Monday, April 2, 2007

History of Bonn (Germany)

History of Bonn (Germany):

City of Beethoven, university town, seat of the Federal Government and Parliament for five decades, German UN City: 2000 years of eventful history hide behind Bonn´s many faces. Bonn ranks among the cities along the Rhine with a rich tradition. It has vigorously set about shaping its future. It is worth reading its chronicles, following its history which includes both tragic fate and shining splendor. Its citizens accepted both as time brought them and held on to a statement made in praise of their town in the 16th century: "Bonna solum felix” - Bonn, you fortunate soil.

The history of the city dates back to Roman times. About 11 BC, the Roman Army appears to have stationed a small unit in what nowadays is the historical center of town. Even earlier, the Army had resettled members of a Germanic tribal group allied with Rome, the Ubii, in Bonn. The Latin name for that settlement, "Bonna", may stem from the original population of this and many other settlements in the area, the Eburoni. The Eburoni were members of a large tribal coalition effectively wiped out during the final phase of Caesar's War in Gaul. After several decades, the Army gave up the small camp linked to the Ubii-settlement. During the 1st century AD, the Army then chose a site to the North of the emerging town in what nowadays is the section of Bonn-Castell to build a large military installation dubbed Castra Bonnensis, i.e., literally, "Fort Bonn". Initially built from wood, the fort was eventually rebuilt in stone. With additions, changes and new construction, the fort remained in use by the Army into the waning days of the Western Roman Empire, possibly the mid-5th century AD. The structures themselves remained standing well into the Middle Ages, when they were called the Bonnburg. They were used by Frankish kings until they fell in disuse. Eventually, much of the building materials seem to have been reused in the construction of Bonn's 13th century city wall. The Sterntor Monument in the center of town contains parts of the medieval city wall.

To date, Bonn's Roman fort remains the largest fort of its type known from the ancient world, i.e. a fort built for one full-size Imperial Legion and its auxiliaries. The fort covered an area of approximately 250,000 square meters. Between its walls it contained a dense grid of streets and a multitude of buildings, ranging from spacious headquarters and large officers' houses to barracks, stables and a military jail. Among the legions stationed in Bonn, the "1st", i.e. the Prima Legio Minervia, seems to have served here the longest. Units of the Bonn legion were deployed to theaters of wars ranging from modern-day Algeria to what nowadays is the Russian republic of Chechnya.

The chief Roman road linking the provincial capitals of Cologne and Mainz cut right through the fort where it joined the fort's main road (nowadays, Römerstraße). Once past the South Gate, the Cologne-Mainz road continued along what nowadays are streets named Belderberg, Adenauerallee et al. To both sides of the road, the local settlement, Bonna, grew into a sizable Roman town.

In late antiquity, much of the town seems to have been destroyed by marauding invaders. The remaining civilian population then holed up inside the fort along with the remnants of the troops stationed here. During the final decades of imperial rule, the troops were supplied by Germanic chieftains employed by the Roman administration. When the end came, these troops simply shifted their allegiances to the new barbarian rulers. From the fort, the Bonnburg, as well as from a new, medieval settlement to the South centered around what later became the Münster basilica, grew the medieval city of Bonn.

The Bonn Minster (German: Das Bonner Münster) is one of Germany's oldest churches having been built between the 11th and 13th centuries. At one point the church served as the cathedral for the Archbishopric of Cologne, however, the Münster is now Papal Basilica. According to legend, Cassius & Florentius were Roman legionaries of the legendary all-Christian Theban Legion. The legion's garrison was in the Egytian town of Thebes. Roman Emperor Maximianus Herculius ordered the legion to march to Gaul and assist in quelling rebels from Burgundy. At some point during their march the legion refused to follow the emperor's orders to either kill fellow Christians or to worship Maximianus Herculius as a god. As a result, a large number of legionaries were martyred in Agaunum, now named Saint Maurice-en-Valais after Saint Maurice. According to legend Saints Cassius and Florentius, who were under the command of Saint Gereon were beheaded at the present location of the Bonn Minster for their religious beliefs.

In 1597 Bonn became the capital of the principality of Cologne. The town gained more influence and grew considerably. The elector Clemens August (ruled 1724-1761) ordered the construction of a series of Baroque buildings which still give the city its character. Another memorable ruler was Max Franz (ruled 1784-1794), who founded the university and the spa quarter of Bad Godesberg. In addition he was a patron of the young Ludwig van Beethoven, who was born in the city in 1770; the elector financed the composer's first journey to Vienna.

In 1794, the town was seized by French troops, becoming a part of the First French Empire. In 1815 Bonn was taken by Prussia and remained a Prussian city until 1945. The town was of little relevance in these years.

During World War II, Bonn was a Military Sub-area (Militärische Unterregion) of the Cologne Military Area Command (Militärischer Bereich Befehl). It was not a headquarters, and no units called Bonn home, but it did have some military significance due to its population.

Following World War II Bonn was in the British zone of occupation, and in 1949 became the provisional capital of West Germany. The choice of Bonn was made mainly due to the advocacy of Konrad Adenauer, a former Cologne Mayor and Chancellor of West Germany after World War II, who came from that area, despite the fact that Frankfurt had most of the needed facilities already and using Bonn was estimated to be 95 Mill DM more expensive than using Frankfurt. Because of its relatively small size for a capital city, Bonn was sometimes referred to, jokingly, as the Bundesdorf (Federal Village).

German reunification in 1990 made Berlin the nominal capital of Germany again. This decision did not mandate that the republic's political institutions would also move. This was only concluded by the Bundestag (Germany's parliament) on June 20, 1991, after a heated debate. While the government and parliament moved, as a compromise, some of the ministries largely remained in Bonn, with only the top officials in Berlin. There was no plan to move these departments, and so Bonn remained a second, unofficial capital with the new title "Federal City" (Bundesstadt). Because of the necessary construction work, the move took until 1999 to complete.

The University of Bonn has about 30,000 students.

For more information, visit the city's official website.

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