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Speyer Cathedral

By Rachel Heller

What is Speyer Cathedral?

Speyer Cathedral is a Romanesque-style church with four towers and two domes in Speyer (Spiers), Germany. It dates to the 11th century and was the burial place of German emperors over a 300-year period.

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Text: Speyer Cathedral, Germany. Images: above, the front of the cathedral; below, the interior.

Why is Speyer a UNESCO World Heritage site?

According to its UNESCO listing, Speyer Cathedral is particularly important as a piece of Romanesque architecture: “historically, artistically and architecturally one of the most significant examples of Romanesque architecture in Europe.” It is also the largest.

At the same time, a restoration that took place in the 18th century after a severe fire faithfully followed the original design, making the cathedral also a landmark of the “evolution of the principles of restoration in Germany, in Europe and in the world from the 18th century to the present.”

The Cathedral's front: three arched entrances on the ground floor, a rose window flanked by two arched windows above that, and a row of small pillars above that. A bit of the 8-sided cupola is visible along with two slender square towers on either side of the cupola. The walls are relatively unadorned, just stripes of red and light brown bricks, except for the row of carved images of saints above the central archway.

What can you expect from a visit to Speyer Cathedral?

Speyer Cathedral is a beautifully-preserved example of early Romanesque architecture, with large vaulted spaces inside, much larger and lighter than many Romanesque churches. Its proportions and general symmetry are pleasant to explore, both inside and outside.

The crypt below the cathedral, also with vaulted ceilings, is a large hall in itself – the largest crypt of the Romanesque period, according to UNESCO. An ancient baptismal font sits in the center of the crypt hall, unusual because of its shape and the fact that it was carved from a single stone. Because so many priests worked in this cathedral in the Middle Ages, the crypt has seven altars so that they could all celebrate mass every day.

An adjoining room, directly opposite the main altar in the crypt, is where the emperors were buried. There are also various medieval works of art displayed here and there.

A long narrow central space, with tall pillars on each side. The roof is held up by simple rounded arches across the space. Many rows of pews facing the altar at the end, which is darker than the main space so it isn't visible in this photo.

Is Speyer Cathedral worth visiting?

Speyer Cathedral is worth visiting if you’re in the area: visiting Mannheim or Heidelberg, for example. Because it’s such a pristine example of Romanesque architecture, it’s worth visiting if you are particularly interested in religious architecture and/or architectural history in general. There is little here to interest kids, so give it a miss if kids are traveling with you. In any case, it probably won’t take more than about half an hour to see it well.

Tips for visiting

Make sure to visit the crypt, but also take a look at the relics in the St. Catherine Chapel at the end of the right-hand aisle. Notice too the very large sculpture outside the church, which depicts the Mount of Olives.

If you’re traveling by car, Speyer is not far from some other lesser-known UNESCO sites – ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and Mainz; Maulbronn Abbey; Mathildenhohe Darmstadt; Messel Pit Fossil Site; and the Abby and Altenmunser of Lorsch – as well as the famous castles of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley.

Find accommodations in Speyer or any other location.

A view of Speyer Cathedral from an angle. The front is flat and relatively unadorned in stripes of red brick and lighter brick. An 8-sided cupola on top of it and 2 towers are visible, one on the near side of the cupola and one at the back of the church.

Where is Speyer Cathedral?

Speyer Cathedral is right in the center of the city of Speyer (Spiers), and a 15-minute walk from Speyer train station. Speyer is part of the excellent German train system, so it’s easy to get there from any other city. For example, it’s an hour by train from Heidelberg, 40 minutes from Mannheim, or an hour and a half from Frankfurt.

By car it’s also easy to reach, and in theory – if there’s no traffic – will take less time than the train. However, you are likely to have to pay to park in a parking garage.

Have you been to Speyer Cathedral? If so, do you have any additional information or advice about this UNESCO World Heritage site? Please add your comments below!