A Brief History of Cologne
Cologne was formally founded in AD 50, when Emperor Claudius’ wife Agrippa attached her name to her place of birth. The former military camp became a city known back then as Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (CCAA) – Colonia eventually became Köln in German, Cologne in French, but survived in several Latin languages. In the fourth century, Emperor Constantine made Cologne a bishopric, placing it firmly on the path to become a major religious center.
After the Romans left, Cologne came under the control of the Franks. Charlemagne upgraded it to an archbishopric and more than 150 churches were built here during the Middle Ages – the most famous, the magnificent Gothic Dom that took 600 years to complete. After Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa had confiscated the relics of the Magi in Milan, he donated them to Cologne in 1164. This started Cologne’s role as pilgrimage center, second only to Rome for much of the Middle Ages.
The temporal powers of the archbishop were broken in the 13th century and after that Cologne developed rapidly as a trade and commercial center. In the Hanseatic League, it was second only to Lübeck. In terms of population, it was the largest city in Germany for more than a millennium until Berlin surpassed it in the late 19th century.
Cologne became a Free Imperial City in 1475 and remained independent until the French occupied the city from 1794 to 1814. Thereafter it became part of Prussia. During World War II, 90% of the old town and 70% of the surrounding area were destroyed by air raids. Like St Paul’s in London, the Dom somehow survived with relatively minor damage. The city’s population dwindled from more than 800,000 at the outset of war to only 45,000 directly afterward as people fled the city.
Cologne rapidly recovered after the war as one of the leading industrial cities in Germany. It also houses media giants, such as the broadcasters RTL and WDR, as well as several publishers. It is a vibrant city with a diverse cultural life and art scene. For many diplomats, Cologne made life bearable when they were posted to sleepy Bonn nearby during the Cold War era.
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