Medieval Cologne and Its Famous Haymarket Through The Eyes of a Main Character

Where in Cologne is Ivo Bauer?

It is the 28th day of March in the year of our Lord 1248 and Ivo Bauer stands shrouded in smoke, having a short conversation with two dead men. By this time each morning, Haymarket usually swells with craftsman and merchants as they set up their stands and prepare to sell their goods. But as Ivo set off to visit his enemies, he found Haymarket eerily empty. 

Writing takes me—and my characters—to wonderful places. If you couldn’t tell already, today we are in 13th-century Cologne within its trading epicenter, Haymarket. If you keep up with my blog, you’ll know that Cologne has a rich and fascinating history. Haymarket is no exception.

The History of Haymarket


An artist reconstruction of Cologne during Roman times. (Source: Romisch-Germanisches Museum, Cologne.) I believe the large island is the first location of Haymarket.

Dating back to the Roman era, Cologne’s famous Haymarket may be one of Central Europe’s oldest markets. Prior to the 10th century, Haymarket was located on an island just outside the city walls on the Rhine river. As its name suggests, farmers went there to sell hay and other goods to people living within the city walls.



The map above comes from the Civitates Orbis Terrarum published by Braun and Hogenberg in 1572 and shows Haymarket sitting within the city walls.

Around the year 957, the market was moved from the island to inside the city. With its location still near the harbor, Haymarket was an ideal place for trade. Craftsmen and merchants took advantage of the prime location. Nearly a kilometer in length—or approximately two-thirds of a mile—Cologne’s Haymarket is larger than most might assume, but it wasn’t large enough. It seems the 10th and 11th centuries were a time of rapid growth and at least three other markets emerged by the end of the 12th.

By the 13th century, Cologne’s population and commercial trade rivaled cities like Paris and London. On top of its forty-thousand residents and the daily influx of market-goers, pilgrims came from all over Europe to see the city’s many churches and relics. Perhaps most famous is The Shrine of the Three Kings located in the city’s cathedral.


This close-up  comes from a map published by Arnold Merkator during the late 16th century. It’s been suggested that the gallows and pillories are pictured sitting in the middle.

During the 1200s, the city council had gallows built in Haymarket where the medieval market-goer might witness the flogging of a fraudulent merchant or the beheading of an aristocratic criminal. In the 14th century, the city’s former mayor, Heinrich von Stave, was found guilty of treason and beheaded on that very spot. Afterward, his remains were quartered and sent to different sections of the city for display.

Dupuis, Charles (1752), Heumarkt mit Börse, Kupferstich, um 1790 (Köln, Kölnisches Stadtmuseum.  (Foto: © Rheinisches Bildarchiv Köln, rba_mf166753)

Through the years,  Haymarket managed to meld the old with the new,  holding fast to its old-world charm. This etching of Haymarket by Charles Dupuis dates to the late 18th century.

Despite its rapid growth, Haymarket still managed to keep its aesthetic appeal. Renaissance Europe considered it to be one of the most beautiful city squares in Central Europe, comparing it to St. Marks in Venice. Today Haymarket’s brick-paved square lined with trees and restaurant is a popular pedestrian destination for tourists and locals.


Tourists and locals experience the magic of the holdiays each year during Cologne’s Christmas markets. Looming above the tents, stands the city’s Christmas tree, and more impressively, its massive Gothic cathedral.

Since the Victorian era, it’s boasted a beautiful old-world Christmas market. In total, there are seven different Christmas markets throughout the city during the holiday season, though the most popular sit beneath Cologne’s famous Gothic cathedral. Festively decorated pavilions and wooden stands offer visitors everything from the city’s famous mulled wine to sweets, toys, and local delicacies. It also houses the nation’s largest Christmas tree.

As some of you know, The Fairytale Keeper series began with a question: What if one girl was the origin of Grimm’s fairytales? That question spawned a series of others. First and foremost: When and where would this girl have lived? Months of research led me to 13th-century Cologne. It’s fascinating history has so far lent itself beautifully to my imaginary world.

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