed, it is historic and it is picturesque. To some extent it reminded me of Trier, another German City but feels more like a town with its narrow lanes, city scape, lifestyle etc. Like Trier, Speyer is also a part of the Holy Roman Empire and an historic Roman City and has been occupied since 10 BCE. It is located in the banks of Rhine River (yes, the same river whose portion forms another UNESCO site of Upper Middle Rhine Valley).

DOM ZU SPEYER - SPEYER CATHEDRAL 

The origins of this Cathedral is from 1025 CE when King Conrad II built it to be his last resting place. In 1090 CE, his grandson Henry IV expanded the cathedral. However in 17th C, the Cathedral (along with the rest of Speyer town) was destroyed by French troops under Louis XIV. It was restored in 18th C only to be destroyed again in Napoleonic Wars in 19th C, after which it was temporarily even used as an army hospital. After all this, in 1815, it was rebuilt under King Ludwig I of Bavaria. In 1957, it was restored back to its original medieval glory and soon in 1981, it made it to the UNESCO World Heritage list.

First thing that you'd notice as soon as you enter the cathedral is that is humongous & just plain without any colors, paintings or stained glass windows! Even before you enter there's a humongous font in front of the cathedral. During celebrations, this is filled with....... guess what..... wine! The local wine of this region is called Palatinate wine (this is different from Mosel wine). 
The windows are perfectly arched true to the original Romanesque architecture. It is one of the important Romanesque Cathedrals in the world. Though the church was destroyed several times through history it was always built back to its original architecture. There are very few sculptures in this Cathedral, which lends furthermore to the plain & empty feeling. The entire architecture has a lot of symbolizations to it, like - Speyer Cathedral plan looks like a crucifix, 12 arches denoting 12 apostles, 6 vaults denoting 6 days of creation etc. 

The entire cathedral was extensively painted by Johann Baptist Schraudolph in mid 19th C CE under King Ludwig I of Bavaria. Today some of these frescoes are still in the original location, in the nave, on either sides as soon as you enter, between the pillars, above the arches. 
From 1957 CE, a major restoration happened to revert the Cathedral back to how it was in the medieval times. That means, removal of the frescoes!!! However these works of art were too brilliant to be just white-washed. So the restorers came up with a technique to peel off the major frescoes and protect them by mounting them on custom-made platforms in the same shape as the wall (esp., the curvature of the dome). Today, the major frescoes, esp., the ones that were on the ceiling have been preserved in the Emperor's Hall in the upper floor of the Cathedral. These frescoes are of Blessed Mother Mary and life of patron saint St.Stephen of Speyer. One of the fresco is of St.Bernard of Clairvaux in his documented visit to Speyer in 1146. The largest fresco, the one on the dome was of Coronation of Virgin Mary which is more than 80sqm. There is a splendid view of the unremoved frescoes, over the arches of the nave, from Emperor's Hall. I kept wondering how they managed to peel & conserve the frescoes. Its a technique that could be used worldwide to protect very many historic art. I'm yet to learn about it. 

Speyer Cathedral Tower Rhine River

Speyer Cathedral Tower

Speyer Cathedral Tower

Speyer Cathedral Crypt King Rudolf von Habsburg
Right Pic Courtesy: By © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

Speyer Cathedral Crypt

Climbing further ahead, 214 more steps upwards from the Emperor's Hall (totaling to 304 steps from ground) leads to the Tower's viewpoint at 60m high. This is the southwestern tower. There are places to stop & take rest along the climb, till a certain point. Then its a restless upward spiral which really needs some energy and endurance. I really got tired here because I climbed this with Atyudarini in a babywrap on my back. But then it is worth it because the view from atop is fantastic, esp of the mighty Rhine river. Do keep in mind that there is no elevator, so the Emperor's Hall & Tower are not accessible with stroller or wheelchair.

The crypt of Speyer Cathedral is the largest Romanesque crypt in the world comprised of 4 rooms. The portion below the choir is the oldest portion in the whole of the cathedral. Being a historic Roman city, very many important Roman Emperors wished to be buried in this site and there are a whopping 14 identified (+ a few more unidentified) graves in this crypt. The oldest royal grave is of the founder of this cathedral Emperor Conrad II of 1039 CE, as well as his wife Empress Gisela (1043 CE). The oldest Bishop grave is of Bishop Reginbald II of Dillingen (also 1039 CE), who is one of the architects of the Cathedral. 
One of the most unusual things in the crypt is the sculpture of King Rudolf von Habsburg (1291 CE). The emperor is depicted here very realistically with his stressed expression, wrinkles etc. From early 11th C to late 13th C this Dom zu Speyer crypt was the preferred burial site of all royals of Salian, Habsburg and Nassauer dynasties & bishops of the region making it the most important burial place in Germany.

Very close the Speyer Cathedral are Dom Zu Speyer Treasury and sculpture of St.Jakubus. Some of the top things to do in Speyer with kids is Sealife Speyer as well as visiting Technik Museum Speyer. Very close to the Speyer HBF are Adenauerpark and St.Bernard's Church. 2 of the important museums in Speyer are the Historical Museum of the Palatinate Speyer and Museum SchPIRA (Jewish museum).
One day in Speyer: Dom zu Speyer, its treasury, Technik Museum or Sealife Speyer
Two days in Speyer: Day 1 as above. Day 2 - Rest of the places mentioned!

Speyer is served by the major railway station Speyer HBF which is located 1.4km (20 mins walk) away from the Cathedral.
Mannheim HBF to Speyer: S Bahn direct trains are available. Journey time:30 mins
Frankfurt to Speyer Cathedral: ICE/RE train to Mannheim & S Bahn from Mannheim to Speyer. Do keep in mind that ICE trains have dynamic pricing and early pre-booking is good to get cheap tickets (super sparpreis). RE trains do not have dynamic pricing. Total journey time from Frankfurt to Speyer is 1:30h with ICE and 2h with RE.
How to reach Speyer Cathedral from Speyer HBF: Local buses No: 564 & No:565 leave from the railway station every 10 mins to Speyer Cathedral. Beware, this bus doesn't show on Google Maps. 

As I mentioned earlier, though Speyer is called a city, it isn't big or touristy. It is more of a pilgrimage site. There are a few hotels here incl. Ibis Styles Speyer. The nearest larger city is Mannheim which has many hotels including Best Western Plus Mannheim, Hilton Garden Inn Mannheim, Radisson Blu Mannheim etc. We visited Speyer as one of the day-trips from Frankfurt. Read my review of Hilton Frankfurt City Centre.

Speyer Cathedral entry ticket: Free
Speyer Cathedral Audio Guide: €8.50
Speyer Cathedral Crypt & Emperors Tombs: €3.80
Speyer Cathedral Emperor's Hall & Tower: €6 
Combined ticket of all 3 above: €12
It is not possible to purchase them online. The Dom office is located very close  to the Cathedral.

Cathedral timings: Mon-Sat: 9:00AM to 7:00PM; Sun: 11:30AM to 5:30PM
Emperor's Hall & Tower: Open only from April to October

P.S: I was invited by Germany Tourism & Speyer Tourism for review purposes, however the opinions are my own and this post does not to advertise the product/service.

Speyer Cathedral Frescoes Architecture Pinterest  Dom zu Speyer Cathedral UNESCO Pinterest

Bhushavali

An ardent traveler by passion. I am a wanderlust.. Read more about me here.

8 comments:

  1. We are sorry we have never spent any time in Germany. We love to visit UNESCO sites so we definitely would have Speyer Cathedral on our list of things to see. As an architecture geek, I love to look at the building design. And could spend hours looking at fascinating ceiling designs. And I love the colour in the frescoes. So cool how they managed to preserve them. Always worth a climb high for that view!

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  2. We love to visit UNESCO sites when we travel. Speyer Cathedral would certainly be on our list if we have the opportunity to visit Germany. I am so amazed that the crypt dates back to 1039 CE. There is so much history there and I just find it so fascinating!

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  3. First, this is a kind of city I like to visit: relaxed, historic, picturesque, and seems like not too many tourists there. Secondly, I like visiting historic cathedral like this and learn all the stories behind it. Lastly, the cathedral reminded me of a Court House near where I live which was built in the mid 1800s with its arches and sculptures along the arches. After all, they used the same architecture style: Romanesque.

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  4. I have no idea that Speyer Cathedral Germany is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Germany. Colors, paintings, and stained glass windows are fabulous. The interiors look stunning. I'd love to take pictures there with a wide-angle lens.

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  5. Woah! The cathedral's architure is truly fascinating. Happy to know that it is included in UNESCO's World Heritage list. The details are really great. It would be nice to see this personally and appreciate all these perfectly arched structure.

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  6. I love architecture and make a point to visit all the UNESCO sites in a country when I visit. By reading your account of Speyer Cathedral and seeing the pictures, I can totally understand why this is on UNESCO'S world heritage site's list. I could spend hours looking at those frescos and walking through the pillared halls and passages admiring the ceiling and the statuettes. Also, its history of getting destroyed and being rebuilt multiple times without losing its original essence completely - it is so fascinating!

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  7. Wow so much of history these cathedrals have. Love how it has a history around army too where it was used as a hospital. I had never heard of Speyer Cathedral before and I did not even know about the city of Speyer. But the cathedral looks absolutely amazing and I would love to visit it in person.

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  8. The pictures speak out for themselves. Every Cathedral in Europe has something unique to offer and this one being an UNESCO site is understandable. I have been to Germany but had not heard of Speyer. Thank you for the information. I like 'not so busy' cities and looking into their architectures is like turning the pages of history.

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