Statements in Stone: The Politics of Architecture in Charlemagne’s Aachen
By Mary Katherine Tipton
MA Thesis, University of Arkansas, 2017
Introduction: Aachen, Germany, is a town of nearly a quarter million residents according to the 2012 census. Roughly twelve hundred years ago, Charlemagne (ca. AD 748-814) and a group of enterprising individuals established a palace at Aachen, taking advantage of a few Roman buildings from earlier inhabitants.
Only a fraction of this palace has been archaeologically recovered. An audience hall, gatehouse and chapel, connected by a two-storied gallery formed the nucleus of the establishment Charlemagne and his magnates built. One of these men was Angilbert (ca. AD 760- 814), a trusted and essential individual who recorded aspects of court life at Aachen through poetry.
An epistolary poem he wrote during an absence from the Carolingian court at Aachen takes its structure from the arrangement of the palace’s buildings, revealing the degree to which these edifices penetrated the mind of one courtier. Angilbert’s letter allows his audience to visualize the royal complex and highlights the importance placed on the palace’s built environment, both its effect on perceptions of monarchical authority and on the creation of a Frankish aristocratic identity centered at the capital of the real.
Using the literary devices of anthropomorphized musical pipe and letter, Angilbert leads his audience through Aachen by means of this poem’s public recitation. This “talking letter” is equal parts salutation to members of Charlemagne’s court and vivid description of a place familiar to its author, allowing him to guide the audience through the aula, solarium and chapel of the royal complex.