Bamberg City Tour

Use the map, click on the icons, and follow the trails below to discover the history of Bamberg’s ancient avenues:

Why Bamberg

The city of Bamberg is undoubtedly the largest and most interesting city in Germany to have survived the Second World War. The bombing raids removed every German city with a population of more than 100k from existence. However, there are several honorable mentions for cities that still have a substantial portion of their old town, namely Görlitz, Erfurt, Heidelberg, Lübeck, and Leipzig. Aside from Erfurt, though, which is my second favorite city in Germany after Bamberg, the other cities offer a less exciting experience. There may also be more interesting places, but these will be much smaller towns, castles, or specific destinations. Stralsund, Trier or Rothenburg ob der Tauber come to mind.

Bamberg is an ancient city. The only comparable destinations in Germany are unfortunately lost to time. Nothing of Cologne, Frankfurt, or Nürnberg survives today. Trier was also mostly destroyed, but its citizens worked to save what was there, and reconstruction efforts prioritized the city’s historical center. Likewise, Braunschweig was annihilated, but the city planners moved all of the surviving buildings together, offering a much smaller but still existing old town. Heidelberg, Erfurt, Görlitz, and other surviving towns have nowhere near the historical legacy of Bamberg, which reaches back to the 10th century.

Location Guide

The tour starts at the head of the Main Bridge on Königstraße.


This street follows the contours of an ancient trade route, the Steinweg, on the right bank of the Main. The bend of the road, closest to the river, is likely the location of the original ford across the river. The homes on this street largely date to the 18th century, but many have foundations or components from much older periods. Damage caused by a fire in 1789 was replaced with standardized designs from architect Carl Dietrich Weiß in Obere Königstraße 23-29. 

Right next to the starting point are two breweries worth mentioning


  1. Dates: 1536
  2. Description: Brewer Linhard Großkopf founded the brewery in a building on the Obere Königstraße in 1536. The brewery has been owned by the Merz family since 1898. The Spezial Brewery is one of two brewers in Bamberg that smokes their malt in-house. This is one of my personal favorites, as the flavor is not as overwhelming as Schlenkerla.


  1. Dates: Brewery: 1649, Building: 1349
  2. Description: The Königstraße was destroyed in the 30 Years War, and on the ruins of a medieval building, Hanß Lauer established the Fässla Brewery. This beer is notable for the little dwarf that appears on everything. In my opinion, it produces some good but not exceptional beer.

The caveat is that, unlike prewar Frankfurt or Nürnberg, the ancient city is not on display for you to see. As we shall see, Bamberg was a poor city that aspired to be something greater. Its citizens simply covered up their ancient homes with modern facades. It was often done well, but sometimes not. This tour of Bamberg will focus mainly on the history of Bamberg as a city, with brief mentions of its broader historical context. However, it will also focus on the visual details of the city, pointing out the hints of its ancient past beneath the facades.


Location Guide

Move to the middle of the bridge

Bamberg sits on a raised outcrop of a sandstone massif cut in two by the rivers Regnitz and Main. To the east are the mountains of the Franconian forests, and to the West the hills of the Hassberg and Steinwald Forests. As with most of Germany, the river gorges cut through different sandstone layers. These various sandstones have different colors and strengths and can be seen throughout the city, with the upper, more easily mined stone found in older buildings. 

Remember that before the advent of the steam locomotive, rivers were the primary means of long-distance transportation. Goods, culture, and ideas all spread along the flow of rivers. Importantly, though, so did authority. We are in Franconia, whose name, on a certain level, shares the same name meaning as France. Both were the core territories of the Frankish tribe that migrated into Western Europe at the end of Antiquity.

The center of Frankish authority was the Rhine Valley, and everywhere the Rhine went, so did the Franks. The City of Frankfurt, also named for the same people, sits on the Main River, which flows into the Rhine. The Regnitz flows into the Main just to the North of here. So it was only a matter of time before the Franks arrived here.

However, whereas in the Rhineland, the Franks displaced the Romans and other Germanic tribes, Slavs settled this portion of Franconia. We know this for sure because of the names. For example, the -itz suffix does not appear naturally in German and indicates that this is likely a derivative of a Slavic word. Rakonica = Regnitz = River of Crayfish / Crab (Zodiac). These people were referred to as the Main-, Regnitz- und Naabwenden. It would have been a language closely related to Upper Serbian, today known as Sorbian, and still spoken by a few thousand people in Northern Germany.

This part of Franconia was something of a borderland. The Slavic migrations into Southern Germany only made it a little further West than we are now. Thus, the river was part of an early medieval border, and trade posts in the region were used for trade with the Slavs and Avars. The most important of which is the town of Hallstadt to the North. Indeed, the town of Hallstadt should have been destined for greatness. It was the first royal seat of Frankish authority in this region, and by the 8th century, it was a center of trade, with all long-distance trade routes passing through it. Even today, Hallstadt is the main road interchange, evidence of its ancient royal heritage that is no longer visible.


The first Germanic missions to convert the area to Christianity are reported around 741, and by this point, there is evidence of substantial Frankish (Germanic) settlement in the region. The founding charter of the Bamberg Bishopric in 1007 saw the city as a bulwark of Christianity. Complaints about the heathen practices of the Slavs continued sporadically into the 11th century, by which point the Slavic linguistic cultural tradition appears to have died out. However, no evidence, either in archaeology or writing, indicates armed conflict. The Slavic peoples of the region either integrated or migrated away peacefully.

[The Legend of the Sacred Fountain in Bamberger Cathedral]

The first written records of Bamberg, then called Babenberg, come from a hagiography dated around 718 CE. The first mention of any specific settlement refers to a fortified “castrum” on the current cathedral hill. This fortification’s specifics are unknown, and may have been nothing more than a wooden palisade. Babenberger Family lost the town during a conflict known as the Babenberger Feud. A century later, it ended up in the possession of Emperor Henry II.

Bamberg was foremost a trade city. Most of Upper Franconia is rugged forestland, and economic activity was limited to the river valleys. Though the main crossroads of trade remains even today in Hallstadt, Bamberg offered a more convenient ford across the river. There are two main trade routes through Bamberg. On the right bank is the far more important Steinweg. This ancient trade route connects Regensburg to Erfurt and was a portage route from the Danube to the Main, Saale, and the Via Regia. Intersecting this road and crossing the river into Bamberg was the Kahlweg, an overland route to Würzburg. Traces of this trading system are best seen from above, where the bend in the Königstraße shows where the earliest for across the river was located. 

The river, which remained the city’s primary trade route to the outside world, also defines much of the city’s development. Bamberg is a very poorly located city. Split between several hills and the island, it was impossible to fortify adequately, and the city was at constant risk of disastrous floods. You will note today that there is not a single old bridge in Bamberg. Yes, they were all destroyed in WW2, but even prewar, the bridges were not old. A stone bridge here, for example, is first attested to in the 14th century but was destroyed by floods or ice flows in the 15th century, 16th century, twice in the 18th century, and replaced with an iron bridge in the 19th, and by a steel bridge in the 1930s, and again twice in the post-war period.

The Regniz was once an uncontrolled river. There are so many new buildings along the waterfront of the eastern arm because, until the late 1930s, it was a flood zone. On an old map, the old arm of the Regnitz is still visible.

The city’s fortifications are a similar story. Bamberg was never really a strategically relevant city. The Main Danube portage route moved further west in the late Middle Ages, which deprived the city of substantial wealth. It was subsequently besieged only twice, and then both times in the same year. There were three separate wall systems: one surrounding the cathedral hill, one covering the island village, and one late medieval wall surrounding both. The difference in the first two was likely due to conflicts between the Bishop and the civilian population but appears to have been resolved in the early 13th century when permission to build the wall was granted. The ancient wall was expanded in the 15th century and included a moat, towers, and proper defenses. However, a visitor to the city at the time described the defenses as wholly inadequate, leaving the city essentially undefended.

Location Guide

Move to the end of the bridge opposite Königstraße and turn around; you are now facing the location of a decisive Battle in the Thirty Years’ War.

Battle of Bamberg

While here, we can talk about the only important thing that ever happened in Bamberg. The Battle of Bamberg was a decisive conflict during the Thirty Years’ War. On 9 March 1632, the forces of the Catholic Holy Roman Empire under the Count of Tilly marched on Bamberg to start a counterattack against the Protestant armies of Gustavus Adolphus. The town had been held by the Swedish for less than a month, who had stormed the city’s weak defenses in February. (The defenders had only 9 hours of ammunition.) Led by Gustav Horn, the Swedes dug in, expanding the defenses to include earthworks and palisades. The defenses were not ready when Imperial forces arrived in March. Tilly ordered an immediate assault and routed the unprepared defenders from the eastern suburbs. The Swedes retreated across the only surviving bridge and mounted a fierce resistance, pushing Tilly’s force back and forth. 

The tide turned when Tilly ordered his artillery emplaced at point-blank range in a beer garden at the bridgehead (Today the Deutsches Haus). Now, under withering artillery fire, the Swedes retreated through the city. The loss of Bamberg was not a tactical loss, but it dealt a strategic blow to the Protestant league, as it was the first major Swedish defeat in the war. It would force the Swedes into a more aggressive stance, ultimately leading to the Battle of Lützen.

So Bamberg never had a city wall. How, then, did it survive to become anything at all? Certainly, someone would have wanted to take the city for themselves. The answer has to do with the nature of the Holy Roman Empire. It was an Empire of three lies: it was neither holy, Roman, or an Empire. That said, the vassal states of the Empire only asserted pseudo-independence in foreign affairs. Unless you were a Prince-Elector who enjoyed special privileges, all of your complaints regarding your neighbors had to be taken to the Imperial Chamber Court. With borders governed by ancient tradition and treaties and changes only possible with decade-long court battles, most countries settled for what they had. Bamberg was remote enough that it did not have enemies to worry about. (Bandits and robber barons notwithstanding, they were not existential threats.)

The Prince-Bishops of Bamberg

Location Guide

Now follow the main road, Hauptwachestraße, to the fountain on Maximiliansplatz.

Note the width of the street and the newer buildings on the right-hand side. The original 18th-century buildings were torn down to make way for the now long-gone street cars that would have taken you down every alleyway in Bamberg.

This is the man who founded Bamberg, Henry II. He was the last of the Ottonian Dynasty of Emperors, confusingly of the Liudolfinger Family. The name Ottonian comes from Otto the Great, the man who founded the Holy Roman Empire. This was quite the legacy to inherit, and the disappointment must have been crushing when Henry II realized that his marriage would remain childless – thus ending his family’s imperial legacy.

Henry decided that “God would be his heir,” and he needed a place to establish a permanent monument to his legacy and his family’s legacy. Secular buildings were temporary, but churches were forever. He decided to build a bishopric from scratch and raise a Cathedral inspiring enough to honor his greatness. 

According to legend, Bambeg was chosen for its seven hills and remarkable beauty. In reality, though, the seven hills were probably a clever marketing scheme, as you could count an arbitrary number of hills in Bamberg. Nevertheless, Henry wanted to turn the city of Bamberg into the Rome of the North. So, in 1007, he seized land from the Counts of Schweinfurt and bought territories from other existing Bishoprics in Würzburg and Eichstätt. Together, he formed a Bishopric that owed allegiance to the Emperor alone. 

He established numerous monasteries and curias, granting each imperial immediacy. These were called “immunities” due to their immunity from the civic law of the city. They owed taxes at first to the Emperor and later to the Prince-Bishops. The four great curia churches, St. Gangolf, St. Michael, St. Jakob, and St. Stephan, formed a cross around the Cathedral. This architectural pattern was thought to grant protection to the city and is seen in other religious centers such as Fulda, Utrecht, or Paderborn.

Location Guide

Maximilians Plaza

  1. Dates: Most Buildings from the late 18th century
  2. Architect(s): Various, including Johann Dientzenhofer and Balthazar Neumann
  3. Style: Late Baroque and Historicist
  4. Description: Named after King Maximilian I of Bavaria, it was originally the location of the city’s lower parish church of St. Martin. This high Gothic church would have significantly resembled the Upper Parish Church, which was built around the same time in the 14th century. Most of the Plaza we see today would have been covered by the church and its cemetery. During a brief moment of anti-clerical rage in 1804, the church was torn down to create the Plaza.
  5. At the north end of the Plaza is the old Seminary Building, today serving as the town hall. It was planned by Balthazar Neumann and built between 1732 and 1737. 

The “Immunitäten” were self-organized theological communities, mostly monasteries or curia. The Emperor awarded them special rights, raising their administration above the city’s. As a result, they were not subject to the legal or tax obligations of the cities in which they were located. Often a source of conflict with the citizens of the city, these districts were usually walled off and self-contained. 

Henry II died in 1024, long before most of his great works would be completed. His reign represented one of the most prosperous periods of the early Empire. He strengthened and centralized imperial control by expanding the church’s secular power, as evidenced by Bamberg. For his support of the church, he would be canonized and remains the only Holy Roman Emperor to receive this honor. Also worth mentioning is his pious wife, Cunigunde. She was what we would call a “strong woman,” and among her achievements included being the first woman crowned Empress in Europe and serving as chief advisor or advocate on over a third of all Imperial decrees. On her husband’s death, she retired to a monastery in Northern Hessen, having given away all of her family wealth to charity.

Her remarkable piety and generosity and her childless marriage immediately sparked numerous legends about her. Writers in the Middle Ages assumed she chose to remain a virgin with Henry II’s consent and thus became a religious icon. She would also be canonized in 1201 and remains today one of the more popular catholic saints of that period. Other legends include:

  • One of these relates how, when calumniators accused her of scandalous conduct, her innocence was signally vindicated by divine providence as she walked over pieces of flaming irons without injury, to the great joy of her husband, the Emperor. 
  • Another tells of Cunigunde falling asleep one night and being carried into bed. Her maid also fell asleep, and a candle set the bed on fire. The blaze awoke both of them, and upon Cunigunde executing the Sign of the Cross, the fire immediately disappeared, saving them from burning.

Later Emperors would not share the same positive relationship with the church. The Investiture Controversy between the Emperor and Pope characterized the increasingly hostile relationship. The Bishops of Bamberg took advantage of the conflict and used their loyalty to the Emperor to assert increasing independence. This power was legitimized in 1251 when Emperor Friedrich II (who lived his entire life in Italy) granted Bamberg the Title of Prince-Bishopric. From 1251 until 1804, Bamberg was essentially an independent country.

This independence was a characteristic of the Holy Roman Empire following the end of the Hohenstaufen Dynasty. All vassals (except the Electors) of the Emperor owed their allegiance to the Empire and were required to use Imperial Courts to adjudicate disputes. Bamberg was not an Elector, and it was not particularly important. So, it owed nothing in particular to the Emperor. This defacto independence became law with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.

The political structure of the Prince-Bishopric can be described as something like a democratic theocracy. The curia were religious institutions centered around specific churches. In the traditional interpretation, this is where unneeded sons went in order to keep them occupied and fed. However, the church was a source of immense power, and family had to pay a lot of money to get their sons into positions of ecclesiastical power. It required studies at a university or seminary and appointment to important roles, often requiring a hefty donation. So, the church was not simply a dumping ground for unwanted children. 

The deacons of the Cathedral Curia elected the Bishop. This curia was the equivalent of a secular court and had all of the familiar trappings except for family (in the general case). Wealthy families throughout the Empire would work to have their children advance through the Church hierarchy so they would get a valuable appointment in the Curia. Their sons would be provided palaces and estates by the family to enhance their prestige, even if the family was from the other side of the continent. 

Famously, the Wittelsbach family collected Bishoprics in the Rhineland and, at one point, controlled the Prince-Elector Archbishopric of Cologne, the Prince-Bishopric of Liege and Paderborn. Without any particular attachment to the states they ruled, these Prince-Bishops tended to care little for the management of their country. On average, the Bishoprics were poorly administered and governed by harsh taxes and regulations on economic activity. This poor management was not always a given. In contrast, the Prince-Elector Archbishops of Mainz were elected exclusively from noble families within the city. This aligned the rulers’ interests and their city, and Mainz became one of the Empire’s wealthiest and most powerful states.

Bishop of Bamberg was not a prestigious title, and the state was not wealthy. As a result, Bamberg tended to have Bishops from the region. That being said, its most famous leader, e.g., Lothar Franz von Schönborn, was from Mainz and was simultaneously the Prince-Archbishop of Mainz and the Prince-Bishop of Bamberg. Nobody said you could have more than one.

The Age of Absolutism

Location Guide

The tour now moves to the large church facing the square. This is St. Martin.

St. Martin / Old Jesuit Monastery

  1. Dates: Completed in 1691
  2. Architect(s): Georg and Leonard Dientzenhofer
  3. Style: Baroque
  4. Description: This large single-aisled basilica is based loosely on the designs of the Renaissance Church of St. Michael in Munich and the mother Jesuit Church of the Gesu in Rome. It was designed by the great Bamberg architect Georg Dientzenhofer, whose children would continue the family tradition of monumental architecture in Bamberg. His son Leonard Dientzenhofer would oversee the building’s completion in 1691. Today’s interior contains many relics from the old Parish church of St. Martin, including a medieval Marian vesper sculpture from 1330.
  5. Details: When compared to the Renaissance-inspired counterparts in Rome and Munich, this church is more definitively Baroque, with two triumphal arches drawing attention to the center of the building, pulling your gaze ever upward. The adherence to the classical orders in the facade shows some conservatism in the design.
    1. The figures on the lower facade:
      1. Lower-Left: Heiland der Welt / Salvator Mundi
      2. Lower-Right: Mary with Jesus / Mater Salvatoris
      3. Upper-Left: Franz Xaver
      4. Upper-Right: Ignatius Loyola
    2. The figures on the upper facade
      1. Lower-Left: Saint Sebastian as patron of Bamberg’s Gardeners
      2. Lower-Right: Saint Laurentius as patron of Bamberg’s wine-growers
      3. Upper-Left: Saint Anna
      4. Upper-Right: Saint Odilia
    3. Coat of Arms: State Insignia for the Prince-Bishop of Marquard Shenk von Stauffenerg – the same Stauffenberg family as the Wehrmacht general who tried assassinating Hitler. He was also from Bamberg, and there is a memorial for him in the Cathedral.
    4. For the interior note, the well-executed illusory fresco is meant to be viewed only from a specific angle in the church.

Bamberg appears to be a baroque city in the same fashion as famous centers of 17th-century power, like Versailles or Rome. Unlike those cities that were devastated by war or planned from the beginning, Bamberg emerged from the 17th century as a mostly intact Medieval city. The conversion to a Baroque Residence began under Prince-Bishop Lothar Franz von Schönborn in 1693. New construction guidelines were set up, and contemporary architects were invited to the city. 

The pivotal development was the construction of the New Palace, which will be covered in more detail later. However, it is important to note that the Palace set the standard for decoration for the rest of the city. Designed and Executed by the architect Leonard Dientzenhofer, many of his motifs and those of his brother Johann Dientzenhofer dominate the cityscape. 

Location Guide

Keep an eye out for these houses as we walk through the city.

Houses of the Dientzenhofers:

  • Grüner Markt 7 (1710)
  • Grüner Markt 14 (1710)
  • Maximiliansplatz 8 (1710)
  • Karolinenstraße 11 (1716) the Bibra Palace
  • Karolinenstraße 25 (1720) Roppeltshaus
  • Karolinenstraße 9

As you look around you, the stylistic similarity of Bamberg was not centrally planned. Unlike Heidelberg or Rome, there were no set rules for what buildings had to look like. Just tax breaks for buildings if they were renovated to specific standards. The only planned portion of the city is the Cathedral Square, which Leonard Dientzenhofer set up in 1697 to elevate the absolutist power of the Bishops.

Private citizens began to adopt the styles popularized by Leonard and Johann. These characteristics can be seen through pilastered rectangles on the facades, monumental pilasters or pillars, projected arcades for the main entrance, emphasis on horizontal lines, elaborate window dormers, and window frames. Projections onto the street were signs of status, and the deeper the projection, the wealthier the family.

The private and independent push for a unified cityscape is truly remarkable.

The Bishop and His Subjects

Location Guide

Head now to the upper bridge before the gate of the town hall

Wartime Losses

  1. Wartime losses in Bamberg were limited. The houses that once stood on the plaza leading up to the bridge were the most significant loss. The houses here originally extended down to the market we just left and were not rebuilt. There are several other points where you will notice wartime loss, but this is the most obvious.

Geyerswörth Palace

  1. The Palace you can’t see now is the remnants of a modest Renaissance city palace. Named after the Geyer Family, which initially owned the plot of land, the Palace was never inhabited by them. Prince-Bishop Ernst von Mengersdorf ordered the building constructed in 1585 as a representative residence for the Bishops in the city. When the court moved to the new Palace on the hill, the building was given to administrative functions. It housed the city hall for many decades, and most interior furnishings disappeared during this time.

Medieval Bridge Houses

  1. The houses here at the head of this bridge are all from the 14th century. However, today, they are adorned with stucco work and sandstone facades from the 18th century. Before their modernization, the tell would have been their roofs, whereas medieval buildings were likelier to have a specific set of tiles. However, these are all modern “beaver tail” tiles. The history of these buildings is well hidden.

Little Venice

  1. Bamberg’s famous “Little Venice” comprises a row of Fishermen’s houses from the Baroque period. It is hard to imagine today, but once the big rivers of Germany teemed with fish, the entire river was covered in vast fleets of fishing vessels. With the industrialization of Germany, the rivers became polluted, and the fish died. The last fishmonger in Bamberg closed in the 1960s.

A defining characteristic of the theocratic city-states is the conflict between the city and the Bishop. For example, in the Battle of Wörringen, Cologne gets its independence. In Trier, the Parish church is a meter taller than the Cathedral. Theocratic authorities were more interested in enriching themselves or spreading the word of God than in effective government.

The story of the town hall has a legendary origin story set against this backdrop of urban conflict:

According to legend, in the Middle Ages, when the Prince-Bishop sat high up in his fortified manor near the Cathedral, the citizens of Bamberg sought to free themselves and declare Bamberg an Imperial City. They tried to storm the Bishop’s castle, but his spies had warned him, and his men-at-arms repulsed the citizen militia and chased them back to the city, where the Bishop ordered the city hall burned to the ground. There would be no more talk of independence, only loyalty to the miter.

In seeking reconciliation, the city sent their most esteemed representatives to praise the glories of the Bishop and ask for his forgiveness – and permission to rebuild the town hall. Now enraged, the Bishop refused to grant permission for a building for the city to plot against him. He expelled the representatives and said no construction could start on his ancient lands without his consent.

In the local beer hall, the city representatives got together and mourned the loss of their freedom. While drowning their sorrows, a fellow sat down next to them. This man was an architect of bridges, and he had an idea.

Work soon started at night to keep their activities hidden. A great enclosure of wooden pillars was driven into the riverbed to divert the river’s flow. First, the space was lined with carved stones and then filled with rocks and dirt. Once high enough out of the water, the architect designed the prison, the great hall, and the tower.

However, the Prince-Bishop got word of this great monument rising from the sea and understood what was happening. The river was not his territory; it belonged to the Emperor, and the city had reclaimed land from the river, over which the Bishop had no authority.

When the Bishop arrived at the river bank opposite the now almost finished city hall, he called over the architect and the mayor. The mayor was proud to announce that soon, the Bishop would have to walk through the city hall every time he wanted to visit the city, as the bridge was only a month away from being completed. However, the Bishop noted that the bridge was set on the island, yes, but also on his land. Without his permission, the bridge would be demolished, and the town hall left unusable in the river. The Bishop ordered construction to a halt and then departed for his Palace.

After a month, the Bishop ordered the mayor back to his Palace and announced that, after some thought, he decided to allow the bridge’s construction to continue. In exchange, the island’s lands would be his, and he asked the citizens to remember their place in the world that God had ordained.

Die Schönsten Bamberger Sagen und Legenden

The Reality: The island was originally part of the early medieval fortification of the island settlement and only later became a civic building. The city hall is a symbol of civic pride and represents the city’s power to exert its will over the ecclesiastical authorities. It sits between the ancient boundaries of the Ecclesiastical “Bergstadt” and the civic “Inselstadt” and asserts urban authority over anyone entering the civic portion of the city.

Location Guide

Head through the gate to the other side of the tower and look at the murals on the other side of the building.

Old City Hall

  1. Dates: First mentioned in 1386 / Current building built around 1461 / Heavily Renovated in 1729 and again in 1750
  2. Architect: Tower and Buildings: Balthazar Neumann / Stucco: Joseph Bonaventura / Murals: Johann Anwande
  3. A town hall here is first attested to around 1386
  4. The current building dates to about 1461, following a fire
    1. The half-timbered building is in its original conditional
    2. Prince Bishop Friedrich Karl von Schönborn (1729-46) replaced the medieval tower with a baroque tower designed and executed by the legendary architect Balthazar Neumann. The talented rococo stone mascon Joseph Bonaventura designed the ornate rococo balcony and coat of arms around 1750. Johann Anwande is the artist responsible for most of the murals, which depict the arrival of Prince-Bishop Konrad von Stadion and other allegories. The interesting aspect of the murals is their illusory effect, which is a technique usually applied only to interior spaces.
    3. The preserved rococo chambers of the city administration are unique in Germany and may be worth a short visit.
    4. The lower bridge has the only surviving statue of that bridge, a remarkable Baroque depiction of Empress Cunigunde.

The street before you now is Karolinenstraße or “Caro(lingian) Street”. This road connecting the mercantile island settlement with the majesty of Cathedral Hill was one of the most sought-after locations for a house. It is easy to see how the close affiliation with the crown authority on the hill might add to prestige or confer certain benefits. Perhaps the most entertaining example is that of the house at the end of the street. House number 19 is a heavily modified Romanesque tower home from around 1187. We know about the original owner because he liked to party and spent enough time at court to be remembered in writing. 

Location Guide

Head to the end of Karolinenstraße, where a blue house squares off the street.

The Romanesque Tower Homes of Karolinenstraße 17/19/21

  1. Dates: 1187 / Around 1200 / 1339
  2. The emergence of an increasingly wealthy class of urban citizens characterized the high Middle Ages. Though stone construction existed for churches and civic buildings, this middle class constructed the first homes made out of stone in Bamberg. Though there is evidence in modern foundations and firebreaks for houses dating to the 11th century, the first houses we have from the period date to around 1200. These homes would have been essentially defensive towers, with the primary entrance to the living quarters accessible only via a ladder. Similar buildings that survive today can be seen in Trier and Mainz.
  3. Due to the propensity of surviving building material, we know that house 19 dates to at least 1187. The house’s owner is mentioned in a medieval document, indicating that he enjoyed spending his time at the court of the Bishop. Likewise, he paid the highest property tax in the city at the time.
  4. The best “preserved” of the homes, number 17, retains an almost entirely original two floors. The upper stories were removed and replaced in 1339, and due to changes of the ground level, the ground floor is now a meter and a half underground. The Romanesque windows correspond to the windows facing Lugbank Street. 

However, he is one of many who wanted to be noticed by the Prince-Bishop. Several centuries later, in 1716, Karl Heinrich von Bibra, a General in the Bamberg army, purchased and built his mini-palace here for precisely the same reason. His home is essentially just a much scaled-down version of the palace, and the same dynasty of architects created it, though this time it was Johann instead of Leonard Dientzenhofer.

Let us take a break to mention some more background for the Dientzenhofer Style, which might be summarized as the “Classical Baroque.” Antonio Petrini, an obscure architect from Italy active in Bamberg in the late 17th century, introduced the Classical Baroque to Bamberg with the redesign of the facade of St. Stephan in 1677. This theme was taken up again with the Italian-influenced design of St. Martin by Georg Dientzenhofer. The use of the classical orders, though, reaches its pinnacle in the creation of the New Palace by Leonard Dienztenhofer in 1698. After that, for example, with the Bibra House, the classical motifs of facade design quickly spread via the Dientzenhofer influence to the private houses of Bamberg. The renovation of the city’s medieval and Renaissance houses followed with sandstone facades adorned with large windows and clearly ordered symmetrical axes.

Location Guide

Turn around, and just behind you should be a building with a dramatic facade and portico.

Bibra House – Karolinenstraße

  1. Dates: 1716
  2. Architect: Johann Dientzenhofer
  3. Style: Baroque Townhome
  4. Description: Karl Heinrich von Bibra bought the predecessor, “House on the Green Linden,” and decided to completely rebuild the house according to the style of the time. Mr Bibra was a field marshal of the Bamberg army and the armies of the Imperial Franconian Circle. In many ways, the Bibra house is just a segment of the New Palace simply cut away and moved here. However, the difference in rank between the General and the Prince is evident in the somewhat more subdued ornamentation. However, the similarities are still evident and intentional. The emphasis on the classical orders is missing from this facade. Generally, the facade feels more rustic than noble. Nevertheless, this house would spark quite the arms race in design, and almost immediately after that, a similar place would appear in the Obere Sandstraße 6. The coat of arms on the building is a pun on the Bibra name, which could be interpreted as “beaver.”

The Beer – Why Smoke it

The first beer production in Bamberg comes from documents from the Benedictine Monastery of St. Michael. Today, there is a beer museum at the location of the old brewery there, and the ancient recipe is still available from Schlenkerla.

Location Guide

Now turn to the right down Ringleingasse and follow it until it meets Sandstraße

Schlenkerla Brewery:

  1. Dates: Brewery established in 1405 / Rebuilt after destruction in 30 Years War in 1649
  2. The name of the brewery is a tad confusing. Originally known as the House of the Blue Lion, the modern brewery took the name Heller in the 1890s, which is still technically what it is called today. However, everyone calls it “Schlenkerla,” which means “to dangle or dangle” in Franconian. This comes from the brewmaster Andreas Graser in 1875, who was hit by a wagon and, after that, walked with an exaggerated gait, his arms flailing to keep balance. Schlenkerla makes the most traditional smoked beer in Bamberg, and their beer is exported worldwide. 

Alte Ringlein Hotel: 

  1. 1302 I couldn’t find any more information about this place, but they make decent beer, which can be worth visiting.

Smoked beer is a historically seasonal phenomenon when sun-drying the malt for beer was not an option. The malt was then smoked in open ovens where the smoke could impact the flavor of the beer. Though smoked beers were once available everywhere in Europe, they faded as malt became increasingly traded over land and through the use of more efficient ovens.

Smoked beer in Bamberg was essentially a historical curiosity even by the 18th and 19th centuries and has been a recognized cultural product of Bamberg since Imperial Germany.  

Today, several breweries in Bamberg produce smoked beer, but only two smoke the malt themselves, Schlenkerla and Spezial. They represent the last breweries in the world that continue this tradition. 

The Kingdom of God

Location Guide

Now head to the Catedral Square. From the Schlenkerla Brewery, just head up the hill. There will be stairs up the street to the left when facing down Sandstraße.

We are now standing on the grand Baroque stage of the Prince-Bishops of Bamberg. Though what we see today is the product of the 18th century, beneath our feet lies the traces of Bamberg’s earliest settlement. Excavations underneath the square have found traces of pre-Christian habitation, though not much can be said about these people. Otherwise, we look at the earliest annals of Bamberg’s history for what else might be here. Accordingly, we should expect to find the remnants of a castle or palisade dating to the pre-Carolingian period. Indeed, excavations near Domplatz 4 and the ledge with Vorderer Bach have uncovered foundations that align with these expectations, indicating the presence of a Frankish fortification corroborating the earliest records of the city.

However, if you were building a castle here, you would have a problem, namely that the west side would be completely defenseless. Thus, it would make sense to build another castle all the way on top of the tallest hill overlooking the city. Unsurprisingly, there is a castle there, the Altenburg Castle. However, this fortification dates to the 12th century at the earliest, and evidence of earlier construction has yet to be found at the site. Moreover, the name “Altenburg” means “Old Castle,” which is odd for a building relatively new in relation to the rest of the city. The implication, both logically and etymologically, that an older castle must exist somewhere above the city was called the “Altenburg Problem” by 19th-century historians. Recent surveys using ground penetrating radar and satellite imagery have led to the discovery of earthworks north of the castle. While consistent with designs from the Carolingian period, they could also be much older.

On the old map of Bamberg from Peter Zweidler from 1602, we can see the outlines of the medieval structures that arose over the course of the 12th to 16th centuries. There are a couple of interesting things to note: 

  • A fortified wall with towers encircled the entire Cathedral Hill. A much older defensive structure certainly predated this wall.
  • The castle-like complex with a tower and courtyard to the left of the plaza
  • A four-sided palatial complex where today the Baroque Palace stands

The first Carolingian palace stood where the Cathedral is today, and when construction on the first church started around 1100, the Palace moved to the structure built in the plaza’s center. This is labeled the Alte Hofhaltung, or “Old Court,” on the map, which is what we call it today. The map shows a small castle-like structure with an enclosed courtyard, a tower, and a larger semi-circular array of support buildings around it. Of the buildings depicted here, only a portion of the front facade and the extensive support buildings survive. Despite being called the “Old Court” it was never the seat of power, with the Bishops ruling from the Altenburg Castle until 1553, when they moved to the more comfortable Geyerswörth Palace in the center.

Location Guide

The Old Court

  1. Dates: Original castle finished around 1487 / Half-timbered buildings – 1501 / The Renaissance Palace – 1577 / Castle and Palace largely demolished – 1777
  2. In German called the Alte Hofhaltung. This complex represents the remnants of the late Medieval and early Renaissance Bishop’s Palace.
  3. Most of the ancient castle stood today where the Cathedral is currently located. On the site of the old court would have been some fortifications and an 11th-century chapel. With the completion of the Cathedral in the 13th century, the court moved to this complex. Additional buildings were constructed, and most of the half-timbered buildings we see today date from the late Middle Ages. Prince Bishop Veit II. von Würtzburg tore down most of the early medieval structures between 1561 and 1577 and replaced them with the Renaissance structure that we currently see facing the Plaza. In 1777, an urban renewal project included the demolition of most of the ancient Palace. Today, only the facades and small portions of the Renaissance building survive.
  4. The Renaissance palace today contains the city museum for Bamberg. Little of the old interior survives, and for most of the 19th and 20th centuries, the old court was home to hundreds of small apartments. However, the Museum has a remarkable collection of artifacts outlying the history of the city, from ancient Neolithic cult figures and a rich collection of historical depictions of the city. For an overview of the Old Court, see that map marker.

The first Bishop to return the residence to Cathedral Hill was Johann Philipp von Gebsattel, who purchased the St. Thomas Curia, that four-sided building north of the Cathedral on the map. He had the Curia remodeled, and on the map, we see it referred to as the “Neue Hofhaltung” or the “New Court.”

However, Bishop Gebsattel had bigger dreams for his Palace, and in 1602, he drew up plans for a late Renaissance Palace to befit a Prince of his rank. His plans continued until 1617, when detailed construction records stopped due to the Thirty Years War, but we know that most of the structure was complete. Along Alter Hof Street, we can see the volutes of the one remaining Renaissance facade. From this, we can clearly see traces of the late German Renaissance, notably the large round volutes and the medieval window forms. The Renaissance in northern Europe tended to draw on the new Italian styles and older traditional motifs, especially from the Gothic. The result is a highly regionalized style and one that can be difficult to identify.

From the destruction of the Thirty Years War emerged a new powerful family in Main Valley: the Counts of Schönborn. This small family from a village south of Frankfurt (Heusenstamm, actually quite pretty) quickly emerged as one of the most potent noble estates in the Holy Roman Empire. At their peak, they would control the Prince-Archbishopric of Mainz: Elector of the Empire and Imperial Chancellor. Other members added the Bishoprics of Speyer, Worms, Würzburg, and Bamberg to the family portfolio. The family was, above all, famous for their astute administration and prolific patronage of the arts, particularly palaces and gardens.

The most famous member of the dynasty was Lothar Franz von Schönborn. On 16. November 1693, he was elected Prince Bishop of Bamberg at the age of 38. Only 14 days later, he summoned the court architect Leonard Dientzenhofer and ordered him to build a new palace. However, remember that the Schönborn family was famous for building palaces, and the Cathedral Curia had forced Lothar to sign a pledge promising not to build any new Palaces as a condition for his election to Prince-Bishop. So, he put the plans on hold. Things changed in 1695 when Lothar was elected Prince-Archbisop of Mainz. Now, he was an Imperial Elector and Imperial Chancellor, controlling one of the wealthiest states in the Holy Roman Empire. A palace befitting one of Imperial Rank was needed, and the parochial Curia in Bamberg could do nothing to stop Lothar’s ambitions. Once again, Leonard Dientzenhofer was called up for duty.

Dientzenhofer’s Palace was completed in 1702. Though late into the Baroque period, the richly detailed facade shows a solid deference to the classicism of the Renaissance. A preference for Renaissance designs pervades the palaces of the Main Valley, and similar “retro” designs feature in Mainz and Aschaffenburg. The facade is divided by level into the classical orders, and the window ornamentation draws heavily on Italian designs. This classically influenced design stands in contrast with other, more ornate, and floral works of the Franconian Baroque, including the Palace in Pommersfelden and Würzburg. Regardless, the new facade became an immediate starting point for the wealthy citizens of Bamberg, who also began employing the Dienztenhofers to design their own houses.

I won’t go into detail about the palace interior here. It is one of the best-preserved palaces in Germany and includes much of the original inventory. I highly recommend a tour of both the apartments and the imperial rooms.

Location Guide

Bamberg Neue Residenz

  1. Dates: 1604 / 1697 /1803
  2. Architect: Leonard Dientzenhofer
  3. Description: With the early Renaissance Palace in Geyerswörth falling out of fashion, the Bishops of Bamberg started the search for a new palace. Prince-Bishop Johann Philipp von Gesattel started a new construction on the Cathedral Square in 1604. This building, now in the style of the late Renaissance, continued until the Thirty Years War stopped construction. By this point, the palace was only a shell. When Lothar Franz von Schönborn was elected Prince-Bishop of Bamberg and Elector Prince Bishop of Mainz in 1695, he drew up plans for a new palace in Bamberg, using the wealth of his new combined realm. His court architect, Leonard Dientzenhofer, immediately started work on this new palace. The design concept was based on a new plan for the Cathedral Square. Properly squared off from the city, it was designed to create a new stage for religious ceremonies and project the secular power of the Prince-Bishops to the rest of the city. The original plans called for the entire square to be encased, but budget limitations led to the truncated facade and pavilion you see today.
  4. The city palace in Bamberg offers one of the best-preserved interiors in Germany, including the design and the inventory. The interior spaces took much longer to complete, with the original Baroque designs completed only in 1730. The most spectacular of the surviving baroque rooms is the Kaisersaal or Emperor’s Hall. This room was completed by artist Mechior Steidl in 1709 and features a massive ceiling fresco integrated seamlessly into the wall decorations, creating the illusion of a much higher ceiling. The palace is worth a visit.

Dienztenhofer had more on his plate than just the Palace. The Palace was part of a designated “Image Program,” a common feature of Baroque urban planning. The Cathedral Square is the only part of Bamberg planned with such a program. Here, it was about emphasizing the glory of the church and the absolute power of the Prince-Bishop.

It is easy to assume that a theocratic state might wish to, first and foremost, elevate God to the center of urban planning, a sort of “Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.” However, the idea of a divine city or a shiny city upon a hill is not a concept that played a role in Catholic Bamberg. They are principles taken from Antiquity when Gods physically resided within their city. The Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation reintroduced this concept in a different context, using the idea of Revelation’s New Jerusalem not as a divine abode for the end times but as a symbol of a new faith. This is best seen in places like Plymouth in the US, Saarbrücken, or Karlsruhe in Germany. For Catholic Monarchs, the image programs of urban planning were based foremost around the Counter-Reformation and the emphasis on a legitimate divinely ordained rule.

Hidden Excursion

Rose Garden / Roofs of Bamberg

  1. Dates: 1300-Present
  2. Description: The rose garden is part of the private places reserved for the Prince-Bishop, and some of the most top-level discussions would have taken place here, out of range for eavesdropping servants. The more exciting aspect of the gardens is the view over the roofs. Bamberg is unique in Germany in that the cityscape suffered few calamitous events. The only notable moment of mass destruction was the Thirty Years War, but no fires, sieges, or disasters forced a major uniform reconstruction of the city. The view before you is a sea of roofs, of which almost half predate 1650. This a perspective that has changed little over the centuries, and the dynamic shapes and sizes of the roofs you see here would have been very similar even 300 years ago. In comparison, other ancient cities (before their wartime destruction) like Cologne or Frankfurt underwent massive urban renewal programs during the 19th century, which swept away most of this dynamic architecture.

To that end, the Cathedral Square was never a marketplace. Although Bamberg held market rights since its founding, the Cathedral Square was reserved for religious ceremonies and displays of secular power. Leonard Dientzenhofer laid out the square you see with several goals in mind:

  • The Cathedral must remain visible from a distance, especially to people traveling along the North-South Steinweg.
  • Visitors must be surrounded and awed by the power of the Prince-Bishop. No glimpses of the city or other centers of power can enter a visitor’s thoughts.
  •  Access to and from the Plaza must allow the Prince-Bishop to arrive in style. Paths must be clear and easily accessible with no strenuous climbs for the horses.
  •  From below, the Palace must be visible from all city corners.

Location Guide

The Cathedral Chapterhouse

  1. Dates: 1733 / 1901
  2. Architects: Balthazar Neumann 
  3. Description: The legendary architect Balthazar Neumann designed and executed the new chapterhouse for the Cathedral in 1733. In 1901, the church turned the building into the Museum of the Diocese, which purpose it has served ever since. The Museum has the the few artifacts that remain in the possession of the church. Most of the gold artifacts were melted down during a series of wars in the 16th century to pay for the city’s defense. Many other artifacts were looted in the 30 Years’ War. The new state of Bavaria auctioned off the entire collection at the beginning of the 19th century, and the current Museum displays artifacts that have been since reacquired. 
  4. The most spectacular artifacts include a rich set of tapestries made for Emperor Henry II, his wife, and the Pope at the beginning of the 11th century. They are among the only high-quality textiles we have from this period and are unique in Europe.

The Regnitz Cathedral

When looking at ancient churches, it is easy to fall into the trap of interpreting them through our modern-day lens. These ancient buildings survive because Christianity saw value in the historical continuity that these structures offer. However, being as old as they are, they are entirely divorced from the context in which they arose. Not only that, churches were constantly renovated, added to, replaced, or developed, adding layers of context and interpretation. Reading this context is still more challenging because the secular buildings of their time mostly do not survive, leaving us with a problematic survivorship bias to overcome.

There are three common misconceptions that I will address before we can talk about the details of the church: meaningless forms, divine inspiration, and the flying spaghetti monster. 

The guiding doctrine of modernist architecture is that function defines form. This was taken to its logical extreme in the 1950s and 1960s, and this radical minimalism was famously dismantled by Robert Venturi in 1977 in his book Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. Essentially, all architecture throughout history has been defined by this doctrine. Function over form was not an invention of the 20th century. Originally from the Bauhaus School of thought, this maxim was a reaction to the specific excesses of Historicist Architecture in the late 19th century. Today, this idea that ornamentation is inherently useless is far removed from its theoretical basis in early 20th-century architecture. It nevertheless dominates much of our interpretation of older buildings. 

The key point is that just because you don’t understand why an angel is glued to the wall doesn’t mean it’s useless or superfluous. Religious liturgical tradition has changed dramatically since these churches were originally built, and many pieces of architecture or iconography that were once critical are no longer needed but preserved for one reason or another. As we will see inside the Cathedral, sometimes the reason for gluing angels to the walls has been lost to time. However, glue and angels were expensive, so it makes little sense to have been done without reason. In other words, there is a story behind every stone.

The second and third points concern the influence of modern religious politics on how we see old churches. Today, churches take place everywhere, in all kinds of buildings. Many mega-churches use old factories or office buildings. In this case, there is no requisite form required. The target audience for these buildings expects these forms thanks to the Protestant Revolution and Post-War evangelist ideology.

Consider now the target audience for a church like the Cathedral of Bamberg. It was built on the front line between Christian and Slavic societies by an Emperor who wanted to be remembered for eternity. The symbols incorporated into its design reflect the logic of power when it was designed. Likewise, this was not really meant to be a place of worship. Sure, it incorporates the fundamentals of a church, but its liturgical function served the highly symbolic rituals of the ecclesiastical elite. No commoner could enter the church, and mass was reserved only for the Cathedral Curia. This church is not a divinely inspired testament to the glory of God. It is a monument to celebrate the Glory of the Holy Roman Empire and only afterward maybe the God that made the Empire Holy.

Likewise, we cannot simply dismiss churches as irrelevant buildings in an age of increasing irreverence. We should not consider ancient churches “yucky because Jesus touched them” but as pieces of art carefully curated to serve specific audiences at specific times. The nobility commissioned them, but ordinary people built and maintained them. They are living time capsules, storing a great deal of knowledge within their stone walls. The Cathedral of Bamberg is an excellent example of this sort of “visual archeology” where you can infer a great deal about the context of the time. 

Construction on the church you currently see started around 1190 and ended with its consecration on 6. Mai 1237 the birthday of Emperor Henry II. It replaced the original Cathedral from 1012, which had been completed within the aforementioned Emperor’s lifetime but fell victim to a fire in 1185. We will discuss this predecessor church later in the tour when we visit St. Jakob. Notes these dates for later, however, as they will help us examine the context in which the Cathedral was constructed.

Location Guide

The Bamberg Cathedral

  1. Dates: First Cathedral is finished: 1012 / Second Cathedral is finished: 1237 / Baroque finishings removed: 1828
  2. Style: Late Romanesque / Gothic
  3. Description: When Emperor Henry II decided to build his sepulchral Cathedral in Bamberg, he raised the city to a Bishopric in 1007. Shortly after that, the first Cathedral was completed in 1012. This Ottonian Basilica would have had two choirs and three aisles with a flat roof, very similar in appearance to St. Jakob. This church burned down in 1185, and work started on the current building. This new church, completed in 1237, represents the last of the Great Romanesque Cathedrals in Europe. Built during the stylistic transition to the Gothic style, you can see the effort undertaken to retain at least the symbolic appearance of a Romanesque church in the style of Speyer or Mainz.
  4. Details: The church has a remarkable inventory of unique Early Gothic sculptures from the early 13th century. A workshop from Reims or at least individuals trained at the Cathedral Workshop in Reims are responsible for the dramatic but incomplete sculpture cycle depicting symbols of the End-Times and the Final Judgement. The most famous work is that of the Bamberg Rider, the only Medieval Equestrian Statue found in a church and one whose identity remains a complete mystery.

Construction of the new Cathedral proceeded piecemeal as to allow mass in the old church to continue. The builders started with the eastern half, tearing down part of the old church, walling it off, then reusing the building material in the new church that was constructed around the old one. As the new church progressed westward, bit by bit, the old church was progressively dismantled.

Importantly, around 1200, there was a shift in the architectural style of the church. While the original design called for essentially a larger version of the previous church, the new designs diverged substantially in the direction of the Gothic style. This is undoubtedly due to the international relationships of then-Prince-Bishop Eckbert von Andechs-Meranien. His sister was married to the French King, and evidence from 1220 indicates the presence of French or French-trained artisans working on the Cathedral.

Up until roughly 1350, when Charles IV assumed the Imperial Crown in Prague, the Gothic style was a fundamental symbol of the French Royal Court. Contrary to popular understanding, the Gothic was not a Germanic creation nor a grassroots innovation. It was quite literally invented by a team of people led by the Abbot of St. Denis, Suger, in his effort to elevate the French Crown above its Imperial counterparts. His style used new architectural innovations to increase the light and height of his churches. After some experimentation, the French Kings established a standardized style guide for the French Cathedral, most notably represented by Notre Dame. For comparison, construction on Notre Dame started around 1163 and ended in 1260, roughly in the same timeframe as Bamberg. So why is there no French-styled cathedral in Bamberg?

It is certainly not that Germany was incapable of French-styled Gothic architecture. Plans for the innovative Cathedral in Cologne appeared around 1250, indicating a wealth of expertise available within Germany even before then. Outside of France, the Gothic style still held a political association with France. The Romanesque style was a fundamental symbol of the Holy Roman Emperors, most evident in the Cathedrals of Speyer, Worms, and Mainz. A Gothic Cathedral in a symbolic location like Bamberg would be an insult to the Imperial Crown. 

Politics did not stop architects from using the tools of Gothic architecture to enhance their buildings. The first pure Gothic buildings in Germany appeared in Trier and Marburg, and these designs diverged substantially from French standards. Competing political image programs merely prevented French-style cathedrals from popping up unless there was a message to send.

The early 1200s are associated with the declining influence of the Holy Roman Emperors. The reason was Fredrick II’s acerbic personality and eternal conflict with the Pope. The Pope excommunicated Fredrick twice and pumped out propaganda declaring the Emperor the Antichrist. This conflict took place in an already unstable European environment, where the perceived threats of Islam, the Mongols, and the Jews created a siege mentality in Christendom. A famous theologian, Joachim of Fiore, published a book in 1201 declaring that the end of times would begin in 1260. All this together turbocharged Christian millenarianism, weakening both secular and spiritual control of the Empire.

With the Pope at odds with the Emperor, France became its natural protector. With a weak Emperor and declining Imperial Authority, the Prince-Archbishops of Cologne chose to build a purely Gothic cathedral, a decision that was undoubtedly meant to signal their loyalty to the Pope instead of the Emperor. However, few other cities followed. Only two other major German-speaking cities built French-style Cathedrals: Lübeck and Regensburg. (There are others in the Holy Roman Empire, e.g., Brussels, but these are a topic for another day). Even when the leading center of Gothic innovation moved to Prague in 1350, outside of the Lowlands, the Holy Roman Empire never fully adopted the French forms of the Gothic. As we will see later with the Upper Parish Church, the late Gothic in Southern Germany was an entirely different stylistic language.

The Cathedral in Bamberg is then best understood as a Romanesque Cathedral built to honor a Holy Roman Emperor. The architects chose to use the tools of the Gothic style, pointed arches and groin vaults, within the Romanesque framework to enhance the final product but stay consistent with the intended message. Bamberg was loyal to the Emperor, and it would honor its eternal guest appropriately. 

There are an endless number of fun facts and lessons to be learned from this building, so let us look at a few of them.

  1. The Orientation of the Church and the Two Choirs:
    1. The church is not oriented exactly East-West, and while this may be due to the topography, it is interesting that the sun shines directly through the western choir windows during the solstice. This precise astronomical alignment is rare in church construction and may thus implicate the location in pre-Christian ritual practices. 
    2. The church has two choirs, one in the east and one in the West. This is a strange feature of German Romanesque Cathedrals that has its roots in the basilicas of antiquity. They symbolize the dual power of the Pope and Emperor. In the Byzantine Empire, this doctrine of Caesaropapism was consolidated into one person, whereas following the investiture controversy in the Holy Roman Empire, the spiritual role of the Emperor evaporated. For the most part, the meaning and liturgical purpose of the western choir is not well understood. By the end of the Middle Ages, it mainly went unused in the large cathedrals with both. No cathedral built after 1250 has this dual choir setup.
    3. The Eastern Choir is pure Romanesque, as it was constructed first. Note the useless pillars. As mentioned before, it took a lot of effort to build these, so they must have served some purpose. They were to hold up the originally planned flat wooden roof before team vaulting won out with their French-inspired designs.
    4. The Western Choir is almost pure Gothic in its execution. Together, we can look from left to right and see nearly a century of artistic development.
  2. The Towers:
    1. As construction started on the Eastern half first, these towers are Romanesque towers with a bit of Gothic flair. Older literature would describe them as a “transitional style,” but a distinct style never existed. 
    2. The Western towers are definitively Gothic. These towers are almost exact copies of those belonging to the Cathedral of Laon, the first purpose-built “Early Gothic” Cathedral in Europe (1155-1235). The layout of the towers is, however, a Romanesque tradition. For comparison, look at the famous Monastery of Maria Laach, which was described as a castle of God with its five towers. This fortress architecture was meant to emphasize the permanence and continuity of Christianity.
  3. The Sculptures Cycles:
    1. There are two distinct artistic workshops for the sculptures: a c. pre-1200 school based in the Late Romanesque of the Rhineland and a later School of the High French Gothic active after 1200 that was from or was trained in Reims. The products of the later school are some of the most important works of art from the High Middle Ages in Central Europe. They are comparable in quality and importance to the highly influential sculptures on the exterior of Reims Cathedral.
    2. Adam’s Gate (Adamspforte)
      1. Also called the “Red Gate,” this was the main entrance to the Cathedral for Laity. Mass would have been held here for nobility and other high-ranking but lay members of the court, e.g., Magistrates and other officials. The average citizen would only have been allowed in on festival days and during pilgrimage events. The zig-zag pattern is a common Romanesque motif from Normandy and indicates French Influence on the Romanesque design even before 1200. All of the sculptures here come from the Reims school and may have been completed around 1230. Initially, it seems that there was no intention for sculptures to be displayed on the exterior, and the six statues we see here may have originally been intended for the interior. However, they were put up temporarily as the interior was unfinished and remained there permanently.
      2. Left Side:
        1. St. Stephan was the first Christian Martyr, and here he holds a stone symbolizing the means of his execution. Though popular in the French Gothic, nowhere is St. Stephan found holding a stone like here. Given how carefully he is holding the rock, there is a possible connection to Revelations.
          1. Revelations 2:17: To everyone who conquers, I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.
        2. St. Kunigunde is the “virgin” wife of Emperor Henry II. Of course, this is a myth, and it is more likely that she could not have children. She was viewed as a contemporary incarnation of Mary, making her quite popular then. Here, she is depicted in a robe without a belt, a symbol of her virginity.
        3. St. Henry II was Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and the last member of the Ottonian Dynasty. He is the guy who built the first Cathedral here.
      3. Right Side:
        1. St. Peter is the church patron but was also the first Pope. Thus, the first Pope and First Martyr stand across from each other.
        2. The two statues of Adam and Eve are one of the mysteries of the Bamberg Cathedral. They are the first life-size naked sculptures to be carved after the end of antiquity. Unfortunately, It is unclear what purpose or message these statues were intended. The seemingly random collection of figures lends credence to the notion that they were originally intended for the interior. One interpretation sees Adam and Even symbolizing paradise and that the entrance and exit from the church is a symbolic transversal of this heavenly realm.
    3. Mercy Gate (Gnadenpforte):
      1. This gate was reserved for feast days and ceremonial entrances into the Cathedral by the Bishop or High Ranking Guests. This gate retains its original Late Romanesque appearance. The Tymphanon is from the early Rhineland School of Sculptors. 
      2. Right Side
        1. Heinrich II. 
        2. Kunigunde 
      3. Left Side
        1. St. Peter
        2. St. George 
      4. The most interesting feature of this portal is down to the right side. Demarcated between two iron lion heads is the Bamberg Elle, a unit of length ritually fixed to the side of the Cathedral so no one could doubt its legitimacy. It was the official unit of measure for the Bishopric of Bamberg and is the earliest unit of measure in Europe for which we still have a definition. The Elle is exactly 67cm, and the Bamberger Foot is 26.8cm. So, in Bamberg, the Elle was 2.5 Feet. For comparison, the US Foot is 30.5cm, making it comparable to the Bamberg counterpart.
    4. Princes’ Gate (Fürstenportal):
      1. The Romanesque Gate here was used for mass processions in and out of the church and ceremonial entrances, e.g., for funerals. 
      2. The inner figures are all products of the early workshop, with the exception of the outside pair on the right-hand side. The more prominent figures all belong to the Reims School.
      3. Also from French School is the Tymphanon, which shows the final judgment of man. Jesus weights the scales of the heart, the damned head to hell with a smile, and the saved rejoice equally in salvation.
      4. On either side, the most prominent figures represent Christianity (Ecclesia) and Judaism (Synagoga). Ecclesia is crowned like a King and once would have carried a cross. She is depicted as righteous and in glory. Synagoga, in contrast, is blindfolded to the “truth of the world,” holding tablets of law she has disregarded and a broken staff representing both the broken covenant with God and the disregard for the law of man.
        1. Below Ecclesia are the depictions of the four evangelists and what might be Isaia. 
        2. Below Synagoga is, well, — the devil.
      5. The entire portal is read from the left to the right, which tells the story of all time. Ecclesia represents the life of the world and with Synagoga – death. Between Life and Death lie the three ages of Man:
        1. The Old Testament: Represented by the 12 Prophets in the lowest row on the inside
        2. The New Testament: Represented by the 12 Apostles on the upper row
        3. The Final Kingdom of God: Represented by the Final Judgement
      6. The Angel with the Trumpet could either be a separate reference to Revelations or simply represent the glorification of God. 
      7. The final statue shows Abraham hugging some people. This follows an ancient concept of the afterlife called the Bosom of Abraham, where the dead reside until the Final Judgement.
  4. The Bamberger Rider:
    1. The statue of the horseman is the great Mystery of the Cathedral.
    2. It was created around 1230 by an unknown master from the Reims Workshop.
    3. It was originally painted in life-like colors.
    4. It is the earliest known sculpture of a horse and rider post-Antiquity.
    5. We know essentially nothing about the questions of “who” the rider is and “why” they put it in the church.
    6. There are a lot of theories about the rider. The oldest one is that he is St. Stephan, King of Hungary. The king visited Bamberg once and is said to have remarked upon its beauty, but the connection is tenuous. Though a popular saint, he has little connection to 13th-century Bamberg. Not to mention that the rider wears a crown and is placed symbolically over the graves of Emperor Henry II and Kunigunde. This position implies a relationship of familiarity or superiority. 
    7. This lends credence to the theory that the rider is either Fredrick II or a symbolic representation of the Hohenstaufen Dynasty. Considering that the Pope excommunicated Fredrick II twice and that much of Europe thought him to be the antichrist, even the pro-imperial Curia in Bamberg could not have erected a statue of him inside the Cathedral.
    8. My favorite theory is that the rider represents Jesus at the end of days. The evidence for this comes from the context:
      1. The ages of man and the end times are recurring themes in the other sculptures and other churches of the period.
      2. His appearance matches other contemporary depictions of Revelations.
      3. The location of the rider is unchanged since its installation. We know this because the statue was damaged during the placement, and though not visible, the bottom portion of the rider’s robe is broken off.
        1. This position is likewise symbolic. When a procession enters through the Prince’s gate, they will emerge underneath the horseman, standing in for the army of heaven at the end of times.
      4. The rider is unarmed, and special attention has been paid to his mouth, which is opened just slightly in anticipation of him speaking. The implication of this comes from John, who describes Jesus as the incarnation of the word of God and where his voice has the power to sunder nations. Note the following passages:
        1. Isaiah 11:4: He shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
        2. 2 Thess. 2:8: And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming. 
        3. Revelations 19:11-16: The Rider on the White Horse:
        4. Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness, he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, “King of kings and Lord of lords.”
    9. The Seer: This statue is most likely a symbolic representation of pagan antiquity and stands together with the figures of Ecclesia and Synagoga. The woman is dressed similarly to a Tiburtine Sibyl from ancient Rome and thus fits an apocryphal story where Emperor Augustus was foretold of the coming of Jesus by the Sibyls of Rome.
    10. The Headless St. Dionysius: This was a popular saint in France, and reflects the tastes of the designers. The symbols reflect a time of great angst, primarily against the seemingly unstoppable tide of Islam and the quickly approaching end of days.
  5. The Tomb of Henry II and Kunigunde 
    1. The Tomb was created between 1499 and 1513 in the Workshop of Tilman Riemenschneider. This late Gothic sarcophagus depicts the legends associated with the Emperor and Empress. Also noteworthy is the presence of a lion at her feet, a symbol reserved for men.
  6. The Papal Tomb of Clemens II. 
    1. Built for Pope Clemens II around 1225, the marble tomb is a simple work of art often mistaken as a 20th-century creation. Pope Clemens was originally a Bishop of Bamberg before he became Pope. He remains the only Pope interred north of the Alps.

Other Sights

[Die Sage von Bach]

Domherrenhöfen – Courts of the Canons

Once we have left the church, we can leave the drama of the Cathedral Square behind us and head up past the old court into one of the most ancient parts of the city. These are the remnants of the Palaces and Courts of the individual families that dominated the curia politics of Bamberg. The Swedes destroyed most of them during the 30 Years’ War, but some still hold onto their medieval heritage.

  • Canons were the equivalent of courtiers in the theocratic states of the Holy Roman Empire. There were many ways into this community, but members were typically men from well-known noble families from around the Holy Roman Empire who entered the church with the goal of extending family authority to certain areas. Their families would have provided an estate for them within the city.
  • Originally, it would have been a network of fortified living towers, usually with chapels on the first floor. Today, the towers are gone, but evidence for at least two of the them is still there.

Remnants of Ancient Curia Churches in Bambeg

  • Domstraße 4-54: Chapel of the Curie of St. Johannis & Paul (1154)
  • Dompl. 3 On the opposite side, above the street on the terrace: Curie Chapel of St. Laurentii from the 13th century. It is the only one that remains mostly intact.
  • Alte Hofhaltung, remnants on the streets: Chapel of St. Thomas (1170)
  • Alte Hofhaltung, remnants at the foundation of the castle tower: Chapel of St. Andreas (1051)

Location Guide

Langheimer Court

  1. Dates: 1739
  2. Architect: Balthazar Neumann
  3. Description: Originally split between the Ebrach Monastery and Langheim, this Baroque estate was part of the desire of the Monks in Langheim to acquire Imperial Immediacy, for which the prestigious position on Cathedral Hill offered substantial legitimacy. The baroque construction was built by the school of Balthazar Neumann, but his direct participation is not clear. By spending money on remodeling the medieval Curia, the Monks sought to push their case for Imperial Immediacy, a project they had been aiming for over two centuries.

Old Ebracher Court

  1. Dates: 1681 
  2. Architecht: Andreas Kestler
  3. Description: In 1127, the First Cistercian Monastery on the right bank of the Rhine settled in the village of Ebrach to the West of Bamberg. As they were under the secular control of the Prince-Bishops, they needed representation within the city, which appeared around 1220. As the Ebrach Monastery became one of the wealthiest in Franconia, they needed a more resplendent city palace. The building was purchased from the Esel Familey and largely reconstructed to its current state in 1681. 

New Ebracher Court

  1. Dates: 1767
  2. Architect: Martin Mayer
  3. Description: Around 1760, the Ebracher monks decided they needed more space for their economic and representative functions in the city. They decided to expand the old court to the other side of the city block. Following some NIMBY conflicts with their neighbors, construction was finally finished in 1767. The rococo facade is adorned with symbols of monastic life during that period.

The Immunity of St. Jacob started right outside of the ancient walls of the fortified Cathedral Hill. Emperor Henry II granted this Curia its independence during the initial foundation of the city’s rights. There are still a number of courts dating to the Baroque period of the city. However, most traces of this Immunity have vanished. The church of St. Jacob is interesting for its relationship to the original Cathedral of Henry II.

Location Guide

St. Jacob

  1. Dates: First Church Finished in 1109 – Facade added in 1771 – Baroque modifications removed in 1882
  2. Description: The seemingly unadorned church of St. Jacob offers a remarkable counterpoint to the Cathedral. Started in 1076 and finished in 1109, its construction period corresponds to the fire that destroyed much of the Cathedral in 1077 and the subsequent renovation, which ended in 1088. We have a unique glimpse into the interior of a Salian Cathedral, complete with a flat roof and aisles. Similar churches can also be found scattered throughout Germany, e.g., in Cologne and Hildesheim. The choir was renewed in a simple late Gothic style in the 15th century, and the facade was masked with a Baroque portal in 1777. 
  3. We have to imagine this church covered in dense Baroque stuccowork and decoration. Unlike the Upper Parish church, this decoration was removed in the 19th century, with the exception of the ceiling fresco over the crossing, which also dates to 1777.

Jews in Bamberg

Pfahlplätzchen, formerly Judenplatz, was one of Bamberg’s first recorded centers of commerce long before it had an officially recognized market. Initially, a small community settled around the small Judenplatz near the Upper Parish Church. Medieval synagogues served as civic centers as well and were allowed to be built in the public sphere. It is believed that the first synagogue would have stood where the Chapel of St. Mary is today. A second Synagogue was built in the middle of the 15th century on Kessler Street, but shortly thereafter, the Jews were expelled in 1480, and Jewish life in Bamberg ended. Then, around 1650, a new synagogue appears in the interior courtyard of Generalsgasse 15, indicating a return to Jewish life in the city.

Location Guide

Franciscan Monastery

  1. Dates: 1331 / 1811
  2. Description: Originally, this was the location of the local franchise of the Knights Templar. The Franciscan Order was a controversial institution in the early and high Middle Ages. As their worldview was mendicant or even populist, Franciscan preachers in the countryside were often seen as a threat to the legitimacy of the Prince-Bishops. They arrived in Bamberg in 1222 and proved to be so popular that the Bishops could not prevent their settlement. The Franciscan Order took over the building complex when the knights left in 1331. The current monastery dates to a complete reconstruction of the medieval abbey in 1716. The church was unfortunately torn down in 1811, and the buildings have housed the city police headquarters since then.

Civic Architecture of the Trades

Though Bamberg was not known for an affiliation with a particular trade, such as the cloth or leather industry, its residents still desired consumer goods. The city supported small districts of various workshops including tanners, dyers, weavers, shoemakers, smiths, etc. Some workshops required specific architectural features to make their work possible, and some of this is still evident in Bamberg today. The most obvious are the fishermen’s houses of “Little Venice,” built on the water with a vaulted lower floor to accommodate the tools and machinery needed to unload and process the fish.

Other industries have largely vanished with time. For example, industries that needed open fire or kilns, such as smiths, dyers, and potters, required special planning permission to account for fire risk. As a result, these industries tended to cluster around each other and persist in the same location for centuries. However, the Industrial Revolution replaced all these jobs with more efficient, safer workshops outside of the city, and the fire risk in the city quickly outweighed the benefits of these roles. Today, the chimneys, kilns, and street-facing smiths are all gone, and there is no discernable trace that they ever existed.

When we look for the fragments of civic architecture, we are limited to those special features that were otherwise desirable in other contexts. For example, relics of the tanning and fabric industries in Bamberg can be seen on the galleried houses next to the town hall. Fabrics and hides would have been hung on these galleries to dry. However, these open galleries also make lovely balconies or winter gardens, and they were often retained, even if the gallery was filled in.

The historical development of Bamberg is primarily noteworthy precisely for this renovation. Unlike cities like Würzburg or Heidelberg, there was no organized (re)construction campaign with standardized styles. Bamberg had a community-driven renovation effort that was restricted primarily to the facades. This led to already mentioned stylistic preferences but also several architectural features that could be described as “the Potemkin Baroque”:

  1. Portal Architecture: Noble residences had facades flat with the street front even when newly built. This is in contrast to cities elsewhere in Europe, where typically a wall and courtyard separated the residence from the street. Elaborate portals were built to distinguish these residences of honor. Since these extended out into the street, they came with additional taxes, adding to the exclusivity.
    1. Schillerplatz 4 (1720)
    2. Schillerplatz 12 (1750)
  2. Facadism: While most of the facade renovation was well done or consistently applied, the further you get from the main streets and plazas, the less consistent it gets. Schillerplatz, formerly called Zinkenwörtherplatz, is a good location to see this, especially house number 14. The row of baroque houses along the square’s western edge are all medieval houses now adorned with baroque plaster or sandstone facades. House 14 from 1720 is most visible because the owner merged two houses together without changing the roofs, the medieval vestigates of which are still visible.
    1. Similar Gothic or Renaissance decorative elements are visible throughout the city. Look for the pointed arches on firebreaks, e.g., Langestraße, or the “St. Andrew’s Cross,” e.g., Karolinenstraße. The Andreaskeuz half-timbered theme is the most apparent indication of a late Renaissance/Early Baroque (i.e., before 1600) half-timbered house.

Houses without the new facades are few and far between. Many of the visible half-timbered homes are actually from the 19th century. The only mostly preserved Pre-1600 Renaissance stone house in its original configuration can be seen in Eisgrube 1a.

The average post-1700 house in Bamberg is of the so-called “Three-Window-House,” which became famous in the 19th century when the Prussian government formally standardized its definition. Here, though, the dimensions vary greatly, but there will always be three axes of windows with a strong emphasis on the horizontal elements, usually through ornamentation around and below the windows.

  1. Lange Straße 11: Strong emphasis on the first story through the use of the broken pediment and facade framed by Corinthian columns.
  2. Kaputzinerstraße 4 / Judenstraße 4&6: Stronger emphasis on the vertical element, especially in the center axis. 
  3. Keßlerstraße 5: Emphasis is spread evenly across the entire facade by limiting decoration.

Location Guide

Böttinger House

  1. Dates: 1707-1713
  2. Architect: Maximilian von Welsch
  3. Description: Built for the Chief Advisor of the Bishop Johann Böttinger. It was built in the style of Italian urban palazzi with ornamentation and adaptations to reflect the late baroque style of the time. The architect is unknown but may have been Maximilian von Welsch, the court architect of Mainz, also responsible for the palace in Fulda.
  4. The location of the building created an exceptional challenge for the architect, who was limited by the terrain on what he could accomplish for the palace. In the end, the narrow alleyways and north-facing facade meant that the palace was always in the shade, and soon, problems with moisture and humidity affected construction work on the interior, and the Italian-style atrium proved uncomfortably cold. The Böttinger Family gave up the palace and instead built a new one, the Concordia Palace, on the waterfront, this time with esteemed architect Johann Diezenhofer.

Concordia House

  1. Dates: 1722
  2. Architect: Johann Dientzenhofer
  3. Description: When the Böttinger family realized their Italian Villa was inadequate for their needs, they moved to a new plot of land on the river. Now employing the star architect Johann Dientzenhofer, they built a new palace, this time in the style of the Franconian Baroque. Johann Dientzenhofer was at the time working on the Weißenstein Palace for the Schönborn Family, and there are remarkable similarities evident in both of these buildings.

The Immunity of St. Stephan

As discussed at the beginning, the Immunities of Bamberg are unique due to their Imperial prerogatives. Their independence from the city was ensured via a system of walls and gates that no longer exists today. The closed and restricted nature of these settlements led to a dense development structure with narrow streets and tall buildings, something best seen in the Immunity of St. Stephan. Here, though, the decision was taken not to develop the traverse of the hill, as this would disrupt the view of the Cathedral from the distance. Evidence that viewing perspectives were important elements in urban planning, even in the early modern period. Surviving Curia buildings are visible along the Eisgrube and on the Stephansplatz.

Location Guide

St. Stephan

  1. Dates: 1020 / 1626
  2. Description: The original church was finished around 1020 and was consecrated by the Pope. This makes it today the only Protestant church to be consecrated by the Pope. Though construction on this early baroque church started in 1626, the destruction and chaos of the 30 Years War Meant that was not finished until 1680. The shape is based roughly on the plans of the previous church on the site, which was built as a central-plan cross church, a style taken from Rome by the Empress Kunigunde.
  3. Much of the interior furnishings were lost following the end of the Holy Roman Empire, like stolen or sold off. The church was for many decades used as a storage room before being given to the city’s protestant community.
    1. The baroque organ from 1695
    2. The rococo Choir chairs 1769
    3. The main altar from 1796

The chapel of St John (1330) offers something of an enigma. Its purpose for the Curia and the monastery is not clear. It may have served as a sort of lay chapel for people outside of the Immunity’s walls, as the existence of the St. Johanns Gate was right next to it. It may also have been part of a curia house that has since vanished or as a ceremonial chapel for processions in the city that ended here.

The Upper Parish Church

Very little is known about the Gothic portion of the church. The earliest evidence of a church on this location comes from around 1140 in an administrative document. However, archaeological evidence of buildings on the site dates back to the foundation of the Bishopric circa 1008. Records of two major payments for indulgences are recorded around 1300, which are linked to the site. These were likely financing arrangements for the new church, though construction did not begin for another 50 years.

We know that the core of the building was finished around 1387, as that is when it was consecrated. However, by that point, it seems the church was already too small, and construction on the larger choir started almost immediately after that in 1392. The Baroqueified interior reflects the state of most European churches at the beginning of the 19th century. That this church retains its baroquified interior is pretty unique today.

The tower does not appear in the records, but the stylistic differences and mentions in other documents indicate that it was completed by 1535. The tower was the only part of the church to suffer severe damage during the war. We are fortunate to have this church today, as the buildings to the right of the tower, the old Fish Market, were among the few buildings completely annihilated by artillery during WW2.

The western facade, with its large rounded window and corresponding entrance, is a product of the Baroque period—the statue at the top of the facade dates to 1905.

I personally find the Upper Parish Church one of the region’s most exciting churches. From its visible architecture, you can read the history of the Gothic Style. Still, the preserved Baroque interior allows you to experience the church as it was for most of its history. The 19th-century renovators often purged these decorations as “inauthentic” to the original buildings, but for most of the church’s history, that is exactly what most residents would have seen. Not to mention, the citizens of Bambeg themselves contributed to much of the decoration of the church. This was a parish church, a place of worship for the citizens of Bamberg.

Location Guide

The Church of Our Lady (The Upper Parish)

  1. Dates: Church: 1387 / Choir: 1392 / Tower: 1535 
  2. Description: Very little is known about the Gothic portion of the church. The earliest evidence of a church on this location comes from around 1140 in an administrative document. However, archaeological evidence of buildings on the site dates back to the foundation of the Bishopric circa 1008. We know that the core of the building was finished around 1387, as that is when it was consecrated. However, by that point, it seems the church was already too small, and construction on the larger choir started almost immediately after that in 1392. The Baroqueified interior reflects the state of most European churches at the beginning of the 19th century. That this church retains its baroquified interior is pretty unique today.

The tour of the Gothic style starts with the “Wedding” Entrance to the north side. Though chronologically dated to 1380, it is stylistically very conservative for the period, drawing heavily on Romanesque design themes, such as the cone-shaped layers of nested arches. On either side are sculptures from the mid-14th century depicting famous female saints. The Tymphanon depicts the crowning of Maria as the empress of heaven.

The central core of the building is from the same period, and aside from the windows, which were rounded off in the baroque period, it depicts an almost stereotypical South German three-aisled early Gothic basilica. The main characteristic is the small clerestory windows and the relatively higher aisles.

The choir represents the High Gothic and is based heavily on the South German International Gothic, for which the Minster in Schwäbisch Gmünd and St. Sebastian in Nürnberg are the best examples. The flying buttresses are fairly unique and are original to the design of the building. For the most part, the Germans preferred large enclosed spaces in their churches, so they raised the aisles to create more space and, as a result, tended to incorporate the buttresses into the interior space.

The style of the tower comes from the very end of the Gothic, and the blind tracery in this pattern is found in early Renaissance buildings around Europe. The tower house was actually inhabited until the First World War.

The Baroqueifiation of the interior subjected the church to several structural modifications. The main changes are to the nave, which saw the pointed arches rounded off, the vaults lowered, and everything covered in stucco work. The choir, which would have previously been inaccessible to the public, was opened, the Rood Screen Removed, and a new altar was installed. The vaulting, though, remained the same.

The high altar is interesting as an example of “Gesamtkunstwerk,” entirely composed and executed by different artisans from Bamberg itself. Only the Madonna and child are not from Bamberg. Indeed, it predates the church by a century and comes from Cologne around 1300. The coat of arms on the altar is for the Benefactor, Prince-Bishop Lothar Franz von Schönborn. The other Baroque side altars are from the same period.

Other Pieces of Art:

  1. The most interesting relic of the medieval interior is the sacrements house, which was put in place on the first day of construction for the new choir. The symbolism is clear: just as Jesus is the cornerstone of life, he too shall be the cornerstone of the new church, so the sacrament was stored here. The actual artistic work dates from 1430.
  2. The stucco work is from the High Baroque period, c. 1711 by J.J. Vogel. The original frescos were damaged during the 19th century and replaced with late Nazarene style artworks in 1886.
  3. The baptistry dates to the same tower period and demonstrates the combination of Renaissance and Gothic styles.
  4. The rococo-styled organ dates to 1761.

Sites outside of the Old Town

Location Guide

The Carmelite Monastery

  1. Dates: Romanesque Foundation – 1157 / Cloister – 1380s / Baroque Renovation – 1702 
  2. Architect: School of Peter Parler and Leonard Dientzenhofer 
  3. Description: The monastery was founded as the result of a spiritual donation by the widow of Conrad III, Count of the Palatinate. The money was used to build a substantial Romanesque monastery complex, some of which is still visible on the backside of the church. The cloister represents the best preserved late Romanesque arcades in Europe and is the highlight of the monastery complex. The 17th-century renovation of the monastery by Leonard Dientzenhofer dismantled the ancient church and replaced it with a beautiful Baroque church in the style of the period. 
  4. The pillars of the cloister display some of the highest quality transitional sculpture work in Europe. Germany was well into the Gothic period by this point in the late 14th century. Using Romanesque architectural themes was deliberate and may have reflected local taste, local politics, or some other specific desire. The result, though, is Romanesque art produced by Gothic artists. The main feature of this transitional period was the increasing realism in art and sculpture. The more realistic it gets, the more Gothic it tends to be, a result of increasing interest in the natural world.

Altenberg Castle

  1. Dates: 1109 / 1305 / 1900
  2. Style: Gothic and Historicism
  3. Description: The castle appears in a record from 1109, where the Bishop of Bamberg transfers ownership to the monastery curia of St. Jakob. Then, from 1305, it appeared again in the ownership of the Bishops, now used as a secondary residence, until the end of the 16th century. The castle was besieged on several occasions but never suffered significant damage. After 1600, the castle fell into disrepair and suffered massive damage when a landslide took away the southern half of the castle. In 1900, the south face was partially rebuilt, and the buildings were restored or reconstructed to their current state. 
  4. The castle ruins greatly inspired the German romantic author E. T. A. Hoffmann, who retreated to the tower when he felt burdened by the world. The castle appears as a recurring motif in romantic era art and depictions of Bamberg.

Villa Remise

  1. Dates: 1811 / 1874
  2. Architect: Georg III. Hofbauer
  3. Description: This Villa currently acts as a cafe that serves excellent coffee and cake with one of the best views of Bamberg’s old town. The Villa was originally a Neoclassical temple pavilion built in 1811 and later expanded to become a full-size house in 1874.

St. Michael

  1. Dates: 1015 – Monastery Founded / 1121 – Current Church / 1610 – Renovation and Monastery Buildings / 1696 – Renovation
  2. Description: Emperor Henry II founded the Benedictine Monastery of St. Michael at the same time as the Bishopric in 1015. The current church, now under scaffolding for over 20 years, was originally finished in 1121. The three-aisled Salian basilica was ravaged many times over the history of Bamberg by angry citizens, angry peasants, and angry counts. So, the monastery was never particularly wealthy; thus, we still have the ancient medieval building today. A fire in 1610 burned off the roof, and the reconstruction efforts introduced a late Renaissance network vault with scientifically precise depictions of hundreds of flowers and herbs. It is considered one of the masterpieces of the German Renaissance.
  3. Emperor Henry II founded the Benedictine Monastery of St. Michael at the same time as the Bishopric in 1015. As with the other significant monasteries in the city, it was awarded its Immunity, subject first only to the Emperor, then to the Bishop, with its lands freed from taxes.
  4. The current church, now under scaffolding for over 20 years, was originally finished in 1121. The three-aisled Salian basilica was ravaged many times over the history of Bamberg by angry citizens, angry peasants, and angry counts. So, the monastery was never particularly wealthy; thus, we still have the ancient medieval building today. A fire in 1610 burned off the roof, and the reconstruction efforts introduced a late Renaissance network vault with scientifically precise depictions of hundreds of flowers and herbs. It is considered one of the masterpieces of the German Renaissance.
  5. Several famous Bamberg architects left their mark on the monastery, with Leonhard Dientzenhofer renewing the facade in 1696.
  6. Terrace: The viewpoint here provides a spectacular view over the old town of Bamberg and a view of the Altenburg Castle. Johann Dientzenhofer planned the terraces and vineyards we see surrounding the monastery today. They would not be executed until 1759 under the Prince-Bishop Ludwig Dietz.

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