Marienplatz: Munich’s city center since 1158

Posted by Chris Wray on Jun 20, 2009 in architecture and urban spaces |

Located in the heart of Munich’s bustling city, Marienplatz (Mary’s Square) has been the city’s market center since the 12th Century. Today, old traditions intermingle with new as vendor stalls dot the pedestrian mall next to trendy fashion boutiques. Marienplatz is a must-see destination when visiting Munich. During my recent visit to Munich, I took the U-Bahn underground rail system to the Marienplatz stop, a major transportation hub that serves the urban and suburban mass transit lines. As you disembark, you walked through an ultra-modern subway tunnel with glistening orange ceramic tiles, then up the escalator to the street level of Marienplatz, where you’re greeted by Gothic architecture—what a visual contrast!

Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall)
The New Town Hall is an imposing yet beautiful Gothic Revival building located on the northern end of Marienplatz. The New Town Hall, built between 1867 and 1908, currently houses the offices of city government. Retail shops line the ground floor within the inner courtyard of the New Town Hall, and the Ratskeller—a fine restaurant—is located in the basement of the building. In the 85-meter center tower, facing the center square, is the Rathaus-Glockenspiel. This favorite tourist attraction chimes three times a day, while re-enacting two stories from the 16th century.

Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall)
To the east side of Marienplatz sits the Old Town Hall, a striking and well-kept structure that looks like something out of a fairytale landscape. The building housed municipal government until 1874, when operations moved to the Neues Rathaus. The tower of the Old Town Hall was actually the watchtower built along with a city wall in 1180 to defend the eastern side of the city. The tower and surrounding structures were heavily damaged during World War II. Most recent tower reconstruction was completed in 1974 following the original architects plans from 1462. Today, the tower of the Old Town Hall is a toy museum, a venue that I didn’t get to see during this visit, but reason to see on a return trip.

Mariensäule (Mary’s Column)
In the center of Marienplatz is the Mariensäule (Mary’s Column). It was erected in 1638 to celebrate the end of Swedish occupation during the Thirty Years’ War and is topped by a golden statue of the Virgin Mary standing on a crescent moon as the Queen of Heaven. At each corner of the column’s pedestal are putti statues. Putto (singular of putti) is a pudgy, often winged child figure, which frequently appears in both mythological and religious paintings and sculpture of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The four putti at the base of Mariensäule depict fighting a different beast, which symbolize Munich’s fortitude in overcoming its adversities: war represented by the lion, pestilence by the cockatrice, famine by the dragon, and heresy by the serpent.

Frauenkirche (Cathedral of Our Lady)
The Frauenkirche or Cathedral of Our Lady is the largest church in the Bavarian capital of Munich. Located just a short walking distance from Marienplatz at Frauenplatz 1, this Roman Catholic Church cathedral is a major landmark and a popular attraction. The architecture of the Frauenkirche is distinctive, if not a bit odd, due to its mixture of styles. The cathedral was built in just 20 years during 1468 to 1488 and was designed in the late-gothic style without rich gothic ornaments. The tops of the two towers were to have tall spires, but due to a lack of funding, the architect opted for domes instead. The onion domes are modeled after late Byzantine architecture and were completed during the Renaissance in 1525. The cathedral suffered massive damage during World War II — the roof collapsed and one of the towers was heavily damaged. Major restoration was started after the war and was completed in several stages, the last at late as 1994. Much of the rubble from the bombings was used for the reconstruction.

When entering the cathedral, I was taken by the sheer size of the structure. Massive buttresses and columns soar into perspective as voices seemingly echo forever in pervasive open air of the nave. The nave has the appearance of being ‘windowless,’ which is recounted in several legends of the Teufelstritt, or Devil’s Footstep. At the side entrance to the nave, one legend has it, the devil made a deal with the builder that no windows were to be built in the church. But the devil was tricked by the clever builder who had set the columns so that not a single window could be seen from a certain spot in the entrance hall where the devil stood. When the devil found out he was tricked, the church was already consecrated, so he couldn’t enter the church, but left a footprint at the entrance where he madly stomped his foot.

All of these architectural gems of Munich are located within easy walking distance of Marienplatz—and all are worth exploring! See map of central Munich.icon_external_link

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Bill Peters
Jun 24, 2009 at 12:05 am

Is it too corny to mention the Hofbrauhaus in Munich? In 1956 I was with a couple of soldier friends there. I said to them, “You won’t believe me, but I know that waitress serving beer.” While they were more than a little suspicious, it was indeed a classmate from Colorado College working there! Lucy took us to the after-hour clubs in Munich. A great memory.

Chris Wray
Jun 24, 2009 at 12:42 am

I love the Hofbrauhaus! My colleagues and I spent the better part of an afternoon there during our trip to Munich. The best bratwürste, sauerkraut and dunkel I’ve ever had. You never know where you’ll run into a CC student!

P.S. I re-uploaded my photo of the HB facade. Thanks for the memories.



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