10 largest cities in Germany
Frankfurt am Main




Speyer (until 1825 also Speier) (Latin Spira) is an independent city in Rhineland-Palatinate and part of the Rhine-Neckar metropolitan region. As a Roman foundation, then called Noviomagus or Civitas Nemetum (capital of the Nemeter tribe), it is one of the oldest cities in Germany and, as Spira, became the center of the Speyergau around 600. As a free imperial city, Speyer was one of the most important cities of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation in the Middle Ages. Between 1816 and 1945 the seat of the Bavarian administration of the Palatinate, Speyer today belongs to Rhineland-Palatinate and has 50,561 inhabitants (as of 2019).

Speyer is widely known for its imperial and Mariendom cathedral, which is also the cathedral of the Roman Catholic diocese of Speyer. It is the world's largest surviving Romanesque church and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981.



Ancient and Middle Ages

Numerous finds from the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Hallstatt and Latène Age suggest that the terraces in Speyer, especially the lower terrace tongue in the immediate vicinity of the Rhine, have always been interesting places to settle. In the second century BC, the area around Speyer was the settlement area of ​​the Celtic Mediomatrics.

After the subjugation of Gaul by the Romans in 50 BC. The Rhine became part of the border of the Roman Empire, even if the area was still outside the military scene. 10 BC A camp was probably built for a 500-strong infantry force. This Roman military post became the impetus for city building. Around 150 the city appeared under the Celtic name Noviomagus (Neufeld or Neumarkt, see all Noviomagus) in the world map of the Greek Ptolemy; the same name is in the Itinerarium Antonini, a travel guide of Antonius from the time of Caracalla (211-217) and on the Tabula Peutingeriana, a road map from the 3rd century. From 260 onwards, the constant attacks by the Alamanni as part of the migration of peoples to the Limes could no longer be repelled, the Roman imperial border had to be withdrawn to the Rhine, and Speyer became a border town again. Jesse is documented as the first Speyer bishop for the 4th century; the diocese probably went under during the migration period.

In 406 the Suebi, Vandals and Sarmatian Alans crossed the Rhine under pressure from advancing Huns and overran Speyer on their way to inner Gaul. A richly decorated “princely grave” in Altlußheim on the right bank of the Rhine, about four kilometers from Speyer, testifies to the presence of Alano-Sarmatians, Huns and East Germans.

In a battle of 496/497 near Zülpich and another battle in 505, the Franks under Clovis defeated the Alamanni and Speyer became part of the Frankish kingdom. With this Speyer got again connection to the Gallic-Roman culture. As part of the reorganization of the administration, Romanised officials and bishops from southern Gaul came to the Rhine. In terms of the administrative structure, too, the Franks largely adhered to their predecessors, for example in setting up the districts. The new Speyergau corresponded roughly to the civitas Nemetum. The name Spira, introduced by the Alemanni, is mentioned for the first time in the "Notitia Galliarum" from the 6th century, although it can be deduced as early as 496/509. From the 7th century, Speyer is mentioned again as a bishopric.

In 969, Emperor Otto the Great granted the episcopal church the privilege of immunity, its own jurisdiction and control over coins and customs. From 1030, Emperor Konrad II had construction work on the Speyer Cathedral begin.

In the 11th century, at the instigation of Bishop Rüdiger Huzmann, one of the first Jewish communities in the Roman-German Empire settled in Speyer. In addition to the other ShUM cities of Worms and Mainz, Speyer is one of the birthplaces of Ashkenazi culture.

On the day his father was buried in the Speyer Cathedral, Heinrich V granted the city extensive privileges in 1111. The Great Letter of Freedom was the first city in Germany to grant its citizens personal freedom. Together with his picture, the letter was affixed in gold letters above the cathedral portal, where it was lost in the course of the later damage to the cathedral.

The 13th century in Speyer was to be marked by the dispute over the rights of the city. The second half was marked by violent disputes between the city and the bishop, and above all the foundations, which were only exacerbated by the investiture dispute. It was in particular the cathedral chapter that developed into the actual adversary of the citizenship. In the middle of this century it was first documented that there was “public property” in Speyer in the form of municipal property.

In the 14th century the generalis discordia, the dispute between the citizenry and the clergy, played only a subordinate role. In the Wittelbach-Habsburg throne dispute, Speyer was once again the focus of imperial politics. Against this background, a power struggle developed over the occupation of the council between the Münzer members of the household and the guilds. The members of the household had to forego their last privileges in 1349, when the principle of the pure guild constitution prevailed in Speyer. From this point on, the members of the household had to establish themselves as a guild and were thus only one group among 14 other guilds.

With the rise of Heidelberg, only a good 20 kilometers away, in the 13th and 14th centuries, which among other things became a residential and university town, the situation in the region shifted.

City law and Reichstag

In the second half of the 14th century it also became apparent that the Speyer bishops had never given up their claim to the city rulership. To represent their interests, they won the support of Emperor Charles IV and, above all, the Count Palatine near the Rhine, whereas the city could no longer fully rely on the support of the emperors.

In 1434 came with the Elector Ludwig III. From the Palatinate, a protection and umbrella contract for ten years. From 1439 the region was threatened by marauding Armagnaks, mercenaries dismissed from the French service. In 1439 Speyer concluded an alliance with Mainz, Worms and Strasbourg, which envisaged the formation of an army of 100 Gleven, 30 each from Mainz and Strasbourg and 20 from Worms and Speyer. City and clergy moved closer together, possibly due to external danger. From 1459 to 1462 Speyer again had to take part in a war in the Palatinate, this time in connection with the Palatinate War and the Mainz collegiate feud against Kurmainz.

With Matthias von Rammung, a bishop took over the office in Speyer in 1464, who again made concrete efforts to expand or regain the powers of the church. In 1465, through no fault of its own, the city came into conflict with the church because, at the behest of the imperial court, it was supposed to help a citizen gain his rights against the bishop. In 1470/71 Speyer again found itself in a situation in which it had to laboriously strive for a neutral stance. Once again, Elector Friedrich I got cross with the Kaiser because he seized the city and the Weissenburg Monastery and both Elector and Kaiser demanded Speyer's military help in the war that broke out.

In the first half of the 16th century, Speyer became the focus of German history. The importance of the city in those days becomes clear when a total of more than 50 court days took place within its walls and five of the 30 Reichstag that existed in this century were held in Speyer (see Reichstag zu Speyer). In addition, Reich Deputation Days took place in Speyer,  1558, 1560, 1583, 1595, 1599/60, Electoral days, 1588 and Reich Moderation Days, 1595.

In 1525 the Rhine area was covered by a farmers' survey that reached the Speyer Monastery on April 20th. The uprising was mainly directed against church property and the peasants turned against the tithe, the interest and the validity. On April 30th they planned “to go to Speyer and there to destroy the nests of the clergy, which had been preserved much with disadvantage and great harm to the poor”. The Lutheran influence on this survey is evident. On the approach to Speyer, the intention was announced to "occupy the city of Speier and to reform the clergy in it if they please" and they even expected the support of the city for this. Citizens should not be bothered. As a result, some Reichstag took place in Speyer.

Modern times
Except for one event in 1552, the time in Speyer between 1530 and 1620 was comparatively peaceful. Yet the city was not spared from misfortune. There were repeated epidemics of the plague, for example in 1539, 1542, 1555 and 1574. The Schmalkaldic War of 1546 had no direct impact on Speyer.

In 1564 Wilhelm Eisengrein published the first printed history of the city of Speyer, which, as he himself wrote, was based on the handwritten chronicle of the cathedral vicar Wolfgang Baur († 1516). In 1612, after ten years of work, the first edition of the Chronica of the free imperial city of Speier by Christoph Lehmann was published. The work was very popular, as it dealt intensively with the history of the empire, and saw four editions in the course of the following century. In 1618 Speyer participated with an army from the Palatinate-Baden region in the demolition of the Udenheim bishop's fortress, which was soon rebuilt.

In the turmoil of the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), the walled, but hardly defensible Speyer was caught in the tension between the often contested fortresses Frankenthal, Friedrichsburg, Philippsburg and Landau. Thus, the city constantly played the role of refuge, hospital, supply station and / or troop camp. In addition, there were occupations by Spaniards, Swedes, French and imperial troops, which changed at short intervals. Not until 1650 did the last soldiers leave the city, leaving behind debts, hunger and epidemics.


In 1689, as part of the War of the Palatinate Succession and the planned de-fortification of the Palatinate under General Melac, the city was completely destroyed by French troops. Two days after the French general Joseph de Montclar had inspected the fortifications of the city on January 30, 1689, the demolition work began, in which the townspeople had to take part. The citizens suspected that the French wanted to burn the city down. On the afternoon of May 23rd, the French war director informed the two mayors and the councilors that the city had to be evacuated within six days: "However, nobody should conclude that the city would be burned." Montclar had the dean and the bishop On May 27, 1689, governor Heinrich Hartard von Rollingen reported that he had received the order “to set fire to the city, including all the churches and monasteries in it, with the exception of the high cathedral”. The commander-in-chief of the French in Mainz, Marshal Count Jacques-Henri de Durfort, duc de Duras, was asked by the cathedral chapter to ensure that the cathedral would be spared.

In 1792 French revolutionary troops captured Speyer. As the seat of a sub-prefecture in the Département du Mont-Tonnerre (Donnersberg) it remained under French rule until 1814. The wars of liberation against Napoleon and the reorganization of the European world at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 brought about a change in the balance of power in the Palatinate area. For a few hours Speyer was once again in the limelight of great politics when, on June 27, 1815, Tsar Alexander of Russia, Emperor Franz I of Austria and Prussia's King Friedrich Wilhelm III. met at the Allied headquarters in the city. In 1816 Speyer became the district capital of the so-called Rhine district in what followed. As a result of the Congress of Vienna, this fell to the Kingdom of Bavaria as compensation for Salzburg, which had been ceded to Austria. The administrative district (district) Palatinate existed only since January 1, 1838 and replaced the Rhine district.

In 1837 the expansion of the Rhine port was completed. Speyer was connected to the German railway network in 1847. Among other things, social and charitable institutions were created (work and educational institution for girls, charity association of the Jewish community and a hospital). In the field of education, the city had all kinds of facilities and the best-developed school system in the Palatinate. The first clubs came into being: the Schützengesellschaft, which had existed since 1529, included a gymnastics club, a harmony society, a music club and a song table. Until 1918 Speyer was the garrison of the 2nd Engineer Battalion of the Bavarian Army. The Pfalz-Flugzeugwerke had been in Speyer since 1913. During the First World War, they developed into an important German armaments company and supplied several thousand combat aircraft.

With the end of the First World War and the occupation of the left bank of the Rhine, the French army again moved into Speyer in 1918. France occupied large parts of Germany on the left bank of the Rhine (Allied occupation of the Rhineland). As early as the end of 1918, the French military under General Gérard specifically supported a movement under the leadership of the chemist Eberhard Haas, which called itself "Free Palatinate" - together with several other separatist groups in the northern Rhineland. In the early summer of 1919 the Free Palatinate attempted a coup in Speyer for an autonomous Palatinate. This failed miserably, mainly due to the resistance of the Deputy District President Friedrich von Chlingensperg auf Berg (1860-1944). He had the majority of the Palatinate parties by his side. After a few hours the badly prepared campaign was over. In 1930 the French occupation forces withdrew.


The Nazi seizure of power and the “Gleichschaltung” also affected Speyer from 1933 onwards. The city initially belonged to the "Gau Rheinpfalz", which was merged with the Saarland to form the Gau Saar-Pfalz in 1935. The administrative seat of the district was in Neustadt, which thus outstripped the Bavarian state seat of government Speyer in importance during the Nazi period. The Speyer synagogue on Heydenreichstrasse was burned down in the November pogroms on November 9, 1938 and demolished shortly afterwards. The Nazi regime carried out an unprecedented extermination of Jews in Europe (“Holocaust”). More than 100 Jews from Speyer and the surrounding area who were no longer able to escape were killed. Resistance to National Socialism was made by the Speyer Comradeship group around the Speyer Social Democrat Jakob Schultheis (1891–1945) and his wife Emma (1892–1978). Apart from the station area, Speyer suffered no major damage from air raids during the Second World War. At the end of March 1945, Speyer was captured by US troops (see Operation Undertone); withdrawing German troops blew up the Rhine bridge. A Wehrmacht unit in Speyer fought doggedly.

After the Second World War, the city became part of the French occupation zone and the seat of a French garrison. The establishment of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate was ordered on August 30, 1946 as the last state in the western occupation zones by decree No. 57 of the French military government under General Marie-Pierre Kœnig. It was initially referred to as the “Rhineland-Palatinate Land” or “Land Rheinpfalz”; the name Rhineland-Palatinate was only established with the constitution of May 18, 1947. As a sign of growing friendship, the St. Bernhard Church in Wormser Strasse was built in 1953/54 with German and French funds. The occupation regime ended on May 6, 1955. It was not until the 1990s that Speyer's history as the location of the French army ended.

The year 1990 was marked by numerous celebrations on the occasion of the two thousandth anniversary of the city and the German-German reunification.

On November 9, 2011, the new Beith-Schalom synagogue was consecrated in the presence of the then Federal President Christian Wulff. The old synagogue was destroyed in the pogrom night of 1938 ("Reichskristallnacht").

In 2015, Speyer was awarded the honorary title of “Reformation City of Europe” by the Community of Evangelical Churches in Europe.