Proud AUGSBURG may only be Bavaria’s third-largest city, but it’s the state’s oldest, tracing its origins to the Roman fort of Augusta Vindelicum founded in the first century AD. The largest city of Bavarian Swabia – a western region linguistically, and historically quite distinct from Bavaria proper – it was one of the wealthiest financial centres in Europe during the Middle Ages, helped by its position on the route south to Italy. Its traders and financiers – the Fuggers and Welsers – were the Rothschilds or Vanderbilts of their day, with business connections across Europe and beyond. Augsburg was renowned for its craftsmanship, above all in metalwork, and it also produced the father-and-son artists Hans Holbein the Elder and Younger. The city reached a peak of magnificence during the Renaissance, from when much of the city’s most impressive architecture dates, notably the splendid Rathaus by Elias Holl, who was the municipal architect.
An imperial free city, Augsburg took centre stage in the religious controversies of the sixteenth century. The city, though with a Catholic bishopric, nevertheless strongly favoured Luther. In 1530 the Augsburg Confession – one of the founding documents of the Lutheran faith – was formulated here and presented to the Emperor Charles V at an Imperial Diet. At a subsequent Diet, in 1555, the Peace of Augsburg initiated peaceful coexistence between the religions, in imperial free cities at least, though Ferdinand II attempted to overturn it with his Edict of Restitution in 1629 in the thick of the Thirty Years’ War. This had the effect of reversing the power balance between Catholic and Protestant in Augsburg, and the city remains largely – but not overwhelmingly – Catholic today. Augsburg became Bavarian in 1806, and in the following century grew into an important industrial centre. Firms such as MAN and Messerschmitt ensured it attracted Allied air raids during World War II, yet the scars were successfully repaired afterwards, and the glory of Augsburg’s history is evident to this day in its Altstadt – whose architectural splendour is reason enough for the city to be a worthwhile stop on the Romantic Road.