On this day 740 years ago, king Rudolf of Hapsburg conferred upon Augsburg the right to make its own statutes, an act which, added to the already obtained privileges of a city seal, jurisdiction, coinage and of levying taxes, turned it into a Free Imperial City.
Augsburg had been founded by Emperor Augustus’s stepson, the Roman general Drusus, in about 15 BC. Originally a simple legion camp by the Lech and Danube rivers, it rapidly grew into a sizeable settlement by the name Augusta Vindelic(or)um.
Owing to its strategic position along main Roman long-distance routes – Via Claudia Augusta, Via Julia and Via Imperii – free Augsburg would rapidly assume the lead in trade and commerce in the late Middle Ages, enabling the rise of powerful guilds and patrician families who would shape both the city’s history and its characteristics. Among these were the Welsers (more here) and the Fuggers. The latter began their career as weavers, before becoming merchants in the following generation headed by Jakob Fugger, the Elder (1398-1469). For many decades, the Fuggers were one of the most powerful and influential families in Europe. They set up the first financial institutions, manipulated the politics of their day, and futhered the arts. Read more here. But they also helped those in need. In 1521, Jakob’s son Jakob the Rich, inaugurated a social housing project, the Fuggerei, established for craftsmen and day-labourers (and their families) who had temporarily fallen on hard times, in exchange for three daily prayers for their benefactors. It is one of the oldest social settlements still in existence today. You can take a virtual tour, or read more about it here.
During its bloom in the 15th and 16th century, Augsburg was also known for its excellent craftsmen, in particular its goldsmiths and printers, as for example David Altenstetter (1547-1617) and Günther Zainers (d. 1478), Augsburg’s first printer.
During the Reformation, Augsburg was the place of choice for negotiating a truce between the conflicting parties – the Catholic Church and Luteran followers – culminating in the temporary Peace of Augsburg in 1555.
In the 18th century, Augsburg’s fame shifted to renowned makers of instruments, notably Georg Friedrich Brander (1713–1783) for technical precision instruments, and Johann Andreas Stein (1728-1792), builder of keyboard instruments, whose pianofortes were much preferred by the Mozart family (Leopold, Mozart’s father, originated from Augsburg).
Under Napoleon’s occupation Augsburg lost its independence and was integrated into the free state of Bavaria (1805/06). In the following decades it became an important centre for the textile and machine industry, well-known among the latter is MAN (machine industry of Augsburg-Nuremberg), where Rudolf Diesel (1858-1913) invented the Diesel motor in 1892, and the Messerschmitt AG (aircraft manufacturer).
After World War II, the much destroyed historical city centre was gradually restored to its former beauty. Today Augsburg is the district capital of Swabia, a multifaceted city that has something to offer, it seems, for everyboy.
You may like reading the following:
- Augsburg on the Romantic Road
- The Fugger and Welser Museum
- Germany-Travel destination Augsburg
- A Dictionary A-Z about Augsburg (in German)