Settled In: 960 AD (Castles in 1080 & 1142)
Officially Founded: Free Imperial City in 1274 AD
Language: German, but basic English gets you by.
Suggested Stay: 2-3 Full Days with overnight stay
Sitting above the fertile Tauber River valley, the city of Rothenburg is a medieval wonderland. Almost touched since the 1600s, the brightly colored, half-timber homes, narrow alleys, and intact city walls make Rothenburg one of Europe’s must-see villages. You”ll love attending the shops, visiting the Christmas market, joining the Night Watchman on his duties, eating Franconia food, and touring the Medieval Crime Museum. We hope you enjoy our Rothenburg Germany travel guide!
Top Things To Do In Rothenburg:
2. Old Town Walking Tour
Read More: Top 10 Things To Do In Rothenburg
Historical Overview Of Rothenburg:
Rothenburg was first established between 960 and 1080 by the Counts of Comburg who oversaw this part of the Tauber River Valley. The settlement was fairly sparse but it did draw in Conrad III Hohenstaufen (whose uncle was the Holy Roman Emperor) who married the daughter of the last Count of Comburg in 1115. The following year be became the Duke of Franconia, then the King of Germany just 4 years before establishing his royal castle in Rothenburg in 1142. This red castle (Rothenburg) gave the town its name and a lot of power as it officially started to form around 1170.
King Conrad died before he could be crowned Holy Roman Emperor and after his son (Friedrich IV) also died the castle sat vacantly, but the village around it grew. Gaining a ton of power with its location at the crossroads of two important trade routes, Rothenburg was further elevated to a Free Imperial City in 1274 by King Rudolf of the Habsburg Dynasty. The trade routes were the Thuringian Castle Road (also called middle Saint James Way) going East to West from Prague to Paris and the Romantic Road (Known then as the Staufen Road) running North and South.
With its newfound status, the city became one of the most important city-states of the Middle Ages. While an earthquake in 1356 ruined the castle and damage the city wall, Rothenburg quickly recovered with even stronger fortifications. By 1400, Rothenburg grew to be one of the ten largest towns in the Holy Roman Empire with 6,000 residents and 2nd largest in Germany.
Jewish people kicked out of town by the Council after pressure from preacher Johann Teuschlein. Rothenburg participates in the Peasants’ War and tries to introduce the Reformation, but Margrave Casimir has to surrender. Johann Teuschlein and other rebels are executed. Reformation hit Rothenburg in 1544 turning it Protestant. Churches forced to change by 1559 with only the Knights of St. John (until 1809) and the Teutonic Order (1672 bought by the city) remain Catholic, but both orders of knights have to renounce their churches, Saint Jakob and Saint Johannis.
During the 30 Years War in 1631, Lutheran Rothenburg was taken by the Catholic Count of Tilly who wanted to quarter his 40,000 troops. Tilly had been on the way to another city, but bad storms forced him to go to Rothenburg instead. Legend has it that Count Tilly told the villagers that if anyone could drink a 3-liter tankard of wine in one drink he would take his troops and leave. Mayor Nusch took the challenge and saved the town by drinking it all in a single gulp, which today is celebrated as the so-called “Master Draught”. In reality, the troops stayed through the Winter and left the city poor and depleted. In total, Rothenburg is occupied 7 times during the war. After the 30 Years War, the major regional trade routes changed and Rothenburg never recovered. The most devesting occupations were in 1631 & 1634 by the Swedes plus 1645 by the French. Because of its lack of income, Rothenburg laid in hibernation persevered for over 200 years.
Shortly after Rothenburg was annexed into Bavaria in 1802, tourists start arriving at the picture-perfect village. By 1880 preservation laws were quickly passed to prevent the city from modernizing. The Medieval time capsule attracted artists and tourists from all over Europe. It was the beauty of the city that ultimately saved it from being completely destroyed by American artillery in WW2. There was heavy damage from aircraft bombing, but thankfully it has been repaired through donations. Today Rothenburg is one of the most magical places on allowing you to step back in time.