Located 48 miles south of Frankfurt, Heidelberg has a very rich history (some say dating back for thousands of centuries). In 1907, fossils of what became known as “Heidelberg Man” were discovered near that German city. This earliest known evidence of human habitation in the area was dated to the middle Pleistocene (from around 700,000 to 300,000 years ago).
The first real settlements here were traced back to Celtic tribes, as well as the Romans. Some evidence exists that the 24th Roman Cohort constructed and inhabited, a fort in the area, sometime around 40 AD. Three hundred years later (ca. 369 AD), the Roman Rmporer Valentinian I had the first “permanent” camp built along the banks of the Neckar river, to protect the first civilian settlements here. What amounts to modern Heidelberg has been traced to a village known as “Bergheim” (“Mountain House”) sometime during the 5th Century [remnants of this village can be found in the middle of today’s modern Heidelberg]. Documents found in the Schonau Abbey (founded in 1142) first mentioned Heidelberg in 1196. Experts consider this as the official founding date for the city. The first Heidelberg Castle was constructed (sometime during the early 1100’s) on the Koenigstuhl hill overlooking the city (we’ll discuss this Castle in more detail in a future posting).
Within the city itself, the famous Heidelberg University was founded in 1386, upon the order of Pope Urban VI. German theologian, Martin Luther, came to Heidelberg in 1518 in order to defend his “95 theses,” which eventually led to the Protestant Reformation. Shortly after the start of the Thirty Years War (1634(, the Swedish army conquered Heidelberg. Fifty-five years later, French troops took over the town and castle, nearly destroying everything.
From 1933 until 1945, the Nationalist Socialist German Workers Party (Hitler’s Nazi Party) was headquartered in Heidelberg. During their tenure here, the NSDAP hosted the infamous “Book burnings” during “Crystal Night” (November 9, 1938). Thousands of books were destroyed in the quadrangle of Heidelberg University ( a memorial to this tragic event can be found in the quadrangle). Many historians believe that Heidelberg was spared most of the devastating bombing raids of World War II because the U.S. Army had plans to locate their European headquarters here.