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Mainz, more than 2000 years old, founded by the Romans, Capital of Rhineland-Palatinate, former Capital of the German Nation of the Holy Roman Empire,...
Discover the exciting history of this beautiful city

Anja Lück
european institute of cultural routes
Anja Lück
06 November 2007
General Info

The beautiful City of Mainz is - with its approxemately 200.000 inhabitants - not only the capital but also the biggest city of the german federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate.

It is situated at the most eastern point of Rheinland-Palatinate, on the west side of the Rhine. The Rhine is the eastern border of the city.

Mainz is exactly located on the 50th latitude.

View over Mainz

Emblem of the city of Mainz

The Roman Mainz

Mainz is with its more than 2000 years one of the oldest german cities. During the time of the Roman Empire already there was built a strategical important military camp, right where the Rhine and the Main join.

The camp was built on a bank, opposite of the esturary of the Main, and was called Mogontiacum (13/12 B.C.).

Because of the roman policy of expansion and in order to conquer the northern Germania they stationed two legions under the supreme command of Nero Claudius Drusus, stepson of emperor Augustus, in Mogontiacum.

One more military camp was built near Weisenau, close to a celtic settlement, called Mongon (after their God), who is supposed to be the patron of the name of the later developed city !

This huge military base attracted tradesmen, craftsmen and landlords. Therefore the camp developed not only to a military but also to a civil centre of this region. One after another harbour was built on the Rhine, as well as a lot of the typical constructions of roman cities, such as temple, forums, villas and thermal springs, etc.).

In 27 A.C. a fixed bridge connected the camp with the small outpost “Kastel? on the right side of the Rhine River.

Nero Claudius Drusus

Roman relicts in Mainz

Before the year 90 Mainz didn’t only gain importance of the function as a military base at the border of the Rhine but also gained importance as an administrativ center of the region.

It became the Capital of the newly built province Germania Superior (Upper Germania), which spread up to the todays city Koblenz.

The construction of the Limes began around this time. The Limes is a 550 kilometer long section of the outer border of the Roman Empire in Europe. Today it is a memorial and since 2005 it is part of the World Heritage List of UNESCO.

Mainz had a prosperity time of about two centuries. The city became rich because of the tradingstreets, but it never gained the importance of Treves (Trier) or Cologne.

In the 2nd and 3rd century the violations of the germanic tribes became heavier. Therefore a city wall was built, but in 368 Rando, Duke of the Alemanns, devastated the city. Other assaults from the Vandals, Suebi and Alani around 406 hit the city gravely. This was the beginning of the degeneration of the roman Mainz.

In the end the Franconians wan the regency of the city and incorporated it into their empire untill the end of the 5th century.

Mainz and the Christianity

At the time of the frankish Empire (mainly in the 6th century) Mainz prosperised again. For the first time after the Romans the city restarts its construction works.

In the 7th and 8th century the time of the proselytisation through the Benetictine from the Anglo-Saxon areas began. The most important of the proselytisation archbishops was Bonifatius, who later on became Bishop of Mainz.

From here he managed the Christianisation of Hesse and Frisia.

At the end of the 8th century Mainz was upraised to an archbishophoric and developed from then on to the biggest Christian province northerly of the Alps. The city gained enormous significance with this happening.

With Karl the Great the time of the Carolingian had begun. Within the next 200 years Mainz developed to a religious centre of the bishophoric. Eversince Bonifazius, Mainz was an active part of the christianisation of the Slavs and other eastern people. So Mainz became an important city of the empire, not only in political and religious means but also in economic aspect.

But still, there was always a huge influence of the church in the development of the city, which depended a lot on the archbishop's power.

Emblem of the diocese Mainz

Bonifazius, Bishop of Mainz

After many defended assaults of the Normans in the 9th and 10th century a new epoch started for Mainz. Thanks to that the city got the honorful name of Aurea Moguntia (golden Mainz). The governing archbishop got the title “Archbishop of the Holy Chair of Mainz?. This honorfull name exists today except of Mainz only in Rome !

Mainz became domicile of the substitute Pope beyond the Alps.
Willigis, the most important churchman in these days, became archbishop of Mainz in 975. At the same time he was Chancelor of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation, which he bound to the bishops chair of Mainz.

Willigis ordered to construct the romanesque cathedral, which was supposed to become the cathedral of the state.

With Willigis the archbishop in Mainz finally got the government of the city. They solely gave a Count of City the position to administrate representativly the city.

Mainz remained with little breakes the archbishophoric metropolis to the end of the Holy Roman Empire.

The free City of Mainz (1244 – 1462)

Privilege of a City - Siegfried III. von Eppstein 1244

(Picture: Holger Weinandt, 2000)

The expression „Free City? (burgh) developed in the 14th century. It was first used for the cities of Basel, Strasbourg, Speyer, Worms, Mainz, Cologne and Regensburg.

Later on there followed other German cities.

Generally spoken a “Free City? (burgh) is an indication for cities formerly governed by the bishop, that were able to free themselves of the actual ruler, without having anyone else who takes over the power.

But of course these cities orientated themselves after the king or the emperor respectively, what of course made sense. But still there was no royal authority over the city whatsoever. Therefore the cities disposed many privileges, such as not having to pay the yearly tax, they could not have be hypothecated, they were not binded on the military service, did not have to render homage to the king or emperor and normally were not subordinated to a bailiwick.

So, on the one hand these cities had much more political freedom, but on the other hand they had to defend and legitimate their status all the time!

In 1236 the development of the “Free City? (burgh) of Mainz started. The emperor granted the people of Mainz more rights once again. The whole situation was benefited by the conflict between Friedrich II. and the Pope.

Then, after a couple of years on the 13th November in 1244 the archbishop Siegfried III. Von Eppstein gave the “Freedom of the City? to the people of Mainz. The circumstances during this happening are not completely clarified yet.

The granted rights included among other things the earlier specified privileges. Furthermore the city of Mainz gained the right to built their own City Council containing 24 members, which was only allowed to the patrician houses.

The chapter of Mainz also granted the maintenance of these privileges after any election of the bishop in the future. Mainz became in fact a “Free City?, although the archbishop still remained the head of the city.

After these events a period of prosperity for Mainz began in the High Middleage. In 1254 the Rhenish City Union developed. It was an Union from many Cities around the Upper and Middle Rhine, dealing with economic, military and political concerns.

Mainz and Worms where the two most important cities in this Union.
Mainz gained good reputation through this, so it was able to develop again into a centre for political and ecclesiastical happenings. Many foundations of monasteries around can be dated to this period of time.

The city also gained more money, because of the now more secure trading paths, from which above all benefited trade the most.

Mainz lost its status in 1462.

The Republic of Mainz

The French Revolution in 1789 had impacts of Mainz as well. The presently elector Friedrich Karls Joseph von Erthal of course didn’t support the revolutionary thought coming from France. After the capture of the regions left of the Rhine, including Mainz, in 1792, in the context of the “crusade for the freedom of Europe? arranged by the French, the elector of Mainz had to escape.

After this capture, it was important for the French not to appear as conqueror but as liberator. So in the end, in 1793 on behalf of the conqueror the first free elections on took place in Mainz.

The so called Republic of Mainz was the first democracy on German grounds. But it wasn’t supposed to last long. A couple of months later the French backtracked after many Prussian sieges and bombardments of the city. This was already the end of the Republic of Mainz.

All chaplain electorates were repealed after a resolution in Regensburg. Therefore the electoral-archbishopric time was also over !

Mainz in the 19th and 20th century

In the 19th century Mainz lost its function as a city of residence. From this moment on Mainz developed more and more into a province since 1816.
Important to know is, that the Carnival of Mainz started ever since the year 1837. The carnival is still a huge event for most of the people of Mainz every year.
50 years later the building boom of the period of promoterism finally reached Mainz and with it the growth of population expanded. But the function of fortification interfered the circumference, because of the fixed borders of the city.

The National Socialism couldn’t spread that easily in Mainz. At the date of the takeover of the power there more people of Mainz were demonstrating against it, than supporting it. But this died away just a bit later.

Mainz in 1844. A Lithography of J. Lehnhardt

The Market Place of Mainz

The huge Jewish community in Mainz, with its about 3.000 members, was almost completely deported by the Nazis.

Mainz was destroyed in the war particularly in the years between 1942 and 1945. 80% of the city were ruined.

After the war Mainz was divided. The border between the French and the American zone of occupation was the Rhine.

Therefore the districts on the right side of the Rhine and northern of the Main were given to the city of Wiesbaden. The ones southern of the Main became autonomous communities.

Moreover the new federal States of Rhineland-Palatinate and Hesse were created. Their border is again the Rhine.

In 1950 Mainz became capital of Rhineland-Palatinate, what finally stopped Mainz from becoming a province.

Mainz today

The cityscape of Mainz looks today, except of a couple of suburbs, rather metropolitan.

The downtown area contains a lot of elements from different epochs.

Parts of the Old Town are still affected by the Middle Age and the early modern times with its small and tiny streets and alleys and also the many timbered houses (around the Augustinerstreet).

But huge parts of the Old Town were destroyed in the Second World War and were not rebuilt but replaced by modern constructions.

The panorama of the City shows the following buildings : the city hall, the Hilton-Hotel and the Rheingoldhalle, which represent the modern, as well as the Zeughaus and the Deutschhaus, which represent the Baroque and the Renaissance.

The Old Town

The State Theater of Mainz (Picture: M. Bahmann, 2003)

The most important and still existing constructions from the 19th century are the protestant Christuskirche (Christ’s Church), the main train station, the bridge of the Rhine, parts of the theatre of the state and of the fortification.

Because of its moved history the city has many sights to offer.

Besides the already specified ones Mainz holds also many interesting museums, such as the Roman-Germanic central museum (founded in 1852), the State Museum of Mainz, and the Steinhalle, or the museum of garrison, showing the 2000 years of history, just to name a couple of them.

But everyone who decides to visit Mainz should not miss the colourful and unique “Carnival of Mainz?, taking place every year around January/February !!!

All pictures of this article are taken from the following pages:

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