About the term Kaiserpfalz

The term Kaiserpfalz is omnipresent in Ingelheim. The research centre bears it in its name, as do the visitor centre and museum. It even adorns a vineyard. The people of Ingelheim speak of their imperial palace as a matter of course and not without pride. However, from a scientific point of view, the name is not entirely correct.

The term palace is derived from the Latin word palatium, which in turn goes back to the Mons Palatinus, the hill in Rome where the emperors of antiquity have resided since Augustus. Palatium appears as a place name in documents of the Frankish kings from around the middle of the 8th century. The formula under a document drawn up in 807, in which Emperor Charlemagne confirms an exchange of goods between the Bishop of Würzburg and a Count Audulf, reads: actum Inghilinhaim palatio nostro – “negotiated in our palace Ingelheim”. Charlemagne’s famous scribe Einhard praised the emperor for his building activities, among other things: Inchoavit et palatia operis egregii, unum haud longe a Mogontiaco civitate, iuxta villam, cui vocabulum est Ingilenheim (…) – “He also began palaces with excellent building decoration, one not far from Mainz, next to a royal court called Ingilenheim (…).”

Was there an imperial building programme?

German palace research, which emerged in the 20th century, used the term palace to describe all places that served as bases for mobile rulers in the travelling kingdom. However, not all palatinate sites were as splendidly built as the palace at Ingelheim – quite the opposite: the architecture, which was obviously aimed at representation with building elements such as the semi-circular building with portico, which was deliberately modelled on ancient buildings, makes the Ingelheim palace stand out among the known palatinate sites and makes it a unique architectural monument.

However, despite all its splendour and the fact that Charlemagne was crowned emperor by the Pope in Rome on 25 December 800 – as the first ruler since the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476/78 – he and his contemporaries certainly did not speak of an imperial palace in Ingelheim. Kingship and the title REX associated with it were legal institutions, the palace sites were, as it were, an officially documented part of the royal possessions. The term royal palace is therefore logical. In contrast, the imperial title, the NOMEN IMPERATORIS, was merely a title of honour, albeit an extremely significant one due to its connection to the rulers of the Roman Empire. The question of whether the Ingelheim palace could have been part of a comprehensive imperial building programme has not yet been conclusively clarified. The enormous financial and logistical expenditure, the reception of ancient ideas and the amalgamation of different architectural styles of the Frankish Empire could be connected to the idea of imperial rule.

De caesareo Ingelheimensi Palatio

With the beginning of the modern era, the tradition of travelling to Rome to become emperor came to an end. Charles V was the last German king to be crowned emperor by a pope in 1530. His brother and successor Ferdinand I refrained from doing so; for him, as for all his successors, the consent of the electors was sufficient to bear the title of Roman Emperor.

Johann Daniel Schöpflin, professor of history at the University of Strasbourg, wrote an essay on the Ingelheim Palatinate in 1766 and gave it the title de Caesareo Ingelheimensi Palatio – on the imperial palace of Ingelheim. The term became established in the 19th century. Philipp Alexander Ferdinand Walther, Grand Ducal Hessian Court and Cabinet Librarian, described Nieder-Ingelheim in 1854 with the following words: “Charlemagne built a palatium here. (…) The imperial palace was destroyed by the Mainzern (…) during the war between Diether von Isenburg and Adolf von Nassau.”

The art historian Paul Clemen, who had the first floor opening made in the area of the Aula regia in 1888, also spoke of the imperial palace. Christian Rauch, who was responsible for the first systematic excavations in the Ingelheim Palatinate, also called the palatium an imperial palace in his 1934 book on the art monuments in the state of Hesse, but also used the terms royal palace and basilica. The results of his excavations were published in 1960 under the title “Die Geschichte der Ingelheimer Königs- und Kaiserpfalz” (The History of the Ingelheim Royal and Imperial Palace) as Volume 11 of the Beiträge zur Ingelheimer Geschichte (BIG).

The term “Königspfalz” (royal palace) has now become widely accepted in academic usage. However, in tourist contexts in particular, some palace sites still occasionally use the term imperial palace, such as Aachen or Frankfurt am Main, where the sparse remains are presented in the Archaeological Museum as “Kaiserpfalz Franconofurt”. In Ingelheim, it is clear that the term has become indelibly engraved in the town’s memory.

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