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Die Kaiserpfalz neben dem Paderborner Dom (Foto: LWL/Hoffmann)

The Imperial Palace: travel station and residence in the Empire

A sensation hidden under stones: traces of secular power behind Paderborn Cathedral!

For a long time, scientists puzzled over the location of Charlemagne's palace complex in Paderborn. In 1964, the time had finally come: the palace from the late 8th century was discovered during archaeological excavations north of the cathedral. But it was not only the remains of this Carolingian palace that were found. The archaeologists also uncovered the masonry of Henry II's palace from the 11th century, which was in much better condition. This complex was in such good condition that it was possible to rebuild it using the historical foundation.

The LWL Museum in the Imperial Palace has been housed in the historic building since 1978. On display are unique finds from Paderborn and Westphalia from the 6th to 12th century.

The museum is run by the Landschaftsverband Westfalen-Lippe (LWL) as part of the LWL Archaeology for Westphalia. The Metropolitan Chapter is the owner of the palace complex.

A journey through time in the footsteps of Charlemagne: The museum in the imperial palace in Paderborn

At the Museum in the Imperial Palace in Paderborn, visitors can follow in the footsteps of Emperor Charlemagne. As a replica of the imperial palace itself, the museum is an attraction on its own and alongside the famous cathedral a magnet for visitors.

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What is an Imperial Palace?

The palace of the Roman emperors on the Palatine Hill is the origin of the term palace as palatium (Latin for vault). The magnificent buildings were visible signs of royal rule. Since the Carolingian period (8th century), kings were traveling rulers. They did not have a fixed capital or residence, but presented their power in as many places as possible in their territory. Most royal palaces, which were spread across the entire empire as temporary residences, were elongated hall or hall buildings until the Hohenstaufen period (11th to 13th century).

The kings resided in these palaces accompanied by members of their family, advisors, scribes, warriors and people who earned their living at and with the royal court. The royal party, which often comprised more than a hundred people, traveled on horseback or on foot and visited the palaces with varying frequency depending on their facilities and location. However, royal palaces also had a military function: from the late Carolingian period, they were often fortified by a solid wall or a wood-and-earth rampart.

An Imperial Palace in Paderborn

Experts had long suspected from historical records that Charlemagne had also left behind architectural traces of his immense power in Paderborn. However, there was no proof of this. Only an archway hinted at the possibility that a real sensation lay hidden beneath meters of rubble. When the cathedral chapter planned to redesign the area north of the cathedral in 1963, the archaeologists from the Landschaftsverband Westfalen-Lippe first took a look in the ground.

It soon emerged that the walls that had come to light belonged to the remains of the palace that Bishop Meinwerk of Paderborn had built for King Henry II. A little later the sensation: even older walls emerged among the already sensational findings. Excavator Wilhelm Winkelmann had discovered Charlemagne's palace. The discovery triggered further research, which has long made Paderborn's town center one of the best-researched complexes of its kind in Europe.

Aerial view of the excavation site in the 1960s.

Aerial view of the excavation in the 1960s. The Ottonian-Salian palace is L-shaped at the back, the smaller Carolingian complex is rectangular in front.

The exhibition Of emperors and royal splendor

Discover the former splendor of the Carolingian palace with fragments of its wall paintings and ornate capitals.

Get to know life in Westphalia in the Early Middle Ages: The exhibits range from the pagan roots to the Christianization by Charlemagne. Graves with precious jewelry and weapons, as well as handicrafts from settlements and trading places in the region, illustrate how people lived together.

The large assembly hall and Ikenberg Chapel focus on the royal palace as a station of the traveling medieval ruler.

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Windows into the past

During excavations in the Paderborn city center, archaeologists repeatedly find treasures that are worth showing.

The most beautiful pieces beyond the 12th century are displayed in the "windows into the past". The section on urban archaeology provides insights into everyday urban life. At the same time, it illustrates the excavations from which the exhibits originate and how they are processed before being exhibited in the museum.

More about the city archaeology

The cellar

It not only ensures pleasant temperatures in summer, but is also a legendary place in Palatinate history: the spring cellar.
Henry II had his palace built over one of Paderborn's 200 springs in the 11th century. Such a spring cellar was unbeatable as a natural refrigerator and water supply. From rumors of a water dragon to kingfishers using the cool walls as a retreat, the spring cellar in the imperial palace has not lost its magic over the centuries.

Info: Due to water damage to the staircase, the spring cellar may be closed in exceptional cases. Please call 05251-105120 for more information before your visit.

The outside area The Carolingian garden

The Capitulare de villis vel curtis imperialibus regulated the cultivation of Charlemagne's estates. Over 90 different medicinal plants, fruit and fruit trees and vegetables were to be cultivated at each base. 
A so-called Charlemagne garden was probably also laid out at the Paderborn Imperial Palace according to these specifications. However, it is no longer possible to determine where it was located. A selection of plants from the ordinance will be grown in the raised beds created in 2021. In addition to the Latin names given there, the German common name and the correct botanical name of the species can also be read on the signs.

In cooperation with the Pauline-von-Mallinckrodt School, the plant names will also be readable in Braille.

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