Cultural city, free imperial city and decline
Culturally also, Cologne shone in the high Middle Ages characterised by significant personalities such as Albertus Magnus as the teacher of St. Thomas of Aquin, the philosopher Johannes Duns Scotus or the mystic Ekkehar.
Additional to this was the position of Cologne as the centre of precious goldsmith art, as the centre also of book illumination and of architecture. Since the early 14th century, numerous monasteries, convents, parish churches and chapels opened up new scope for the Cologne painting school and also many private people were given altars from painters from Cologne.
Preserved up to today, for example, is the work by Stefan Lochner whose Triptychon has been kept for the council chapel with the patrons of the city since 1810 in the cathedral. The council chapel was erected at the beginning of the 15th century on the place of the destroyed Jewish synagogue. The Jews of cologne had had to leave the city finally in 1424 and were only to return again in the 19th century.
A further important step in the history of the City of Cologne was the founding of the Cologne University in the year 1388 as the first in Europe which was not founded by a prince but by the citizenship.
Eight years later, in 1396, the predominance of the wealthy citizenship ended, the constitution of the city was altered and the guilds and the co-operatives of the trades people and merchants formed from now on the electorate for the councillors.
A further political change took place in 1475 when Cologne was elevated to be a Free Imperial City. This meant also the right to be able to mint its own gold coins. The, up to then, very powerful archbishop retained, alongside some tax income from the City, the significant right of the High Court over life and death.
During the moving period of the Reformation, Cologne remained catholic, supported by the university and the chapter. The Jesuits, who in 1544 founded their earliest colony in Germany here, and the since 1584 existing papal nuniature - the standing diplomatic representation of the Pope - made the city into an important outpost of the counterreformation in Lower Germany.
At this time, however, the economic decline of Cologne also began. Through the discovery of the New World, World trade had shifted to the oceans and therefore Cologne became more and more isolated in the 17th and the 18th centuries.
Trade stagnated and poverty increased rapidly. A good third of the population lived from handouts which were distributed by convents and monasteries. The city went increasingly to rack and ruin and lost its shine.
When the French troops marched in in 1794, the rule was left over to them without a fight. And not long afterwards in 1815, Cologne went over into Prussian possession. The glittering Middle Ages were thus finally over.
However, the city experienced a new upswing in the end through the industrial revolution. Cologne participated again in world trade as a fluctuating power.