Old fortifications of Nuremberg
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The first documentary mention of the city, in 1050, mentions Nuremberg as the location of an Imperial castle between the East Franks and the Bavarian March of the Nordgau. From 1050 to 1571 the city expanded and rose dramatically in importance due to its location on key trade-routes. King Conrad III (reigning as King of Germany from 1138 to 1152) established the Burgraviate of Nuremberg, with the first burgraves coming from the Austrian House of Raab. With the extinction of their male line around 1190, the last Raabs count's son-in-law, Frederick I from the House of Hohenzollern, inherited the burgraviate in 1192.
From the late 12th century to the Interregnum (1254–73), however, the power of the burgraves diminished as the Hohenstaufen emperors transferred most non-military powers to a castellan, with the city administration and the municipal courts handed over to an Imperial mayor (German: Reichsschultheiß) from 1173/74. The strained relations between the burgraves and the castellans, with gradual transferral of powers to the latter in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, finally broke out into open enmity, which greatly influenced the history of the city.
Nuremberg is often referred to as the "unofficial capital" of the Holy Roman Empire, particularly because the Imperial Diet (Reichstag) and courts met at Nuremberg Castle. The Diets of Nuremberg played an important role in the administration of the empire. The increasing demands of the Imperial court and the increasing importance of the city attracted increased trade and commerce in Nuremberg. In 1219 Emperor Frederick II granted the Großen Freiheitsbrief ('Great Letter of Freedom'), including town rights, Imperial immediacy (Reichsfreiheit), the privilege to mint coins, and an independent customs policy - almost wholly removing the city from the purview of the burgraves. Nuremberg soon became, with Augsburg, one of the two great trade-centers on the route from Italy to Northern Europe.
In 1298 the Jews of the town were falsely accused of having desecrated the host, and 698 of them were killed in one of the many Rintfleisch massacres. Behind the massacre of 1298 was also the desire to combine the northern and southern parts of the city, which were divided by the Pegnitz. The Jews of the German lands suffered many massacres during the plague pandemic of the mid-14th century.
In 1349 Nuremberg's Jews suffered a pogrom. They were burned at the stake or expelled, and a marketplace was built over the former Jewish quarter. The plague returned to the city in 1405, 1435, 1437, 1482, 1494, 1520 and 1534.
The largest growth of Nuremberg occurred in the 14th century. Charles IV's Golden Bull of 1356, naming Nuremberg as the city where newly elected kings of Germany must hold their first Imperial Diet, made Nuremberg one of the three most important cities of the Empire. Charles was the patron of the Frauenkirche, built between 1352 and 1362 (the architect was likely Peter Parler), where the Imperial court worshipped during its stays in Nuremberg. The royal and Imperial connection grew stronger in 1423 when the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg granted the Imperial regalia to be kept permanently in Nuremberg, where they remained until 1796, when the advance of French troops required their removal to Regensburg and thence to Vienna.
In 1349 the members of the guilds unsuccessfully rebelled against the patricians in a Handwerkeraufstand ('Craftsmen's Uprising'), supported by merchants and some by councillors, leading to a ban on any self-organisation of the artisans in the city, abolishing the guilds that were customary elsewhere in Europe; the unions were then dissolved, and the oligarchs remained in power while Nuremberg was a free city (until the early-19th century). Charles IV conferred upon the city the right to conclude alliances independently, thereby placing it upon a politically equal footing with the princes of the Empire. Frequent fights took place with the burgraves - without, however, inflicting lasting damage upon the city. After fire destroyed the castle in 1420 during a feud between Frederick IV (from 1417 Margrave of Brandenburg) and the duke of Bavaria-Ingolstadt, the city purchased the ruins and the forest belonging to the castle (1427), resulting in the city's total sovereignty within its borders.
Through these and other acquisitions the city accumulated considerable territory. The Hussite Wars (1419-1434), a recurrence of the Black Death in 1437, and the First Margrave War (1449-1450) led to a severe fall in population in the mid-15th century. Siding with Albert IV, Duke of Bavaria-Munich, in the Landshut War of Succession of 1503-1505 led the city to gain substantial territory, resulting in lands of 25sqmi, making it one of the largest Imperial cities.
During the Middle Ages, Nuremberg fostered a rich, varied, and influential literary culture.
Early modern age
Map of Nuremberg, 1648
The cultural flowering of Nuremberg, in the 15th and 16th centuries, made it the centre of the German Renaissance. In 1525, Nuremberg accepted the Protestant Reformation, and in 1532, the Nuremberg Religious Peace was signed there, preventing war between Protestants and Catholics for 15 years. During the 1552 revolution against Charles V, Nuremberg tried to purchase its neutrality, but the city was attacked without a declaration of war and was forced into a disadvantageous peace. At the Peace of Augsburg, the possessions of the Protestants were confirmed by the Emperor, their religious privileges extended and their independence from the Bishop of Bamberg affirmed, while the 1520s' secularisation of the monasteries was also approved.
The state of affairs in the early 16th century, increased trade routes elsewhere and the ossification of the social hierarchy and legal structures contributed to the decline in trade. Frequent quartering of Imperial, Swedish and League soldiers, the financial costs of the war and the cessation of trade caused irreparable damage to the city and a near-halving of the population. In 1632, the city, occupied by the forces of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, was besieged by the army of Imperial general Albrecht von Wallenstein. The city declined after the war and recovered its importance only in the 19th century, when it grew as an industrial centre. Even after the Thirty Years' War, however, there was a late flowering of architecture and culture – secular Baroque architecture is exemplified in the layout of the civic gardens built outside the city walls, and in the Protestant city's rebuilding of St. Egidien church, destroyed by fire at the beginning of the 18th century, considered a significant contribution to the baroque church architecture of Middle Franconia.
After the Thirty Years' War, Nuremberg attempted to remain detached from external affairs, but contributions were demanded for the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years' War and restrictions of imports and exports deprived the city of many markets for its manufactures. The Bavarian elector, Charles Theodore, appropriated part of the land obtained by the city during the Landshut War of Succession, to which Bavaria had maintained its claim; Prussia also claimed part of the territory. Realising its weakness, the city asked to be incorporated into Prussia but Frederick William II refused, fearing to offend Austria, Russia and France. At the Imperial diet in 1803, the independence of Nuremberg was affirmed, but on the signing of the Confederation of the Rhine on 12 July 1806, it was agreed to hand the city over to Bavaria from 8 September, with Bavaria guaranteeing the amortisation of the city's 12.5 million guilder public debt.
After the Napoleonic Wars
Old town of Nuremberg in the 19th century
After the fall of Napoleon, the city's trade and commerce revived; the skill of its inhabitants together with its favourable situation soon made the city prosperous, particularly after its public debt had been acknowledged as a part of the Bavarian national debt. Having been incorporated into a Catholic country, the city was compelled to refrain from further discrimination against Catholics, who had been excluded from the rights of citizenship. Catholic services had been celebrated in the city by the priests of the Teutonic Order, often under great difficulties. After their possessions had been confiscated by the Bavarian government in 1806, they were given the Frauenkirche on the Market in 1809; in 1810 the first Catholic parish was established, which in 1818 numbered 1,010 souls.
In 1817, the city was incorporated into the district of Rezatkreis (named for the river Franconian Rezat), which was renamed to Middle Franconia (German: Mittelfranken) on 1 January 1838. The first German railway, the Bavarian Ludwigsbahn, from Nuremberg to nearby Fürth, was opened in 1835. The establishment of railways and the incorporation of Bavaria into Zollverein (the 19th-century German Customs Union), commerce and industry opened the way to greater prosperity. In 1852, there were 53,638 inhabitants: 46,441 Protestants and 6,616 Catholics. It subsequently grew to become the most important industrial city of Bavaria and one of the most prosperous towns of southern Germany. In 1905, its population, including several incorporated suburbs, was 291,351: 86,943 Catholics, 196,913 Protestants, 3,738 Jews and 3,766 members of other creeds.
Nuremberg held great significance during the Nazi Germany era. Because of the city's relevance to the Holy Roman Empire and its position in the centre of Germany, the Nazi Party chose the city to be the site of huge Nazi Party conventions — the Nuremberg rallies. The rallies were held in 1927, 1929 and annually from 1933 through 1938. After Adolf Hitler's rise to power in 1933 the Nuremberg rallies became huge Nazi propaganda events, a centre of Nazi ideals. The 1934 rally was filmed by Leni Riefenstahl, and made into a propaganda film called Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will).
At the 1935 rally, Hitler specifically ordered the Reichstag to convene at Nuremberg to pass the Nuremberg Laws which revoked German citizenship for all Jews and other non-Aryans. A number of premises were constructed solely for these assemblies, some of which were not finished. Today many examples of Nazi architecture can still be seen in the city. The city was also the home of the Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher, the publisher of Der Stürmer.
During the Second World War, Nuremberg was the headquarters of Wehrkreis (military district) XIII, and an important site for military production, including aircraft, submarines and tank engines. A subcamp of Flossenbürg concentration camp was located here, and extensively used slave labour. The city was severely damaged in Allied strategic bombing from 1943 to 1945. On 29 March 1944, the RAF endured its heaviest losses in the bombing campaign of Germany. Out of more than 700 planes participating, 106 were shot down or crash-landed on the way home to their bases, and more than 700 men were missing, as many as 545 of them dead. More than 160 became prisoners of war.
On 2 January 1945, the medieval city centre was systematically bombed by the Royal Air Force and the U.S. Army Air Forces and about ninety percent of it was destroyed in only one hour, with 1,800 residents killed and roughly 100,000 displaced. In February 1945, additional attacks followed. In total, about 6,000 Nuremberg residents are estimated to have been killed in air raids.
Nuremberg was a heavily fortified city that was captured in a fierce battle lasting from 17 to 21 April 1945 by the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division, 42nd Infantry Division and 45th Infantry Division, which fought house-to-house and street-by-street against determined German resistance, causing further urban devastation to the already bombed and shelled buildings.Stanton, Shelby, World War II Order of Battle: An Encyclopedic Reference to U.S. Army Ground Forces from Battalion through Division, 1939–1946, Stackpole Books (Revised Edition 2006), p. 90, 129, 135 Despite this intense degree of destruction, the city was rebuilt after the war and was to some extent restored to its pre-war appearance, including the reconstruction of some of its medieval buildings.Neil Gregor, Haunted City. Nuremberg and the Nazi Past (New Haven, 2008) However, over half of the historic look of the center, and especially the northeastern half of the old Imperial Free City was not restored.
Defendants in the dock at the Nuremberg trials
Between 1945 and 1946, German officials involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity were brought before an international tribunal in the Nuremberg trials. The Soviet Union had wanted these trials to take place in Berlin. However, Nuremberg was chosen as the site for the trials for specific reasons:
- The city had been the location of the Nazi Party's Nuremberg rallies and the laws stripping Jews of their citizenship were passed there. There was symbolic value in making it the place of Nazi demise.
- The Palace of Justice was spacious and largely undamaged (one of the few that had remained largely intact despite extensive Allied bombing of Germany). The already large courtroom was reasonably easily expanded by the removal of the wall at the end opposite the bench, thereby incorporating the adjoining room. A large prison was also part of the complex.
- As a compromise, it was agreed that Berlin would become the permanent seat of the International Military Tribunal and that the first trial (several were planned) would take place in Nuremberg. Due to the Cold War, subsequent trials never took place.
Following the trials, in October 1946, several prominent German Nazi politicians and military leaders were executed in Nuremburg.
The same courtroom in Nuremberg was the venue of the Nuremberg Military Tribunals, organized by the United States as occupying power in the area.