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- This article is about Marburg, the German city. For the virus and the disease it causes, see Marburg virus.
Founding and Early History
Like many settlements, Marburg developed at the crossroads of two important early medieval highways: an east-west one (Cologne to Prague) and a north-south one (from the North Sea to the Alps and on to Italy), the former crossing the river Lahn here. The settlement was protected, and customs raised, by a small castle that was built in the 9th or 10th century by the dynasty of the Giso. Since 1140, Marburg is dated as a town (proven by coins). From the Gisos, it fell around that time to the Landgraves of Thuringia, residing on the Wartburg above Eisenach.
In 1228 the widowed countess (Landgräfin) of Thuringia, Elizabeth, chose Marburg as her dowager seat, as she did not get along well with her brother-in-law, the new Landgrave. The countess dedicated her life to the sick and would become after her early death in 1231, aged 24, one of the most eminent female Saints, St. Elizabeth of Hungary. She was canonized in 1235.
Capital of Hessen
The Landgraviate of Hessen, a principality directly under the Emperor, was established in Marburg in 1247 by Sophie von Brabant , St. Elizabeth's daughter, comprising territories previously belonging to Thuringia. Marburg was the capital of Hessen from that time until approximately 1540. Following the first division of the landgraviate, it was the capital of Hessen-Marburg from 1485 - 1500 (and again between 1567 and 1605). Hessen was one of the more powerful second-tier principalities in Germany. Its "eternal enemy" was the Archbishop of Mainz, one of the Electors, who competed with Hessen in many wars and conflicts, stretching over several centuries, for territory.
After 1605, Marburg became just another provincial town, known mostly for the university. It became a virtual backwater for two centuries after the Thirty Years War, 1618-1648, when it was fought over by Hessen-Darmstadt and Hessen-Kassel . The Hessian territory around Marburg lost more than two thirds of its population, more than in all later wars (including World War I and World War II) combined.
Marburg is the seat of the oldest Protestant university in the world, the University of Marburg, or Philipps-Universität, founded in 1527. It is one of the four classical "university villages" in Germany, the other three being Göttingen, Heidelberg, and Tübingen.
Due to its neglect during the entire 18th century Marburg - like Rye or Chartres - survived as a relatively intact Gothic town, simply because there was no money spent on any new architecture or expansion. When Romanticism became the dominant cultural and artistic paradigm in Germany, Marburg became interesting once again, and many of the leaders of the movement lived, taught, or studied in Marburg. They formed a circle of friends that was of great importance, especially in literature, philology, folklore, and law. The group included Friedrich Carl v. Savingy , the most important jurist of his day and father of the Roman Law adaption in Germany; the poets, writers, and social activists Achim von Arnim, Clemens Brentano, and especially the latter's sister and former's later wife, Bettina von Arnim. Most famous internationally, however, were the Brothers Grimm, who collected many of their fairy tales here - Rapunzel's Tower stands in Marburg, and across the Lahn hills, in the area called Schwalm, little girls' costumes included a red hood...
It has to be said, however, that this circle had disappeared from Marburg by the 1820s, and for another 45 years, Marburg became a Hessian backwater again.
In the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, the reactionary Elector of Hessen had foolishly backed Austria; Prussia won, and invaded (without any bloodshed) and annexed Hessen-Kassel (as well as Hanover, the City of Frankfurt, and other territories) north of the Main river, while pro-Prussian Hessen-Darmstadt remained independent. For Marburg, this turn of events was very positive, because Prussia decided to make Marburg its main administrative center in this part of her new province and to turn the university in the regional academic center. Thus, Marburg's rise as an administrative and university city began; since the Prussian university system would become the indubitably best in the world, Marburg would now attract very famous scholars. There was, on the other hand, hardly any industry to speak of, so that students, professors, and civil servants - who generally had enough but not much money and paid very little taxes - dominated the town, which tended to be very conservative.
Marburg is famous for its medieval churches, especially the Elisabethkirche, one of the two or three first purely Gothic churches North of the Alps outside of France and thus an incunable of Gothic architecture in Germany, as well as for the castle.
More important, however, is Marburg's city as such, an unspoilt, spire-dominated, castle-crowned Gothic/Renaissance city on a hill, intact because Marburg was an extreme backwater between 1600 and 1850. Contrary to e.g. Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Marburg regained some of its importance in later centuries, so it is not a "museum village" or EuroDisney, no tourist trap but rather a student-dominated university town.
Much of the physical attractiveness of Marburg today is the legacy of the legendary Lord Mayor Dr. Hanno Drechsler (in office 1970-1992), who promoted urban renewal and the restoration, for the first time, by object and not by area, i.e. areas were not pulled down but rather buildings restored. Thus, at a time when other cities were still pulling down medieval quarters, Marburg already protected its unique heritage. Marburg also had one of the first pedestrian zones in Germany. Marburg Altstadtsanierung (since 1972) received many awards and prizes.
The city is also famous for the virus named after it, the Marburg virus, which was first noticed and described during an outbreak in the city due to an accident at the city's main industrial plant, the Behring-Werke (then part of Hoechst and today of Aventis), founded by Marburg citizen and first Nobel Prize in Medicine winner, Emil von Behring. During the outbreak, 19 people became infected and 5 of them died. While this may seem a small number of people, during a cholera epidemic in the modern world only 1 in 20 people die. The Marburg virus is named after the town as it is customary to name viruses of such ferocity after the town or area in which they originate.
"Marburg an der Drau"
Marburg is also the German name of Maribor ("Marburg an der Drau", rather than "Marburg an der Lahn"), the second largest city in Slovenia. The two Marburgs are sister cities and closely cooperate. Although the name "Marburg" is not customary for Maribor anymore even by German-speakers, Slovenia - with one of the fastest-growing economies of the new European Union member states - is one of the central and eastern European countries where German place names are not seen as somehow offensive, and thus "Marburg" is used for Maribor with more frequency during the last 10 years than it was previously.
- Marburg, official website of Marburg
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