Aachen is the westernmost city in Germany, located near the borders with Belgium and the Netherlands, 61 km (38 mi) west south west of Cologne in a former coal-mining area. One of Germany's leading institutes of higher education in technology, the RWTH Aachen University is located in the city. Aachen's industries include science, engineering and information technology. In 2009, Aachen was ranked eighth among cities in Germany for innovation.
The name "Aachen" is a modern descendant, like southern German Ach(e), Aach, meaning "river" or "stream", from Old High German ahha, meaning "water" or "stream", which directly translates (and etymologically corresponds to) Latin Aquae, referring to the springs. The location has been inhabited by humans since the Neolithic era, about 5,000 years ago, attracted to its warm mineral springs. Latin Aquae figures in Aachen's Roman name Aquae granni, which meant "waters of Grannus", referring to the Celtic god of healing who was worshipped at the springs. This word became Åxhe in Walloon and Aix in French, and subsequently Aix-la-Chapelle after Charlemagne had his palatine chapel built there in the late eighth century and then made the city his empire's capital.
Aachen's name in French and German evolved in parallel. The city is known by a variety of different names in other languages:
Aachen is at the western end of the Benrath line that divides High German to the south from the rest of the West Germanic speech area to the north. Aachen's local dialect is called Öcher Platt and belongs to the Ripuarian language.
Flint quarries on the Lousberg, Schneeberg, and Königshügel, first used during Neolithic times (3000–2500 BC), attest to the long occupation of the site of Aachen, as do recent finds under the modern city's Elisengarten pointing to a former settlement from the same period. Bronze Age (around 1600 BC) settlement is evidenced by the remains of barrows (burial mounds) found, for example, on the Klausberg. During the Iron Age, the area was settled by Celtic peoples who were perhaps drawn by the marshy Aachen basin's hot sulphur springs where they worshipped Grannus, god of light and healing.