Corvey world heritage site was established 1,200 years ago
North Rhine-Westphalia's Corvey has its origins as a monastery in the Middle Ages. Only the Karolingische Westwerk has survived. The site's roots go back 1,200 years.
Oldest existing westwork
Corvey made its successful application for World Heritage status based on the civitas and the westwork, which date back to the 9th century. The square central building with its double-tower facade is the oldest surviving westwork in the world. It forms the church building's west-facing entrance. The two spires were added in the 16th century.
Foundations on the riverbank
French Benedictine monks built the monastery of Corvey on the banks of the River Weser in 822. Fourteen years later, the relics of St. Vitus were transferred from Paris to Corvey. The Benedictine monastery soon grew to become a place of pilgrimage and one of the most important monasteries of the Middle Ages.
This plaque inscribed on the monastery's foundation refers to a city that was established in the church's surroundings. In the 12th century, that city was destroyed. Archaeologists have excavated remains from the settlement, which have been preserved underground. The Corvey Civitas is considered one of the few nearly-intact archaeological monuments of an entire medieval city.
Hall of arches
A vaulted hall on the ground floor shapes the westwork's entrance. Columns and pillars support the upper level, where the main room is situated. Its architecture makes Corvey one of the most striking examples of the Carolingian Renaissance since Charlemagne's rule in the early 9th century
Arcade fit for a king
The large walkway in the gallery on the upper floor is the heart of the westwork. German kings and emperors were once enthroned here in the imperial arcade during church services and diets. From this room, they oversaw the running of the entire church. Corvey abbey served as a center for missionary activity in the north and as a base for its secular power.
The few frescoes remaining from the Carolingian period hint at just how ornately decorated the westwork must have been. The paintings show acanthus vines and motifs from Greek mythology, such as the battle between Odysseus and the sea monster Scylla. Since the time of Charlemagne, monasteries have recorded knowledge and handed down the culture of antiquity.
The Carolingian church was badly damaged during the Thirty Years' War. Only the original westwork remains. In 1667, the dilapidated church was replaced by a new building, designed in the Baroque style. The Gothic nave with its ribbed vault serve as a reminder of the former building.
Ducal castle complex
Many of the other Corvey buildings were also heavily damaged during the Thirty Years' War. In 1671, the monastery was rebuilt as a Baroque residence, but it wasn't until the 1794 secularization that the site's religious community began to dissolve. Forty years later, Corvey was acquired by the ducal family of Ratibor. Today the baroque castle is the family's main place of residence.
Library in the castle
Corvey had many valuable manuscripts in the Middle Ages, but none of them have survived. The present castle library, opened in the 19th century, contains 75,000 books. The most famous librarian ever to oversee the collection was German poet August Hoffmann von Fallersleben, whose work can also be seen in the castle.
'The song of the Germans'
August Hoffmann von Fallersleben spent the last 14 years of his life at Corvey castle. He is also buried in the abbey church's cemetery. Von Fallersleben is best known for writing "Das Lied der Deutschen" (The song of the Germans). The third stanza of this work is Germany's national anthem today.
A visitor magnet
Today, as in the 19th century, Corvey Castle is owned by the Ducal Family of Ratibor, while the baroque abbey church belongs to the Catholic parish of St Stephen and Vitus. Even before it was declared a World Heritage Site, the site attracted up to 100,000 visitors a year.