The University of Cologne was established in 1388 as the fourth university in the Holy Roman Empire, after the Charles University of Prague (1348), the University of Vienna(1365) and the Ruprecht Karl University of Heidelberg (1386). The charter was signed by Pope Urban VI. The university began teaching on January 6, 1389. In 1798, the university was abolished by the French, who had invaded Cologne in 1794, because under the new French constitution, universities were abolished all over France.The last rector Ferdinand Franz Wallraf was able to preserve the university’s Great Seal, now once more in use.
In 1919, the Prussian government endorsed a decision by the Cologne City Council to re-establish the university. On May 19, 1919, theCologne Mayor Konrad Adenauer signed the charter of the modern university.
At that point, the new university was located in Neustadt-Süd, but relocated to its current campus in Lindenthal on 2 November 1934. The old premises are now being used for the Cologne University of Applied Sciences.
Initially, the university was composed of the Faculty of Commerce, Economics and Social Sciences (successor to the Institutes of Commerce and of Communal and Social Administration) and the Faculty of Medicine (successor to the Academy of Medicine). In 1920, the Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Arts were added, from which latter the School of Mathematics and Natural Sciences was split off in 1955 to form a separate Faculty. In 1980, the two Cologne departments of the Rhineland School of Education were attached to the university as the Faculties of Education and of Special Education. In 1988, the university became a founding member of the Community of European Management Schools and International Companies (CEMS), today's Global Alliance in Management Education.
The University is a leader in the area of economics and is regularly placed in top positions for law and commerce, both for national and international rankings.