Bamberg gets its name from the medieval German dynasty of the Babenbergs (say it quickly and you’ll see) – they had a castle here, first mentioned in the 10th Century AD. But its first greatness, which still shapes the city today, came under King Henry II (973-1024), Duke of Bavaria, then Holy Roman Emperor and finally, a century after his death, Saint. Henry made Bamberg a bishopric (it still is) and started building the Cathedral where he is now buried, in one of Europe’s finest medieval carved tombs.
Well placed, near trade routes and on a navigable river, old Bamberg grew into an important city – or, rather, two: Cathedral Hill, seat of the bishop (now a Prince, too) and his court; and the Island City, where civil life and local industries flourished: Bamberg became famous for brewing, vegetable gardening and, for centuries, was the leading producer in Germany… of liquorice! It also rivalled nearby Mainz as an early centre of printing. But in the late 15th Century these two centres of power, sacred and secular, collided. Despite a popular uprising, the Prince-Bishops won and many of Bamberg’s leading families left.
But the 18th C brought a new blooming, as the Prince-Bishops of the Schönborn dynasty beautified Bamberg with the Baroque buildings it is now beloved for and Cathedral and City forged closer links. Bamberg’s sacred millennium ended with the Napoleonic Wars and the secularisation of Germany; the city became part of neighbouring Bavaria – and still is. The 19th C brought industrialisation and growth; liquorice was replaced by chocolate as one of Bamberg’s exports.
In the 20th C, Bamberg’s biggest peril was war but the city escaped the worst bombing with only 4.6% of buildings destroyed. Recession was another danger but Germany’s Federal and local governments helped Bambergers to rebuild and restore. Recognizing the exceptional importance and beauty of this historic cityscape, in 1993 Unesco declared Bamberg a World Heritage, alongside other European cities – Prague, Salzburg, Florence, Kraków…