|Traces of human existence around Heidelberg
date from the dawn of history: 500.000 years ago the Homo heidelbergensis
lived in this area and from the Stone Age potsherds and stone weapons have
remained. About 800 B.C., the Celts settled on the Heiligenberg. Later the
Romans were here and some important archeological artefacts from this
period have been found (providing knowledge about the viniculture). They
were driven away by the Alemannic tribe in 260 A.D. A lasting settlement
was only founded in the 6th century and the villages Neuenheim and
Bergheim developed quickly, followed by Handschuhsheim (765 mentioned
first), Rohrbach (766) as well as Wieblingen and Kirchheim (both 767 first
The title of the Count Palatinate at Rhine was first granted to Konrad of Hohenstaufen, a brother of Emperor Friedrich I of Barbarossa, in 1155. The name Heidelberch was mentioned for the first time in 1196, in a deed of the Cloister Schönau. The history of the castle starts in 1225, when the Wittelsbach Ludwig I., Count Palatinate 1214-1231, gained a castle as a feudal tenure from the Cloister Lorsch, with the aim that he might protect the trade road into the Neckar valley. In 1356, the electoral title is embodied in the constitution: from that date on, the Count Palatinates held one of the seven titles as Imperial Electors.
In 1386, Ruprecht I. founded the University and even in 1392, Heidelberg extended as far as the present-day Bismarckplatz, and in 1400 the building of the Holy Ghost Church began. In the same year, Elector Ruprecht III. was elected as the German King Ruprecht I. and following his death the Palatinate was divided between his four sons. His son Ludwig III. succeeded him in Heidelberg, and the town was praised in the work of the medieval poet Oswald von Wolkenstein, an acquaintance of the king: "Ich ruem dich, haidlberg" (I laud thee, haidlberg).
In the following years Heidelberg and its castle flourished. Ludwig V. (1508-1544) enforced the fortress elements of the castle, among them the Artillery Garden and the Herb Tower. During this time the Library and the Ladies Building were erected and the Economy buildings enlarged. In 1524 Ludwig V. added the Ludwigsbau and the Hall-of-Mirrors Building was erected under Friedrich II. in 1549. Elector Ottheinrich (1556-1559) began the transition of the castle into a splendid Renaissance building by commissioning the Ottheinrich Palace. Friedrich IV. (1592-1610) added the Friedrichsbau Palace, and also founded the city of Mannheim in 1606/07. Following this, both the castle and Heidelberg flourished dramatically. Peasants, fisherman, craftsmen and traders settled here, but due to the War of Succession hardly anything has remained. An especially beautiful example of a feature that did at the market place, however, is the house Zum Ritter St. Georg which was built by a Huguenot trader in 1592.
Heidelberg and its Electors became repeatedly involved in political and theological arguments about popes and the question of the true faith. In 1415, on Imperial order, Elector Ludwig III. was forced to give up the Bohemian heretic Johannes Hus to death by burning in Constance. By 1518, however, Martin Luther was given an opportunity to defend his theses unmolested in the Heidelberg Augustinian Cloister. As early as 1556, the Palatinate converted to the Reformation. Under the Electors' influence the university had developed to a hotbed for the reformists and the 1653 published Calvinistic "Heidelberg Catechism" became most prominent handbook of this religious body in Europe. In 1608, Elector Friedrich IV. became leader of of the Protestant Union and the conflict between Catholic and Protestant German countries got significantly stronger. Inspite of these political thunderclouds Friedrich V. (1613-1623) , the Winter King, arranged the Castle even more splendidly. He unveiled ambitious plans and limited himself not only to buildings reminiscent of the English Palace but also demanded that the Castle Garden be turned into the eighth wonder of the world. After having been elected King of Bohemia in 1619, he was defeated as early as 1620 in the Battle of the White Mountain and lost, due to his haughtiness, both his title and land. This conflict formed the foundations of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648).
In 1622 the Imperial General Tilly captured Heidelberg and had the famous Bibliotheca Palatina carried off to the Vatican. The university was closed in the course of the war's turmoil, and the Palatinate consequently fell to Bavaria's Catholic domination. During the war Heidelberg and its vicinity were ransacked and destroyed on a number of occasions. The land lost three-fourths of its population, either through the war or as a result of epidemics such as typhoid fever, pocks or pestilence. With the Westphalia Peace in 1649, Karl Ludwig, son of Friedrich V., became Elector Palatinate and opened the country to the Protestants again. Many Huguenots, Flemings, and Wallones settle in Heidelberg in the following years. The university was reopened in 1652.
1671 Karl Ludwig married off his unhappy daughter Elisabeth Charlotte (1652-1721), called Liselotte of Palatinate , to Philip of Orléans, the brother of the French Sun King Ludwig XIV. As in 1685, the Pfalz-Simmern lineage of the Wittelsbach house became extinct. The Sun King declared the Palatinate the property of France and started the Palatinate-French War of Succession . The surrounding town and villages were destroyed in 1689. Handschuhsheim alone was burned down three times, the dead were buried in mass graves. In Heidelberg the rebuilding began quite soon, yet in 1693 town and castle were once again captured, by General Mélac, and this time the French troops caused systematic devastation: the castle was blown up and the town burned to the ground.
The re-building of Heidelberg was not begun before 1697. The Hauptstraße was rebuilt along the markings of the medieval streets, but in Baroque style: from 1701 the Town hall was begun, 1712-1715 the Palais Morass with today's Electoral Palatinate Museum and between 1712-1735 the Old University. Alternative motives accompanied the patching up of the new Elector's residence in the Lower Rhine region: the new and from now on Catholic Wittelsbach lineage attempted to convince the Protestant Palatinate of the glory of Catholicism, erecting Madonnas (among them the Kornmarkt Madonna) and the Jesuit Church. A new conflict arose between the population and the Elector, whereupon he abandoned all plans to restore the Heidelberg Castle and in 1720 made the Mannheim Palace (besides the summer residence in Schwetzingen) his residential Palace.
Elector Karl Theodor (1742-1799) began eagerly building during his reign. His plans produced the Great Barrel (1750), the Karlstor (1775-1781) and the Old bridge (1786-1788). Yet when the half restored Castle burnt down anew by lightning strike in 1764, any building activity was abandoned and the Castle was left nearly unnoticed. It was only in the early 19th century that Count Graimberg advocated the conservation of the Castle ruins, gaining praise and adoration for the town and castle of Heidelberg. Big names such as Clemens Brentano, Achim von Arnim and Joseph von Eichendorff as well the first foreign guests like Edward Bulwer, William Turner or Mark Twain depict the scene, consisting of river landscape, town and castle in impressive pictures.
However, Heidelberg has developed its own character, independent of that of the castle. In 1803, the university was reformed by the Grand Duke of Baden Karl Friedrich (and has since then been known as the Rupertus-Karolus-University, using the name of both founders). The institute of the natural sciences is to be found in Neuenheim today. With the incorporation of the villages around Heidelberg, it has considerably expanded and its economy has developed steadily. Today's Heidelberg is a city with a time-honoured past, but it also has built a name as a young and lively city.