Lutherstadt Wittenberg
Market square, with ancient town hall, statue of Martin Luther and Stadtkirche
Market square, with ancient town hall, statue of Martin Luther and Stadtkirche
Coat of arms of Lutherstadt Wittenberg
Lutherstadt Wittenberg is located in Germany
Lutherstadt Wittenberg
Coordinates 51°52′0″N 12°39′0″E / 51.866667°N 12.65°E / 51.866667; 12.65Coordinates: 51°52′0″N 12°39′0″E / 51.866667°N 12.65°E / 51.866667; 12.65
Country Germany
State Saxony-Anhalt
District Wittenberg
Mayor Eckhard Naumann (SPD)
Basic statistics
Area 240.32 km2 (92.79 sq mi)
Elevation 67 m  (220 ft)
Population 49,496 (31 December 2010)[1]
 - Density 206 /km2 (533 /sq mi)
Other information
Time zone CET/CEST (UTC+1/+2)
Licence plate WB
Postal code 06886
Area code 03491
Website wittenberg.de
Luther Memorials in Eisleben and Wittenberg *
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Statue of Martin Luther at the market square
Country Germany
Type Cultural
Criteria iv, vi
Reference 783
Region ** Europe and North America
Inscription history
Inscription 1996 (20th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List
** Region as classified by UNESCO

Wittenberg, officially Lutherstadt Wittenberg, is a city in Germany in the Bundesland Saxony-Anhalt, on the river Elbe. It has a population of about 50,000.

The importance of Wittenberg historically was due to its seat of the Elector of Saxony, a dignity held by the dukes of Saxe-Wittenberg and also to its close connection with Martin Luther and the dawn of the Protestant Reformation; several of its buildings are associated with the events of this time. Part of the Augustinian monastery in which Luther dwelt, first as a monk and later as owner with his wife and family, is preserved and considered to be the world's premier museum dedicated to Luther. Since 1996 Wittenberg is a UNESCO world heritage.



A settlement was mentioned first in 1180 as a small village founded by Flemish colonists under the rule of the House of Ascania. In 1260, it became the residence of the dukes of Saxe-Wittenberg, and in 1293 the settlement was granted a town charter. Wittenberg developed into an important trade centre during the following centuries, due to its location. When the Ascanians died out, Saxe-Wittenberg passed to the House of Wettin. The city became an important regional political and cultural centre at the end of the 15th century, when Frederick III "the Wise", Elector of Saxony, took up residence in Wittenberg. Several parts of the city were extended soon afterward: the second bridge over the Elbe was built from 1486 to 1490 and the castle church, the Schlosskirche, was built from 1496 to 1506. The palace was rebuilt the same time.

In 1502, the University of Wittenberg was founded and gave a home to many important thinkers, among them Martin Luther (Professor of Theology from 1508) and Philipp Melanchthon (Professor of Greek from 1518).

On October 31, 1517, Luther nailed his 95 theses against the selling of indulgences at the door of the All Saints', the Castle Church, marking the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. The Anabaptist movement also had one of its earliest homes in Wittenberg, when the Zwickau prophets moved there in late 1521, only to be suppressed by Luther when he returned from the Wartburg in spring 1522. The Capitulation of Wittenberg (1547) is the name given to the treaty by which John Frederick the Magnanimous was compelled to resign the electoral dignity and most of his territory to the Albertine branch of the House of Wettin.

In 1760, during the Seven Years' War, the Prussian-occupied town was bombarded by the Austrians. It was occupied by the French in 1806, and refortified in 1813 by command of Napoleon. In 1814, it was stormed by the Prussian Army under Tauentzien, who received the title of "von Wittenberg" as a reward. In 1815, Wittenberg became part of Prussia and was administered within the Province of Saxony. Wittenberg continued to be a fortress of the third class until the reorganisation of German defences after the foundation of the new German Empire led to its being dismantled in 1873.

Unlike many other historic German cities during World War II, Wittenberg's city center was spared destruction during the war. The Allies agreed not to bomb Wittenberg, though there was fighting in the city, with bullet pock-marks visible on the statues of Luther and Melanchthon at the market square, or so the popular version of the city's history goes. In actuality, the Luther statue was not even present in the city square during much of the war. It was stored at Luther Brunnen, a roadhouse only a few kilometers north of the city.

Wittenberg's reputation as a city protected from Allied bombing is also not historically accurate. There was on the outskirts of Wittenberg the Arado Flugzeugwerke (Arado Aircraft Factory), which produced aircraft components for the Luftwaffe. The factory was staffed by Jews, Russians, Poles, political prisoners and even a few Americans - all prisoners engaging in forced labour. Despite the prisoner status of its workers, American and British planes bombed the factory near the end of the war. One thousand prisoner workers were killed. The recent publication of "...und morgen war Krieg!" by Renate Gruber-Lieblich attempts to document this tragic bombing of Wittenberg.

At the end of the war, Wittenberg was occupied by Soviet forces and became part of East Germany in 1949. During the East German period, it was part of Halle District. By means of the peaceful revolution in 1989, the communist regime was brought down and the city has been governed democratically since 1990.

Main sites

Wittenberg is home to numerous important historical artifacts, as well as portraits and other paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder and Younger. On the doors of All Saints' Church, the Schlosskirche ("castle church" built 1496–1506) Luther nailed his 95 theses in 1517. It was seriously damaged by fire in 1760 during a bombardment by the French during the Seven Years' War, was practically rebuilt, and was later (1885–1892) restored. The wooden doors, burnt in 1760, were replaced in 1858 by bronze doors, bearing the Latin text of the theses. Inside the church are the tombs of Luther and Philipp Melanchthon, and of the electors Frederick the Wise (by Peter Vischer the Younger, 1527) and John the Constant (by Hans Vischer), and portraits of the reformers by Lucas Cranach the Younger. St. Mary's Church, the parish church in which Luther often preached, was built in the 14th century, but has been much altered since Luther's time. It contains a magnificent painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder, representing the Last Supper (with the faces of Luther and other reformers), Baptism and Confession, also a font by Hermann Vischer the Elder (1457). In addition, there are numerous historic paintings in the church. The ancient electoral palace is another of the buildings that suffered severely in 1760; it now contains archives. There are also Melanchthon's house and the house of Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), who was mayor of Wittenberg. Statues of Luther (by Schadow), Melanchthon and Bugenhagen embellish the town. The spot outside the Elster Gate where Luther publicly burned the papal bull in 1520 is marked by an oak tree.

Coat of arms

Wittenberg's oldest coat of arms

Wittenberg's civic coat of arms conveys with its various heraldic elements something of the town's history. On 27 June 1293, Wittenberg was granted town rights by Duke Albrecht II. There then arose a mediaeval town whose highest governing body was its council. This council, known to have existed as early as 1317, was given the job of administering the town in its care through law and legislation, and of handling the town's revenue. For documentation, the administration used its own seal. One version of what is believed to be the town's oldest town seal, which the council used, and which dated from the first half of the 14th century, set the pattern with its elements for various civic coats of arms down to the present day.

The coat of arms symbolizes, with its crenelated wall and the towers within and each side, a town that was already strongly fortified by 1409. The two shields in the centre form the coat of arms of the Electorate of Saxony with the Saxon arms on the right, whose gold and black stripes recall the Ascanian rulers' house colours with the Rautenkranz (literally "lozenge wreath", although it is no such thing, as can be seen at the Saxony article) across them symbolizing the town's founder Duke Albrecht II since 1262, when it appeared in his arms. The shield on the left is the Wittenberg district's arms. In 1356, Emperor Charles IV bestowed upon the Duke of Saxony-Wittenberg the honour of Elector. Wittenberg became an Electoral residence. The shield with its crossed swords stands for the office of "Arch-Marshal of the Holy Roman Empire" inextricably joined by the Electorate, brought to Wittenberg by Rudolf I. Both coats of arms continued to be used by the Wettins after the Ascanians died out. The flowing water at the foot of the shield symbolizes Wittenberg's location on the River Elbe. The fish is a salmon, which were once abundant in the Elbe. The fishermen, like all professions in town, got their own order in 1422, and the fish found its way onto their coat of arms.

Theatre and culture

Wittenberg has a long tradition of cultural events. The City Theatre (Mitteldeutsches Landestheater) reached a great importance in GDR times. Since 1996, the City has staged open-air theatre shows based on the Lutheran history still alive in many historical places of the ancient town. As highlights, in 2001 and 2005, Fernando Scarpa became the artistic director of the "Bühne Wittenberg" (Stage Wittenberg), a project for theatre, art and culture in the whole of Germany which attracts to the city plenty of audience and whose success achieves European echo. On 2002 and 2003 Stefano Vagnini, Italian composer and organist created the music for Thesys and Luther Stories. Hamlet is said to have studied in Wittenberg and it was the supposed home of Dr Faustus.

International relations

Wittenberg is twinned with:



External links

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