The Town Hall of Augsburg is one of the most significant secular buildings of the Renaissance style north of the Alps. On 25 August 1615, the foundation stone of the building was laid. The exterior of the building was completed in March 1620, and the interior in 1624. Technologically, the Augsburger Rathaus was a pioneering performance; upon its completion it was the first building in the world with more than six storeys. The rigid elegance of the large stonework was similar to Florence, the cultural and financial capital of Northern Italy, with which the city gladly compared itself. The self-image of the Free Imperial City of Augsburg is represented by two conspicuous ornaments on the large gable at the front of the building: the first is the Reichsadler, or Imperial Eagle of the Holy Roman Empire, representing the town's importance; the second is the large copper pine cone, or Zirbelnuss, which is the symbol of Augsburg.
The view of the Rathaus was almost completely blocked by the stock exchange building built in 1828, until British bombing on the night of 25 February 1944 destroyed the latter. The removal of the remains of the stock exchange in the 1960s finally made it possible to view the Rathaus properly from the town square.
The original Augsburger Rathaus was built in 1385, and it was decided at the beginning of the seventeenth century to complete a simple renovation of it in order to accommodate the Imperial Reichstag, which then sat in the city. In 1609, the town council commissioned the renowned architect, Elias Holl, to draw up a renovation plan for the Gothic building. It was only after six years of work that Holl could produce a plan for the magistrates, but this was rejected by the council, and, to Holl's surprise, he was issued with a new brief: to demolish the old Gothic town hall and erect in its place a beautiful new building.
Elias Holl produced his plan for the new Augsburger Rathaus, which was to be built in the Renaissance style, and, on 25 August 1615, the foundation stone was laid. It was the will of the magistrates that the Rathaus should not have a tower, however Elias Holl insisted on the famous onion domes by the gable, and in 1618 was allowed to proceed. The exterior of the Rathaus was completed in 1620, and the interior in 1624, following an almost fifteen-year planning phase and nine years of building.
Inside the Rathaus, Holl built three overlaying halls: on the ground floor, behind the main entrance, is the Lower Fletz, and on the floor above, the Upper Fletz; by far the most impressive room in the building, however, is the double-height Goldener Saal, or Golden Hall, with its magnificent doorways, murals and coffered ceiling. Adjacent to the Goldener Saal are the Fürstenzimmer, or Prince's Rooms, designed as retreats for important guests. The construction cost of the new Rathaus was around 100,000 Guilder.
The Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), which spread across Europe shortly after the beginning of work on the Rathaus, also took its toll on Augsburg. One of the major economic centres of the continent before the war, it emerged in the middle of the seventeenth century in decline. The war had cost Augsburg not only its centuries-old economic supremacy in Europe, but also more than half of its population. The Reichstag, for which the splendid Rathaus was originally built, now took place in other German cities. Only once more, in the late 17th Century, was the Rathaus the scene of a celebration of nationwide importance, when Joseph I held a banquet in the Golden Hall in 1690, on his coronation as King of the Romans.
During the devastating British bombing of Augsburg in World War II, the Rathaus was hit a number of times by high-explosive and incendiary bombs, completely burning the exterior of the building. The Rathaus was rebuilt after the war, the exterior according to its historic appearance but the interior much simplified, and from 1955 was again used as the administrative centre of the city. Between 1980 and 1984, the façade of the building was restored to its original colours, according to historical records. Inside the Renaissance building, what had been damaged in the Golden Hall during the war was restored to its original splendour, and on 9 January 1985, the Rathaus was reopened as part of the city's two-thousandth anniversary celebrations.
The Augsburger Rathaus now houses permanent exhibits on the history of the former imperial city and its partner cities, as well as requently changing exhibitions on different historical and current political issues.. These are held in the Lower Fletz and are open to any visitor. The Goldener Saal is a popular venue for receptions, concerts and ceremonies. The Lower Fletz and Goldener Saal are open daily, although there is an entrance charge to the Goldener Saal. The basement of the Rathaus houses a Rathskeller.References:
From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.
The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.
At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.
The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.
The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.
Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).
The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.
At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».
The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.