Speyer Cathedral, a basilica with four towers and two domes, was founded by Conrad II in 1030 and remodelled at the end of the 11th century. It is one of the most important Romanesque monuments from the time of the Holy Roman Empire. The cathedral was the burial place of the German emperors for almost 300 years.
peyer Cathedral exerted a considerable influence not only on the development of Romanesque architecture in the 11th and 12th centuries, but also on the evolution of the principles of restoration in Germany, in Europe, and in the world from the 18th century to the present.
The cathedral, along with those of Worms and Mainz, is a major monument of Romanesque art. It is, by virtue of its proportions, the largest, and, by virtue of the history to which it is linked (the Salic emperors made it their place of burial), the most important.
The cathedral, dedicated to St Mary and St Stephen, was founded by Conrad II and was built essentially between 1030 and 1106. It incorporates the general layout of St Michael of Hildesheim and brings to perfection a type of plan that was adopted generally in the Rhineland. This plan is characterized by the equilibrium of the eastern and western blocks and by the symmetrical and singular placement of the towers which frame the mass formed by the nave and the transept. Under Henry IV renovations and extensions were undertaken.
Speyer Cathedral is the first known structure to be built with a gallery that encircles the whole building. The system of arcades added during these renovations was also a first in architectural history.
In 1689 the cathedral was seriously damaged by fire. Following this disaster, the architect I. M. Neumann attempted its reconstruction in the Romanesque style, in the 18th century, although not without inventing a Baroque Westwerk (1772-78). The Bavarian King Ludwig I commissioned the painting of the interior. From 1846 to 1853 painters of the school of Johannes Schraudolph and Josef Schwarzmann completed the work in late Nazarene style.
This addition was replaced in 1854-58 by a western block, a pastiche of the Romanesque style in keeping with current ideas. During the same period, the entire interior was enhanced by heavy neo-Romanesque decorative paintings and large historical panels, attributed to Schraudolph and his atelier.
Starting in 1957, the removal of the paintings and the layers of painted plaster was undertaken in order to restore the 11th-century form of the cathedral. The crypt is of special interest as it has retained its original condition to the present day. It houses the graves of no less than eight medieval German emperors and kings, buried there between 1039 and 1309. It also includes the grave of Emperor Konrad II, who had to be buried elsewhere for the first two years after he died because the crypt was not yet finished at the time of his death.
A huge stone font, with a capacity of 1,560 litres, stands on the square in front of the main portal of the cathedral. This font once symbolized the borderline between the diocese and the city.
Speyer Cathedral is one of the most important Romanesque monuments from the time of the Holy Roman Empire and the imposing triple-aisled vaulted basilica is the culmination of a design that was to be very influential in the subsequent development of Romanesque architecture during the 11th and 12th centuries.