The famous Gothic cathedral, the largest in northern Europe, was closed from the end of the war until 1956. It contains the relics of the Wise Men of the East and the paintings of Stephen Lochner. The cathedral was begun in 1248 on the site of an older church, but the nave and the two spires (each spire 515 ft/157 m high) were built according to the original plans between 1842 and 1880.
Other historic buildings in the city include the Romanesque churches of St. Maria im Kapitol, of St. Gereon, of the Holy Apostles, and of St. Andreas (where Albertus Magnus, the 13th-century scholastic, is buried); the Gothic and Renaissance city hall; and the Gürzenich (1441–44), formerly a meeting place of the city's merchants and now a concert hall. Impressive modern structures include the opera house and the radio and television broadcasting stations.
As the center of German Catholicism, Cologne has long been famous for its impressive religious processions and for its exuberant Mardi Gras celebrations. The city figures prominently in German romantic literature. Cologne is the seat of a university (founded 1388; discontinued 1798; reestablished 1919) and numerous museums, including those of painting, ethnology, and municipal history. The European Astronaut Center also is there.