Cathedral city and spa in the Land (state) of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, 64 km/40 mi southwest of Cologne, near the Dutch and Belgian borders; population (2003 est) 241,300. It has a thriving iron and steel industry; manufacturing includes electronics, glass, food, woollen textiles, rubber, and metal goods. One of Germany's principal railway junctions, it lies at the centre of a coalmining district, although coal and lignite production is in decline. Aachen was the Roman Aquisgranum and was the site of baths in the 1st century. It has been visited for its thermal springs since Roman times, and the spa facilities continue today. Charlemagne, Holy Roman Emperor from 800, made it his northern capital and the leading centre of Carolingian civilization.
From the late 8th century, the city became the hub of the great empire of Charlemagne, both for strategic reasons and for its thermal springs. The 14th-century Rathaus (town hall), containing the hall of the emperors, is built on the site of Charlemagne's imperial palace, and includes the 9th-century Granus Tower. The cathedral, founded by Charlemagne in 796 and in which he is buried, has a Gothic choir, completed in 1414; the Palatine chapel dates from the 9th century. Charlemagne's relics are exhibited to the public every seven years; there was an exhibition in 2000. The Holy Roman Emperors were crowned here from 813 until 1531. In World War II, Aachen was the first major German city to be taken by the Allies when it was captured by the US 1st Army in October 1944; a large part of the city was destroyed and has since been rebuilt. In 1949 the city founded the Charlemagne Prize, honouring people who have contributed to European cooperation.
Features Aachen lies in a forest-ringed basin in the Eifel foothills. Features include the Eurogress Centre (a conference/congress centre), and an equestrian centre at Soers nearby, which has hosted the World Equestrian Festival since 1898. The Rheinisch-Westfälischen Hochschule Aachen (1870) is the largest technical university in Western Europe. The Schatzkammer (treasury) in the city is said to be the richest treasury in Northern Europe. The town has two principal art galleries: the Suermondt-Ludwig Museum, which has a general art collection; and the Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst (1970; Ludwig Forum for International Art), which has a contemporary and modern art collection. The town hosts an annual cultural festival in the summer, which culminates in a series of outdoor musical concerts in Katschhof Square.
History It is thought that Charlemagne was born in Aachen, and 28 of the Holy Roman Emperors were crowned in the city, the last being Ferdinand I. A treaty signed here in 1668 ended the War of Devolution, and a treaty of 1748 ended the War of the Austrian Succession. It was occupied by the French in 1794 and annexed in 1801; the city passed to Prussia in 1815. In 1818 a congress was held here for settling the affairs of Europe after the Napoleonic Wars. As a result of Germany's defeat in World War I, Aachen was occupied by the Allies 1918–30.
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