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Essen is a large city in the center of the Ruhr area and the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan region. After Cologne, Düsseldorf and Dortmund, Essen is the fourth largest city in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and one of the regional centers. The independent city in the administrative district of Düsseldorf is one of the ten largest cities in Germany with 582,760 inhabitants (as of December 31, 2019). As an important industrial and business location, Essen is the seat of well-known large companies and, with the University of Duisburg-Essen, also a university location. In 1958 the city became the seat of the newly founded diocese of Essen.

The city on the Ruhr, which dates back to the Frauenstift Essen founded before 850, is a member of the Rhineland Regional Association and the headquarters of the Ruhr Regional Association. As part of the project RUHR.2010 - European Capital of Culture, Essen was European Capital of Culture in 2010 on behalf of the entire Ruhr area. Due to its central location in the Ruhr area, Essen is also seen as the "secret capital of the Ruhr area".

In addition to the Essen monastery, the Werden monastery founded by Liudger around 800 was a center of the late antique-early Christian text tradition. Elevated to a free imperial city by Emperor Karl IV in the 14th century, Essen had been an armory since the late Middle Ages and with industrialization rose to become one of the most important centers of the coal and steel industry in Germany (with its own Kuxbörse). After a massive decline in heavy industry from the mid-1960s, Essen developed a strong service sector in the course of structural change. Today the Essen Minster and the oldest extant sculptural statue of the Virgin Mary in the Christian West (Golden Madonna) remind us of the city's medieval history. At the same time, monuments of industrial culture bear witness to its heavy industrial past, especially the UNESCO World Heritage Site Zeche Zollverein. The cityscape is also characterized by striking high-rise buildings.

With the Folkwang Museum, Essen has a renowned collection of modern paintings, sculptures, graphics and photographs. The opera house, which was built according to plans by Alvar Aalto, the Folkwang University of the Arts, the Grillo Theater and the German Poster Museum are renowned art and cultural institutions.

After Essen was European Capital of Culture in 2010, it received the title of European Green Capital for 2017.