History of the city of Augsburg
by Christian Schaller
Antiquity and the Middle Ages: From Roman Provincial Capital to Medieval Imperial City
Since ancient times, the foothills of the Alps have been considered an important crossroads for numerous supra-regional trade routes. The later Roman province Raetia et Vindelicia was conquered in the course of the Alpine campaign by Emperor Augustus until 15 BC. The confluence of the rivers Wertach and Lech offered strategic advantages, which resulted in the foundation of a military camp in the area of today’s Augsburg-Oberhausen.
After a flood of the Wertach River in the second post-Christian decade, a new fort was founded on today’s Domhügel, whose surrounding settlement flourished greatly in the following period. Towards the end of the first century, the so-called Augusta Vindelicum replaced the settlement of Cambodunum, the Roman Kempten, as the provincial capital and advanced to become the undisputed metropolis of the foothills of the Alps in terms of administration, economy and culture. Although all the institutions of the provincial authority had to be located in Augsburg from this time on, the underpinning finds and features are still missing in many areas. The Archaeological Garden established in 2011 in the Äußere Pfaffengässchen is one of the few places of remembrance that make Roman building remains in the city area publicly accessible and convey.
Characteristic for Augsburg is the continuity of settlement from antiquity to the Middle Ages and the resulting relevance of the archaeological findings in the development of the ancient and medieval history of the city. In the early Middle Ages, there is evidence of a settlement reduced to the cathedral quarter with a greatly reduced population compared to the Roman provincial capital, which was only able to develop again over the centuries into an important episcopal seat and a major trading city in the Middle Ages and early modern period.
The cathedral forecourt can therefore be considered a complex place of remembrance of the city’s history, which in its present form reflects not only the ancient and medieval history of the city, but also the early modern and modern overformations.
A central historical event of Augsburg’s early medieval city history is the Lechfeld Battle of 955.
The stabilization of Central Europe that followed had a positive effect on Augsburg’s development. Around the turn of the first millennium, the bishop’s town advanced to become a trading city, which played an increasingly important political role in the East Franconian Empire and the Holy Roman Empire that developed from it. In the High Middle Ages, the self-confident bourgeoisie increasingly emancipated itself from the bishop’s rule and gradually won the privileges of autonomous administration and legislation and the status of a free imperial city until 1276.
Early Modern Times: From the Economic Metropolis of the Renaissance to the City of Art in the Baroque Era
The Roman foundation of Augsburg developed into one of the most important cities of the Holy Roman Empire in the High and Late Middle Ages. The Swabian imperial city established itself between 1300 and 1500 as one of the most important trading centers in Central Europe and as a leading textile center. The best-known representative of this is the Fugger family, who, through barch trading, mines and banking, rose to become one of the most powerful trading houses in the world for a time in the 16th century.
The economic prosperity since the late 15th century was also followed by a cultural heyday. Augsburg was one of the first cities in Central Europe to transfer the forms and ideas of the Italian Renaissance. The Fugger Chapel in the Church of St. Anna, built from 1512 onwards, is considered the first Renaissance building north of the Alps. Early modern humanism was not only reflected in an increased appreciation for the Roman-ancient foundation of the city, but also manifested itself in building projects. With the Fuggerei, Jakob Fugger founded a social settlement in 1521, which is considered one of the oldest of its kind.
Through the Imperial Diet, especially between 1500 and 1582, the imperial city also gained political weight and advanced to become an important site of the Reformation. The Luther Staircase in St. Anna currently forms a central place of remembrance for this part of the city’s history.
In this interaction of economy and art, Augsburg developed, among other things, into a southern German center of blacksmithing and arts and crafts, of facade painting, of letterpress printing, or even of excellent water technology. The economic strength, which was already waning around 1600, was partly compensated for by a representative city building program and public works of art.
To this day, the buildings created by the city’s chief architect Elias Holl, such as the City Hall with the Golden Hall, are still characteristic of the cityscape.
The Thirty Years’ War from 1618 to 1648 marked a turning point for Augsburg. The time of the trading houses and imperial days was over, but the parity imperial city developed into a baroque art metropolis in the following period. The arts and crafts, which were still appreciated nationwide, were distributed by agents operating throughout Europe.
Augsburg was mediatized by the young Kingdom of Bavaria in 1806. The dissolution of over five hundred years of autonomy and the degradation to a Bavarian provincial city represented a caesura in the city’s history and eliminated the last echoes of the “Golden Age”.
New and Recent History: From bavarian provincial city to modern Augsburg
After the end of the imperial city’s independence, the city’s economic and cultural development initially seemed to stagnate. For the former imperial city, industrialization became an opportunity and a way out of the crisis after the break caused by mediatization.
The early modern weaving town had already risen to become a center of calico printing in Central Europe in the 18th century. A systematic economic policy was largely absent, while private companies developed a lively activity. For what was soon to be called “German Manchester,” this meant the construction of numerous large buildings such as the Augsburg Kammgarn Spinning Mill, or AKS for short, the SWA cotton spinning mills, which include today’s so-called Glass Palace, or the Municipal Slaughterhouse and Livestock Yard. The AKS and the SWA established themselves as two of the most important Augsburg companies. After 50 years of existence, the AKS already had around 1000 employees in 1888, the SWA around 1400.
The settlement of factories and workers’ residential quarters to the east and north of the old town proved to be of momentous importance for urban development during the 19th century. Industrialization significantly changed the appearance of the city and the landscape.
In Augsburg’s textile district, the haphazard and polycentric focal point of industrialization in Bavarian Swabia, these effects were significant. This superlative of the industrial age can be applied, as it were, to the dismantling at the end of the 20th century. After most industrial operations had been abandoned by the 1990s, demolitions followed in many places, but also conversions.
The radical conversion and negation of the surviving substance and thus of its historical significance led to a fragmentation of the urban structure. Due to the population explosion as well as increasing urbanization and industrialization, there was an increasingly catastrophic housing shortage since the 19th century and throughout the Weimar period. During the National Socialist regime, this need continued to be ignored. Rather, in a gigantomaniac project, which Adolf Hitler himself influenced, the radical urban redevelopment of Augsburg into a Gau capital of Swabia was to take place starting in 1939, which also projected a monumental Gauforum including a parade route. The start of the war made these plans obsolete.
In contrast, Wehrmacht buildings were erected in the west of the city, which continued to be used by the U.S. Army without transition after the end of the war. The resulting garrison quarters with residential buildings, but above all the monuments of Sheridan Park, form important memorials to the city’s history from the mid-20th century to the turn of the millennium.
The city’s history after 1945 was marked by changes in all areas of public life – politics and social development, spatial structure and population, and economy and culture. The complex interactions between the city of Augsburg and the stationed U.S. Americans had a lasting impact on the cityscape, politics, economy, and everyday culture and take on a central role in Augsburg’s postwar history.
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