The history of Nuremberg

by Anja Weinberger

More casually, when a document is issued on July 16, 1050, it is noted: “Actum Nuorenberc. Feliciter Amen”. The place Nuremberg is on record from that moment. The mentioned document confirms the release of a serf named Sigena (stressed, very un-Frankish, on the first syllable) by Emperor Henry III. This Sigena document is kept today in the Nuremberg City Archives, a facsimile can be seen in the Fembo House.

(The German text was translated by DeepL)

Only a few more years, and Nuremberg can thus look back on 1000 years of written history.

Sebaldusgrab, © privat

Early prosperity

Lively trading activities ensured the economic prosperity of the town even then, and in 1065 Henry IV finally formed an administrative district out of the town and its surrounding area.

From 1070 there is evidence of the veneration of St. Sebaldus – or Sebald for short. His tomb, which was extremely elaborately designed in the 16th century, can still be found today in the Sebaldus Church, named after him, north of the Pegnitz River. The incipient pilgrimage will also have contributed to the economic upswing.

Kings came, kings went, Guelphs quarreled with Staufers; and finally, starting in 1138, first the Staufer king Conrad III and after him Frederick Barbarossa began to rebuild the fortifications on the rock overlooking the Pegnitz into the castle that would soon become the imperial palace.

Also important for further economic and artistic endeavors: The area of today’s Upper Palatinate, rich in iron ores, came to Nuremberg, and in the future these valuable mineral resources made forging on a grand scale possible.

Now emperors came and went, and likewise burgraves, for Nuremberg Castle has been a double castle from the very beginning. With Burgrave Friedrich I, a member of the Zollern family appeared on the stage of medieval events for the first time in 1192. The Burgraves would also later play a role in the ups and downs of the city of Nuremberg.

In 1219, Emperor Frederick II issued the “Great Letter of Freedom”, Nuremberg was now a “Free Imperial City” and the Burggrafenburg, located directly next to the Imperial Castle, thus lost its importance. (The territory of the Burggrafenschaft lay to the north and west of the city of Nuremberg, the relations were rather ambivalent, but never broke off already because of the spatial proximity. They never had common administrations or services).

The city is growing

A first larger settlement is built below the rock that gives the town its name, in the direction of the Sebaldus Chapel. A few hundred meters to the east, the Egidien monastery district emerges from a farmstead.

South of the Pegnitz, too, a farmyard bequeathed to the Teutonic Order by King Otto IV shortly before became an orderly settlement area. Here the churches of St. Jakob, St. Lorenz and St. Elisabeth were built.

View on a small part of the castle. Here you can see well how the castle was built on the rock,© privat

The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation

In the Great Hall of the Old Nuremberg City Hall there is a stone relief depicting Emperor Ludwig the Bavarian (1314-1347). Not in the castle, but in the town hall – why?

Nuremberg showed itself to be a stable factor in the ruler’s struggle against the popes and his Austrian comrades-in-arms for power in the country. The Wittelsbach emperor thanked him with numerous privileges. And the city in turn pays tribute to him in a prominent place in the newly built city hall with a relief – unfortunately badly damaged in the 2nd World War.

A lot was built during this time, for example the Heilig-Geist-Spital (Holy Spirit Hospital), which today is one of the most popular photo motifs in the city.

The main market on the Sebald side was built where the Jewish population had previously been able to live in relative peace. Two pogroms in 1298 and 1349 had initiated the destruction of the Jewish ghetto and caused a massacre of the Jewish population.

Heilig-Geist-Spital, © privat

Emperor Charles IV had the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) planned by master builder Peter Parler on this main market square, and construction of the Schönen Brunnen (Beautiful Fountain) soon began diagonally opposite on the northeast corner of the square.

With the “Golden Bull” the empire had given itself a code of laws in 1356, the first part of which was drawn up in Nuremberg.

Emperor Sigismund established Nuremberg as the repository of the imperial treasures – we are in the year 1423. The treasures were kept in the Heiltumsschrein, which is now on display in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum.

In 1427, the Zollers sold the burgrave’s office to the city council. Nuremberg was now administered by the Inner Council, which consisted of representatives of the well-known patrician families. In the two Margrave Wars of 1449 and 1552, the Hohenzollerns tried without success to regain the influence they had lost.

Art, war and humanism

The years between 1470 and 1530 were a period of prosperity for the city of Nuremberg. The painter Albrecht Dürer, the woodcarver Veit Stoß, the ore caster Peter Vischer, the sculptor Adam Kraft, the navigator and globe planner Martin Behaim, the locksmith and clockmaker Peter Henlein, and the poet and shoemaker Hans Sachs are inseparably linked with Nuremberg to this day and have brought great fame to their city.

Another war once again enlarged Nuremberg’s territory: on the side of Emperor Maximilian II, Nuremberg took part in the War of the Bavarian Succession in 1504/05 and was compensated for the expenses incurred with Palatine-Bavarian offices. The comparison with Italian city-states was quite appropriate, as the then possessions extended over a proud 1200 square kilometers.

Since the construction of the three largest churches, an intensive religious (still Catholic) life was lived in the city. The valuable endowments of some patricians and commoners also contributed to the apparent splendor of the Frankish city. Humanism and a little later the Reformation fell on fertile ground. Since those days, Nuremberg has borne the nickname Noris. The Protestant humanist and Neo-Latin poet Helius Eobanus Hessus was the first to call the city “noris amoena”, meaning “lovely Noris”.

The city’s lavishly endowed grammar schools and Latin schools provided sufficient education for the male offspring of the craftsmen and merchants.

Consequently, the foundation stone of the later University of Nuremberg-Altdorf was laid in 1571. And the last highlight of the imperial city’s glory was probably the construction of the new town hall in 1616.

The Thirty Years’ War and the Consequences

Not for the first and not for the last time, the question arose from 1619 on: Loyalty to the emperor or religion?

In 1632, Gustav II Adolf of Sweden brought his troops to Nuremberg for the Protestant Union, and the imperial Catholic commander Albert von Wallenstein cut down more than 10,000 trees for the enemy camp near Fürth. The result: no victor, pillaging in many villages, in Nuremberg overcrowded with refugees the plague and hunger were rampant again. Sixty percent of the population died and the decline of the Free Imperial City was heralded. It was not until 1649 that this war, which basically consisted of many wars, ended. It began with the struggle for religious freedom and supremacy in the Holy Roman Empire, that is, in Europe, and ended as a dynastic and territorial war. On September 25, 1649, the “Peace Banquet” took place in the hall of the Nuremberg City Hall, where the former opposing parties sealed the young peace.

Nuremberg was now more than seven million guilders in debt, the economy was crippled, but not trade. And the educated bourgeoisie continued to help the city to scientific and also cultural heights, among other things through many collections of natural objects and art in private ownership.

Sebalder Chörlein, Nachbau am Originalort, Original im GNM, © privat

Once again art – and music

Many artists settled in Nuremberg, and the newly discovered copperplate engraving caused a sensation. Thanks to the University of Altdorf, Nuremberg was also considered an important publishing center. Also in Nuremberg, as elsewhere, a society for the cultivation of language was founded, the “Löbliche Hirten- und Blumenorden an der Pegnitz”.

The first surviving German opera, “Seelewig”, was composed in 1644 by Sigmund Theophil Staden, organist at St. Lorenz (he also composed the “Musicalische Friedensgesänge”, which were performed at the “Friedensmahl” in 1649). Johann Pachelbel, the composer of the famous canon, acted at St. Sebald. His death in 1706 ended the era of the “Nuremberg School”, which was known throughout the country.

The still strong bourgeoisie shaped the cityscape, it was modernized and renovated, expanded and rebuilt. The famous Nuremberg choir houses date largely from this period.

From 1711 the burnt out Egidienkirche was rebuilt, it will not be the last time.

In 1792, the Nuremberg Art Association was founded as the oldest art association in Germany.

On the way to becoming a Bavarian industrial city

In 1796, the formerly proud Free Imperial City saw the troops of the French Revolutionary Army enter its walls, and the imperial jewels left their ancestral place after more than 350 years to be taken to Vienna.

The cession of the Margraviate of Bayreuth and Ansbach to Frederick William II of Prussia, agreed in a secret treaty, made the already fragile situation in the imperial circle even more unstable.

To cut a long story short, in 1806 the Franconian Imperial Circle was dissolved and Nuremberg became part of the Kingdom of Bavaria.

The now Bavarian provincial city was transfigured in the search for meaning of many a traveler, and “Medieval Nuremberg” became an early tourist magnet. Hans Sachs, Albrecht Dürer, St. John’s Cemetery and the Gothic churches were the talk of the town.

In 1828 Kaspar Hauser made his grand entrance, in 1835 William Wilson steered the first German railroad, the Adler, from Nuremberg to Fürth, in 1840 Nuremberg briefly became an inner-city port city due to the construction of the Ludwig-Danube-Main Canal, and in 1852 Hans von und zu Aufseß founded the Germanic National Museum.

What is in store for us?

In 1881 Nuremberg had more than 100,000 inhabitants and in 1914 already 360,000. Before that, the inauguration of the synagogue at Hans-Sachs-Platz could be celebrated, because again the Jewish community had grown. This was made possible by the still liberal-minded citizenry that set the tone. Nuremberg voted social democratic, became a workers’ and industrial city.

The cityscape changed once again. The railroad station, the opera house, the city park, the Luitpoldhain and the Nuremberg Garden City were built.

Nuremberg was home to the toy and model train industry, bicycles and motorized two-wheelers were built, pencils were manufactured and sharpened.

Two wars will change everything

During the First World War, the city had to mourn nearly 10,000 fallen soldiers.

During the 1920s, Nuremberg hosted Nazi Party rallies. In October 1922, Julius Streicher founded a local group of the NSDAP and, starting in 1923, published the anti-Semitic weekly “Der Stürmer”.

The mayor at this time was the democrat Hermann Luppe, who pursued a modern, progressive and social policy until he was deprived of his power and expelled from Nuremberg in 1933. During his time in office, numerous municipal institutions were built, including the first German health office, schools, the Milchhof, the women’s clinic, the employment office, the people’s observatory and what is now the Max Morlock Stadium. The 1st FC Nuremberg, which dominated German soccer in the 1920s and 1930s, played there.

In 1935, the Nuremberg racial laws came into effect. The synagogue was demolished by Streicher’s men even before the pogrom of November 9, 1939.

During World War II, the city was hit hard by Allied air raids, and on January 2, 1945, Nuremberg’s famous Old Town was reduced to rubble. On April 11, the last bomb fell, leaving a city largely destroyed.

Nürnberger Synagoge am Hans-Sachs-Platz, ©

From November 1945, the Nuremberg war crimes trials took place in the Palace of Justice, which had remained undamaged because, newly built at the beginning of the 20th century, it was located to the west, in front of the city center proper.

And then?

At first, the most necessary things were taken care of: rubble removal – food procurement – reconstruction – refugee integration – denazification.

In 1951, the first toy fair took place, in 1952, the later “Federal Labor Office” settled in Nuremberg, in 1955, the airport was inaugurated, at the end of the 1950s, the zoo was reopened, and in 1972, the Main-Danube Canal was put into operation with a modified route. Of particular importance to the population, however, were the subway lines that began in 1967.

Since 1974, the NürnbergMesse has resided on parts of the Reichsparteitag grounds.

In 1993, the “Road of Human Rights” was opened next to the Germanic National Museum, and since 1995 the Franconian metropolis has awarded the “International Nuremberg Human Rights Prize”.

Today, Nuremberg is a city of over 500,000 inhabitants, it houses a university, a Protestant college, two art colleges, two technical colleges, numerous libraries and the unique German Art Archive within its walls.

And as in the centuries before, Nuremberg is a tourist magnet. The city is pleased to welcome well over 3 million guests annually.


(Translation from german: DeepL)

Frauengeschichten – Kulturgeschichten aus Kunst und Musik

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Peter Fleischmann: Von der Reichsstadt zur fränkischen Metropole, Köln 2003

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