Among natives of Cologne and art historians all over the world, the town hall in Cologne is famous for its loggia, the Renaissance façade built by the Kalkar master builder Wilhelm Vernukken. Erected between 1569 and 1573, it served to replace the run-down mediaeval entrance hall in front of the main hall. Today, almost every major art history encyclopaedia in the world pictures the loggia as one of the most typical buildings of the Renaissance era.
The loggia originally functioned as a link between city council and citizenry and in many respects continues to do so to the present day. In the past, the council would use this prestigious setting to hold a "morning address" at set times to inform the citizens gathered in the town hall square of their latest rulings. Today, the loggia acts as a more informal link between the council and the citizens of Cologne, for example as a place where fans can cheer their idols as they look down from the open façade on the upper floor following an official reception in the town hall.
The parapet on the upper floor is decorated with a sculpture depicting the tale of the struggle between the mayor Gryn and the lion, symbolizing the power of the council. The legend tells of the fight between citizens and the church for leadership over the city.
The town hall tower has similar symbolic value, erected by the Cologne guilds between 1407 and 1414 as a symbol of their leadership over the city following their victory over the nobility in 1396 when they introduced a charter defining the new constitution of the city. With five floors and a total height of 61 metres, the town hall tower became the first secular "high-rise building" in Cologne. The late Gothic style tower with three tetragonal lower floors and two octagonal upper floors boasts an impressive 130 stone statues and the famous "Platzjabbeck", a wooden grotesque face sculpture which opens its mouth and sticks out its tongue when the tower clock strikes the hour.
The excavations during restoration work revealed the remains of the Roman praetorium which acted as a base for the Roman governors of Germania Inferior and later the Kings of Ripuarian Franconia. The praetorium is now accessible again following the restorations. The fate of the city of Cologne has therefore been determined in the same place for 2,000 years.
The centre of the historic town hall is the "Piazetta", a 900 sqm large, 12.60 metre high open space with a view of the tower through the north wall and containing the striking if somewhat controversial monument "Wolke" by Hann Trier. The “Hansasaal” (Hanseatic League hall) and the loggia are to the west, the tower and the "Löwenhof" (lion courtyard) to the north, reception hall and office rooms of the mayor and chief municipal director to the east and the administrative wing to the south.
The Hansasaal forms the heart of the historic town hall. The room dates back to the 14th century when it was used as a meeting room by the Hanseatic League and later went on to be used by the council as a courtroom and reception hall. The Hansasaal was restored to its high Gothic design after the war. The south wall is of particular interest, displaying the "Neun guten Helden" (nine good heroes) sculpture in its Gothic pinnacle structures. The north side is decorated with the eight prophet figures dating back to around 1410, which previously adorned the adjoining "Prophets Chamber" room. Today, the most impressive examples of artwork in this room are the two wood inlay doorways by Melchior von Reidt (around 1600) leading to the Hansasaal and “Senatssaal” (senate room). The impressive council chairs by Melchior von Reidt are also worthy of special mention here.