Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wednesday search challenge: Which steeple is the oldest?

Today, a slightly harder puzzle for you to solve.

Below are four pictures of steeples that I've encountered over the years.  I'm quite taken with steeples, finding them fascinating, and love to take photos of them as I travel around.  They're tough to build, full of symbolic meaning, and seem to always have a good story associated with them.

But today I have a simple question--Which of these is the oldest steeple?  Can you identify each steeple and give its construction date?  

How hard can that be?

When you leave your answer, be sure to tell us how long it took you to find the answer!  (And if you could NOT find the answer, that would be useful to know as well.)

Search on!


  1. More difficult than last week, but not terrible. Tried searching using “Visually similar” in Google Images and got nowhere. Tried searching with several different queries in Google images and got nowhere. Finally decided to search Flickr for one of the more unique towers using “Copper Clock Tower” and found the Rathaus tower. I wasn’t certain that was the same one (not a great picture) so I searched for the Hamburg Rathaus and confirmed it. In that search I noticed a picture of St. Michaelis on one of the websites so I just searched “Hamburg Steeples” (or something similar) on Google images and came up with the rest. Wikipedia being down today made it a bit more challenging - had to used cached versions which meant I needed to know specifically what I was looking for before I could access the Wikipedia pages. The Translate feature was also helpful for checking German websites. Total time about 45 minutes(but I spent too much time reading about the buildings and their various reconstructions).

    1. St. Catherine’s Hamburg. The spire as it looks now was originally built in 1657 raising the height to 115 meters. It was extensively bombed in 1943 and was rebuilt between 1950 and 1957, though the base of the spire is the original which may date to around the 13th century (circa. 1256).

    2. Hamburger Rathaus clock tower. Construction started in 1886 and the city hall was inaugurated in 1897. It was one of the few historic buildings that escaped WWII intact.

    3. Tower of St. Michaelis, Hamburg. The tower as it is now was originally completed in 1786. It was destroyed by fire in 1906 and rebuilt, finished in 1911 and reconsecrated in 1912. There was extensive bombing in Hamburg in 1943 but it appears as if the church tower was spared. It needed extensive work that started in 1983 because the steel frame behind the copper was extensively rusted out. Most of the repair work has been completed, but it still needs significant work to repair all of the structural concerns.

    4. Ruins of St. Nicholas, Hamburg. This 147.3 meter-high spire was finished in 1874 and was the tallest building in the world for two years after it was built. The church itself was destroyed by allied bombing in 1943, but the spire still stands untouched.

    So if you want to know which of the specific structures as they stand now is the oldest, it's #4 St. Nicholas. If you want to know which of the Steeples as it *looks* now is the oldest (the oldest design) it's St. Catherine's. There are a lot of ways you could do this so it's not a straight-forward answer.

  2. Found this fairly hard to figure out but once I realized they were all in Hamburg it became much easier. After several attempts at very generic searches (spires, churches of the world etc.) and also seeing if there was a book on the subject, I remembered you can use the actual image to search which helped me found one of the 4 which in turn led to the others as they are all very close to each other in the town itself.

    The question also then becomes what date do we use for each spire as several had been rebuilt and also it took several years to build. In the end I went with the completed dates of the structures as they stand today.

    1) St Catherine’s Church - existing church was completed 1957

    The earliest attestation to the existence of the church dates back to 1256. The main body, consisting of a triple nave, was rebuilt during the mid-15th century in the north German Brick Gothic style. In 1657 a Baroque rooftop was added to the spire, which thus reached a height of 115 meters. The church was heavily damaged in an air-raid during World War II, on 30 July 1943. It left only the outer walls and the base of the spire standing. The building was restored between 1950 and 1957.

    2) Hamburg Town hall – completed 1897

    The Hamburg Rathaus is the Rathaus—the city hall or town hall—of Hamburg, Germany, it is the seat of the government of Hamburg, located in the Altstadt quarter in the city centre, near the lake Binnenalster and the central station. Constructed from 1886 to 1897, the city hall still houses its original governmental functions with the office of the First Mayor of Hamburg and the meeting rooms for Hamburg's parliament and senate (the city's executive).

    3) St Michaelis church Hamburg- existing church completed 1952

    1750 : The first big Michaelis church burned down by a lightning strike.

    1750 - 1762 : The builder Sonnin Prey and the second largest St. Michael's Church built in the Baroque style. From 1777 to 1786 constructed entirely of wood Sonnin the tower with the typical copper cladding.

    1906 : soldering work in the tower trigger a devastating fire. The church is totally destroyed.

    1906 - 1912 : Construction of the third great Michaelis Church. Underlie the old plans, which now be executed within the remaining walls in steel and concrete.

    1943 - 1945 : The bombing of Hamburg, St. Michaelis also draw heavily affected.

    1952 : Rededication of the Church. Only the font and the treasury are from 1763.

    4) St. Nikolai church/memorial – Church completed in 1874

    The church of St. Nikolai is one of the oldest churches in the city of Hamburg. It was originally built as a chapel for sailors and travelers in 1195. Located close to the harbor of Hamburg, it grew along with Hamburg's flourishing trade business. The church burned down during the Great Fire of Hamburg in 1842, but was rebuilt through donations of the citizens of Hamburg. When finished in 1874, the neo-Gothic church with a 486-feet steeple was the highest building in the world. During World War II, St. Nikolai fell prey to the so called “Operation Gomorrha”, the allied bombing raids on the city of Hamburg. Along with substantial parts of the city, it was destroyed and burned down.

  3. Now this poses an interesting question: are you looking for the final construction date, the original design date, the date at which the present form was finished ?
    2 of these buildings have long histories of construction and re-construction, one has been heavily restored following bomb damage, one has been left largely as a ruin - among all the various possible dates it's very difficult to pick a "date" for any of them! Even Cologne Cathedral was not completed until the after the unification of Germany in 1871, however old the design might be. I can't in all conscience put down the answers as I know all 4 buildings well, but the question has really made me think!

  4. First: St. Trinitatis around 1742
    Second: Hamburger Rathaus (Town Hall) 1897
    Third: St. Michaelis 1786 (rebuild 1913)
    Fourth: St. Nikolai 1874

  5. The 4th picture is the oldest steeple:

    1. St. Catherine's Church, Hamburg - 1957
    2. Hamburg Rathaus - 1897
    3. St. Michaelis Church, Hamburg - 1952
    4. St. Nicholas' Church, Hamburg - 1874

  6. All four steeples are from buildings in Hamburg. St. Katharinen, Rathaus, St. Michael, St. Nikolai. One and Three are old in design, but have been reconstructed in the 20th century, 1957 and 1913 respectively. The Rathaus looks old, but has been finished only at the end of the 19th century (1897). Only St. Nikolai, although only neo-gothic and hence not really old, is from 1874. It is thus the oldest steeple in this collection. It is a ruin today, as the citizens of Hamburg decided against reconstruction. Total search time: around 10 minutes.

  7. congrats MNMikeand thanks for thoroughly detailing your method - agree with your first paragraph - I was primarily interested in the image search aspect of this and tried bing images too and would have given TinEye a try, but "black wednesday"...
    anyway, having all in Hamburg was a tremendous help - I was running down the Cologne trail too just because I had a vague, faulty visual memory of my own. The fact that multiple churches share the same name also complicated sifting through the images. Does point out that direct image search has a ways to go and some text tag or general location is most helpful.
    Probably burned an hour+ but it was interesting.

  8. Number 3 I found pretty quickly - Sankt Michaelis Kirche - by copying the pictures into Google images. (Under 1 minute). However I couldn't find any of the others using the same approach. (I got really frustrated with what was coming up - as most of the pictures were nothing to do with church steeples. It seems as though Google is matching colours rather than anything else.).

    I then tried flickr but found nothing using searches such as "church steeple clock" or "church steeple copper" and various other options. TinEye also gave me nothing. I also tried a few Google searches but again, got nothing.

    By now I'd spent around 30 minutes and so felt I needed to learn what others had done, and gave up. This is the first one I've failed on - so well done for catching me out, and congratulations to all those who solved it. (I didn't think they'd all be in the same city. in fact I'd assumed the opposite - and so decided against using Hamburg in my search terms).

  9. I realise this is a internet research exercise, but isn't it possible to get an aesthetic impression of the building without strictly Googling it? The first one looks like an original Romanesque/baroque spire, so I would say 16-17th century. The second is clearly a Gothic revival construction, and quite a camp interpretation at that: late 19th century. The third is classical/Enlightenment in composition, so 18th century. The fourth is High Gothic style, so anything from the 13-15th century. 4, 1, 3, 2.