Entering Franconia (Franken) from the north or west can be a disorientating experience for anyone expecting Alps, blue-and-white flags and Weisswurst – Bavaria’s northernmost region is not at all the Bavaria of popular cliché. Red and white are the colours of Franconia, the sausage of choice is Bratwurst and the unspoilt wooded uplands which cover much of the region rarely rise to mountainous heights, or feature on the itineraries of foreign tourists. In many respects, it has more in common with Thuringia or Hesse than it does with the “real” Bavaria to the south.
Bavarian or not, it is a fantastically diverse place to visit. Unterfranken (Lower Franconia), centred on Würzburg, is wine-growing country, with a feel of the sunny south. It is also the starting point for the Romantic Road, a tourist route linking many of Bavaria’s most beautiful towns.
In Oberfranken (Upper Franconia), the Protestant religion and beer predominate. Here, the cultural and historical associations are with Wagner in Bayreuth and with Luther and the British royal family in Coburg; everywhere there’s a sense of the proximity of the lands of central Germany to the north. Bamberg remains a splendid exception, a beer town through and through, but opulently Catholic in an otherwise Lutheran region, and one of Germany’s most beautiful cities.
In Mittelfranken (Middle Franconia), Nuremberg is unmissable for its fascinating and occasionally uneasy blend of medieval splendour and Nazi bombast, while Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Dinkelsbühl are perfectly preserved medieval gems, if scarcely undiscovered by visitors. Though the towns and cities are the major attractions, Franconia’s wooded hills and national parks offer tempting opportunities to escape the crowds, whether by bike, on foot or in a canoe down the lazy Altmühl.
While long-distance hiking and cycle trails cross the region, the bigger cities have fast main-line rail connections and many smaller towns have a rail link.
ASCHAFFENBURG is a last taste – or first glimpse – of Bavaria for travellers between the Free State and neighbouring Hesse, tucked into the westernmost corner of Franconia at the foot of the wooded Spessart hills. Closer to Frankfurt than to Würzburg, from the tenth century it belonged to the archbishopric of Mainz, and was the capital of the largest of several scattered parcels of territory known as the Oberes Erzstift (Upper Archdiocese). It was the archbishops’ second residence until the archbishopric’s dissolution in 1803; the town passed to Bavaria in 1814.
Aschaffenburg was once dubbed the “Bavarian Nice” for its mild climate, and though that comparison is a little far-fetched, it is an attractive town, which recovered well from grievous damage in the last weeks of World War II and has enough sights to justify an overnight stop.
History has twice been kind to beautiful BAMBERG, for centuries until secularization in 1802, capital of an independent Catholic prince-bishopric within the Holy Roman Empire. Occupied twice by the Swedes during the Thirty Years’ War, it was spared the wholesale destruction visited on so many German cities by that conflict. By some miracle, it came through World War II with barely a scratch too. It thus preserves a wonderfully complete historic townscape, notable not just for its highlights – the four-spired Dom, the Baroque Residenz or the picturesque old Rathaus on an island in the river – but also for its quaint corners and quiet, narrow lanes, worth exploring for their lost-in-time charm and traditional brewery-owned Gaststätten. No wonder UNESCO put Bamberg’s entire historic centre on the World Heritage list in 1993. Compact enough to be explored in a few days, Bamberg is a tempting place to linger, thanks to its unique atmosphere and history, hilly views, and distinctive Rauchbier (smoked beer).
If a competition had been held to design the most picturesque building in Franconia, it might have been won by Bamberg’s Altes Rathaus, an enchanting combination of Baroque Lüftmalerei and half-timbered quaintness wedged onto an artificial islet in the Regnitz, bracketed on either side by the stone arches of the Obere Brücke. Yet picturesque effect wasn’t the reason for the curious site: depending which version you prefer, it was either built mid-river by stubborn burghers after the prince-bishop refused to donate any land for its construction, or to mark the division between the sacred and profane parts of the city and thus demonstrate the independent-mindedness of the burghers.
The half-timbered Rottmeisterhäuschen of 1668, which teeters over the rushing waters on the south side of the islet, is the only part of the Altes Rathaus to preserve its original appearance, but it’s not the oldest part of the complex, for the main body of the Rathaus preserves a fifteenth-century core beneath an exuberant Baroque and Rococo makeover, which dates from 1744 to 1756. Johann Anwanders’ lush allegorical paintings on the flanks of the building have startling depth – watch out for the chubby angel’s leg that really does jut out, on the side facing Inselstadt.
The Altes Rathaus houses the Sammlung Ludwig, a visual feast of Strasbourg faïence and Sèvres and Meissen porcelain, including Johann Joachim Kendler’s Monkey Orchestra of 1753 – a caricature of human virtues and vices in porcelain form. The ticket also includes entrance into the elegant Rococo Room, which dates from 1750 and has an attractive stucco ceiling by Franz Jakob Vogel.
Richard Wagner casts a long shadow over BAYREUTH. For most of the world Bayreuth and Wagner are synonymous, as though outside the social and musical spectacle of the Festspiele no other Bayreuth existed. Yet the town you see owes more to the passions of another remarkable individual, the Markgräfin Wilhelmine (1709–58), who transformed it into a graceful baroque Residenzstadt. Her Baroque quarter wraps itself around the eastern and southern sides of the Altstadt – both compact enough to be explored easily on foot. The leafy Hofgarten stretches east from her Neues Schloss to Wagner’s Villa Wahnfried, while his Festspielhaus is on high ground north of the centre. It’s also worth venturing out to Wilhelmine’s summer palace, Eremitage. Quite the paparazzi hotspot during the Festspiele, Bayreuth is a quiet, stolidly respectable place the rest of the time, though Wilhelmine’s magic ensures it’s worth a stay of a day or two.
Tickets for the Festspiele (0921 787 80, bayreuther-festspiele.de) in late July and August are famously hard to come by: you must write (no emails or faxes) to Kartenbüro, Postfach 100262, D-95402 Bayreuth, in September of the previous year just to apply for tickets, and in practice it will be several years before you stand any chance of actually getting them, since the event is hugely oversubscribed. During the festival itself, any returns are available on the day at the box office from 1.30pm to 4pm; performances start at 4pm because of the great length of Wagner’s operas.
Bayreuth’s other festivals include Musica Bayreuth at the Markgräfliches Opernhaus and other historic venues around town in early May (musica-bayreuth.de). The Bayreuther Klavierfestival (Bayreuth Piano Festival; steingraeber.de) is in July. The Bayreuther Volksvest is a folk festival at Whitsun, with fairground rides, beer and live music.
The eldest daughter of Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia and the sister of Frederick the Great, Wilhelmine was groomed by her Hanoverian mother for marriage into the British royal family. But the plans were thwarted by her father, who – partly for political reasons, partly out of loathing for his wife’s British relatives – married her off instead to a minor royal and distant relative, Friedrich von Brandenburg-Bayreuth, the future margrave of the insignificant Franconian micro-state of the same name. Despite its unpromising start, the marriage was a happy one, and with her aspirations to enter the glittering world of the London court thwarted, the intelligent and educated Wilhelmine decided instead to bring worldly sophistication to Bayreuth, embarking on an extravagant building programme whose fruits still grace the town today. Wagner’s Festspielhaus may have superb acoustics, but it’s notoriously spartan; Wilhelmine’s opera house, on the other hand, is a Baroque gem.
With the Thüringer Wald just to the north, Protestant Coburg scarcely feels Bavarian at all. Until the end of the World War I it was capital of the diminutive duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, which famously supplied Queen Victoria with her Prince Consort, Albert, and the opportunity to rediscover Britain’s forgotten dynastic link with Germany is one very compelling reason to visit. That aside, Coburg is a particularly handsome specimen of a Residenzstadt, with a small but perfectly-preserved Altstadt – barely 500m across – fringed by some fine examples of Jugendstil. Schloss Ehrenburg – the town residence of Coburg’s dukes until 1918 – is on its eastern fringe facing Schlossplatz, from where it’s a stiff 1km walk uphill to Veste Coburg, the town’s major attraction and one of the largest medieval castles in Germany. Further afield, you might wish to venture east of town to see Schloss Rosenau, birthplace of Prince Albert.
The history of COBURG is intimately bound up with that of its ducal family, a branch of the Wettin dynasty whose most distinguished member was Elector Friedrich the Wise, champion and protector of Martin Luther. Excommunicated and outlawed in the Holy Roman Empire, Luther stayed at the Veste Coburg fortress above the town for six months during the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, under the protection of Friedrich’s brother and successor, Johann the Steadfast. Though he was banned from attending, Luther used messengers to stay in touch with the Diet’s negotiations on the fate of the Reformation, which led to the Augsburg Confession, a foundation stone of the Protestant Church.
Their loyalty to the Protestant cause cost the Wettins their Electoral status; as mere dukes they thereafter ruled a modest territory from Coburg, extended to include the Saxon duchy of Gotha in 1826, after which they were known as dukes of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Modest though their domain was, they pursued a highly successful “marriage offensive”, marrying their offspring into the great royal houses of Europe, including those of Belgium, Portugal, Bulgaria and Sweden. The most famous marriage of all was that of Prince Albert, younger son of Duke Ernst I, to his cousin Queen Victoria in 1840. Though its historic links to Thuringia and Saxony are strong, Coburg’s inhabitants voted against union with Thuringia after World War I, and the town became Bavarian.
DINKELSBÜHL, 48km south of Rothenburg ob der Tauber along the Romantic Road, is another medieval gem. Though it lacks the sparkle of Rothenburg’s hilly setting, making do with the placid River Wörnitz, some parkland and a few large ponds to set off its perfectly preserved medieval fortifications, it boasts an Altstadt which is, if anything, even more flawless, having escaped damage in World War II. It’s also less overwhelmed by tourism. Like Rothenburg, Dinkelsbühl was once a free imperial city; it changed hands eight times in the Thirty Years’ War, but after it was occupied by the Swedes in 1632 it was largely spared further damage.
The Altstadt measures just 1km from northwest to southeast, and is barely 500m wide from Segringer Tor in the west to Wörnitz Tor in the east. A walk around the outside of the medieval walls is therefore not only instructive but enjoyable. Once within the walls, there’s hardly anything to disturb the illusion of medieval perfection. It’s just a short walk from Wörnitz Tor to the Altes Rathaus, the oldest parts of which date back to 1361.
Dinkelsbühl’s most celebrated festival is the Kinderzeche (kinderzeche.de), an annual children’s and folklore festival that takes place in July. It has its origins in the Thirty Years’ War: the story goes that in 1632 a deputation of local children dissuaded the commander of the besieging Swedish forces from ransacking the town by singing. Children in historic costume still form an important element in the festival parades, with music provided by the Knabenkapelle, a famous boys’ band.
Grown on the slopes above the meandering River Main, Franconia’s wines are fuller bodied and often drier than other German wines, their distinctiveness arising in part from the climate, which is less kind than that of the wine-growing regions further west. Summers are warm and dry, but winters are cold, rainfall is high and frosts come early, so slow-ripening varieties like Riesling are less important here. Müller-Thurgau – which is also known as Rivaner – and Silvaner are the significant white-wine grape varieties, with new crosses such as Bacchus also coming to the fore. Red wines are grown in the west of the region, around Aschaffenburg, while Würzburg’s Stein vineyard has given rise to the generic name Steinwein, which is sometimes used to describe all Franconian wines. Most distinctive of all is the squat, rounded Bocksbeutel in which Franconian wines are bottled – very different from the tall, slim-necked bottles used by most German wine-makers. Much the easiest way to experience the wines is in one of Würzburg’s traditional Weinstuben.
You can also tour the impressive Staatlicher Hofkeller cellars by the Residenz, where the €6 price of the tour (March–Dec Sat hourly 10am–noon & 2–5pm, Sun hourly 10am–noon & 2–4pm) includes a small glass of wine. The city has a busy programme of wine festivals throughout the summer months, culminating with the alfresco Weinparade am Dom in September; the tourist office has details.
Facing Vierzehnheiligen across the valley is the former Benedictine monastery of Kloster Banz, built from the same honey-coloured stone on a similarly commanding site high above the valley. It was designed by Leonhard Dientzenhofer to replace the previous abbey, wrecked by Swedish troops during the Thirty Years’ War.
The church was consecrated in 1719, and its interior surprises because it is based on a series of ellipses. Though it’s undoubtedly a fine piece of architecture, Banz doesn’t dazzle the visitor in quite the way Vierzehnheiligen does, but if you’re visiting Vierzehnheiligen with your own transport it’s certainly worth a look. If you can’t join a tour, the church is usually open as far as the grille; there’s also a small museum of fossils and Oriental artefacts close to the abbey entrance, during whose opening hours tours of the abbey’s historic rooms are available.
Fifteen million years ago a meteorite slammed into the Alb plateau close to the site of present-day NÖRDLINGEN, southeast of Dinkelsbühl on the boundary with Baden-Württemberg. Hitting the earth at a speed of 70,000km per hour, the impact of the meteorite was sufficient to form a crater 25km wide, known today as the Ries, and reputedly the best-preserved impact crater on the planet. Geology isn’t the only reason to visit the town however, for Nördlingen is another of the Romantic Road’s perfectly preserved medieval gems, a former imperial free city like Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Dinkelsbühl, but less touristy than either.
Every half-hour between 10pm and midnight the tower watchman atop the Daniel issues the traditional cry “So G’sell, so” (roughly “ah, so that’s how it is, lads”). The “official” explanation for this strange custom is that one evening in 1440 the town guards left the town gate open, having been bribed by Count Hans of Oettingen, who wanted to storm the town. Their treachery was discovered by a woman passing the Löpsinger Gate; her appalled reaction is echoed to this day in the watchman’s cry. It’s not certain how accurate the story is, but it is a matter of record that two guards were charged with treason that year and executed.
The jewel-like hilltop town of ROTHENBURG OB DER TAUBER has reason to be grateful for the Peasants’ War of 1525 – in which it allied itself with the rebels – and the Thirty Years’ War that swept across Central Europe to such catastrophic effect a century afterwards. A former free imperial city that had been thriving and prosperous, Rothenburg dwindled to insignificance after these events, its wealth lost to plunder and reparations and its population halved. As a result of this reverse in its fortune, development came to a standstill, leaving the town with the miraculous legacy of perfectly preserved medieval and Renaissance buildings with which it charms visitors today. The twentieth century’s greatest conflict wasn’t so kind: aerial bombardment in March 1945 damaged Rothenburg to an extent that would surprise present-day visitors. After the war, the town’s numerous fans – including many from abroad – rallied round to ensure its reconstruction was swift and successful, and to all but the most hawk-eyed observers there is little visual evidence of the destruction.
Rothenburg lies on the Romantic Road, accessible by rail (change at Steinach) and close to the Ulm–Würzburg stretch of the A7 Autobahn. As such, it’s something of a day-tripper magnet, and the crowds can be oppressive – not only in summer, for the town has an undeniable magic in the weeks leading up to Christmas, too. Yet this is no mere tourist trap: Rothenburg’s beauty is undeniable, its restaurants often cosily inviting and its hotels frequently charming. Perhaps the best way to enjoy it is to simply stay overnight, to experience the calm that descends when the shops are closed, the bus tours depart and the crowds have finally thinned.
One very attractive way to get around is to slow the pace right down and explore the gently beautiful Franconian wine-growing countryside by bicycle along the Liebliches Taubertal Radweg. The 100km route follows the course of the Tauber from Rothenburg northwest to Wertheim; a tougher route completes the circuit by returning southwest towards Rothenburg along the heights of the Taubertal through Königsheim and Boxberg west of the Tauber. Along the way, there are stunning Tilman Riemenschneider altars at Detwang and Creglingen, a Schloss and museum of the Teutonic Knights at Bad Mergentheim and a Matthias Grünewald Madonna at Stuppach. Not to be missed is the Schloss at Weikersheim, with its splendid Renaissance Rittersaal (knights’ hall) and beautiful Baroque gardens.
The route follows forest or farm tracks for much of the way; from May to October the regional trains on the west bank of the Tauber between Freudenberg, Wertheim and Schrozberg – 22km west of Rothenburg – carry special luggage vans to cope with cycles, so you don’t have to cycle both ways if you don’t want to. There’s also a baggage service to which some hoteliers sign up, so that you don’t need to haul everything with you. There are cycle repair and rental facilities in several of the villages along the route. For more information, contact Liebliches Taubertal e.V, c/o Landratsamt Main-Tauber-Kreis, Gartnerstr. 1, Tauberbischofsheim (09341 82 58 06, liebliches-taubertal.de).
Though there are tourist roads that crisscross Germany for everything from wine to fairy tales and half-timbered houses, the Romantic Road remains by far the best-known internationally. The “Romantic” name is something of a catch-all, but the route does encompass much that is most traditionally – and charmingly – German, from walled medieval towns to fairy-tale castles and richly decorated Rococo churches, and it’s precisely this combination of historic sights and lost-in-time-charm that makes the journey worthwhile.
Created in the 1950s to boost tourism, it threads its way south from the River Main to the Alps as the landscape progressively changes from gentle, rolling agricultural country to the fringes of the mountains. Along the way, it passes by some of Germany’s most remarkable and famous visitor attractions: the Residenz in Würzburg, the perfectly preserved medieval towns of Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Dinkelsbühl, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Wieskirche and “Mad” King Ludwig II’s Wagnerian fantasy castle of Neuschwanstein.
Much the easiest way to travel the Romantic Road is, of course, by car, but if you don’t have your own transport the Eurolines-affiliated Europabus (touring.de) travels the road once daily in each direction from mid-April to October between Frankfurt, Würzburg, Munich and Füssen, with special offers for hikers and cyclists and facilities to transport bikes; you can book tickets for the bus online. There’s also a 460m cycle route, most of it fairly gentle and characterized by well-made local tracks or quiet local roads, or you can follow the route on foot; the GPS data for the entire walk can be ordered from the Romantic Road website, romanticroad.de.
Lonely and proud on its hilltop site overlooking the Main valley on the northwestern edge of Fränkische Schweiz, the pilgrimage church of Vierzehnheiligen is one of the masterpieces of southern-German late Baroque and Rococo. Standing on the pilgrims’ route to Santiago de Compostela, the church replaced an earlier structure at the place where, during 1445 and 1446, Hermann Leicht, a shepherd at the Cistercian abbey of Langheim near Lichtenfels, had visions of a crying child. The third time the child appeared to him, it was accompanied by the fourteen Holy Helpers – a group of saints whose intercession is often invoked in Catholicism – who told Leicht they wanted a chapel to be built on the site. Soon afterwards the first miracle was reported and the site became a place of pilgrimage.
Vierzehnheiligen was designed by Balthasar Neumann, the architect of Würzburg’s Residenz. Construction began in 1723 but the church was not consecrated until 1772, nineteen years after Neumann’s death. His plans were nevertheless adhered to, and the results impress long before you reach the twin-towered church, for it can be seen from a distance as you ascend from the valley.
Vierzehnheiligen is built of a particularly warm, gold-coloured stone, but even so the noble exterior is no preparation for the dazzling Rococo vision within, a symphony of white, gold and grey that is sure to lift your spirits, whatever your feelings about the legend that created it. The church is of cathedral-like proportions, its interior focused on Johann Michael Feichtmayr’s central Gnadenaltar, built on the site of Hermann Leicht’s vision and with statues of the fourteen helpers, some eye-catchingly gory: St Denis, patron saint of those with headaches, is portrayed with his head tucked under his arm; St Pantaleon, with his hands nailed to his head.
Vine-covered hills form the backdrop to WÜRZBURG, a visible reminder that you’re no longer in beer country. The city marks the start of the Romantic Road, which leads south to the Alps from here, and with its picturesque setting, artistic and architectural treasures and fine wines, Würzburg makes a fitting start to Germany’s most famous road trip. Most of the sights are concentrated in the compact, walkable area between the Residenz and River Main, but you’ll need to cross the Alte Mainbrücke to get the classic view of the Altstadt’s pinnacled skyline. Also not to be missed is the Marienberg fortress, rising above vineyards on the opposite side of the river.
The centre of the Franconian wine industry was for centuries dominated by the bishopric founded by the English missionary St Boniface in 742 AD and, as in Bamberg, its prince-bishops wielded both spiritual and temporal power. In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries the city nurtured the talent – whilst ultimately spurning the revolutionary politics – of the master woodcarver Tilman Riemenschneider. In the eighteenth century two prince-bishops of the luxury-loving Schörnborn dynasty were responsible for commissioning the city’s greatest monument – and Bavaria’s most magnificent palace – the Residenz, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Horrendous damage was visited on Würzburg by Britain’s Royal Air Force on March 16, 1945, when the city was subjected to an ordeal by firestorm that consumed the Altstadt and killed five thousand people; destruction was so severe the city was afterwards dubbed “The Grave on the Main”. Justification for the raid derived supposedly from the city’s rail junction, though it had long been on a list of cities earmarked for attack for no specific reason other than their size. After the war, Würzburg recovered with remarkable success, and its war-damaged monuments were slowly and painstakingly restored or rebuilt.
Dominating the Altstadt’s eastern flank, the Residenz is an eighteenth-century status symbol that puts Würzburg firmly into the architectural super league, as it was fully intended to do. Johann Philipp Franz von Schönborn, prince-bishop of Würzburg from 1719 to 1724, transferred his court from the Marienberg to the town, but was not at all satisfied with the modest little Schloss on the site of the present Residenz, and so commissioned Balthasar Neumann to design something more appropriate to his princely status. The proceeds of a lawsuit provided the necessary funds, and Schloss Weissenstein at Pommersfelden – recently completed for the bishop’s uncle, Lothar Franz von Schönborn – provided the blueprint. Other architects of the day, including the Viennese Baroque master Lucas von Hildebrandt, provided some of the inspiration. The bishop never lived to inhabit his creation and his immediate successor stopped building work, but it restarted under his brother Friedrich Carl and thus the palace is the coherent creation of a relatively short period of construction. The results are breathtaking: impressively wide, the Residenz faces a paved Hof on three sides. After visiting the interior, stroll in the formal Hofgarten afterwards to see the Residenz’s southern and eastern facades.
Inside, the highly theatrical Treppenhaus, or staircase, stretches across five bays and is topped by a mammoth unsupported vault – a structurally audacious design of which Neumann was so confident he offered to fire a battery of artillery at it to prove its strength. His confidence was vindicated in 1945, when the ceiling withstood the aerial bombardment of the city – which wrecked the north and south wings of the Schloss but left the Treppenhaus intact. The staircase rises through a series of half-landings, their walls richly ornamented with stucco, but everything is merely a setting for Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s magnificent allegorical ceiling fresco, which measures thirteen by eighteen metres and is the largest ever created. It depicts the four continents of Asia, Africa, America and Europe, with the Würzburg court depicted as the centre of the arts in Europe.
At the top of the stairs, the white and pale grey Weisser Saal is decorated with tasteful stuccowork by Materno Bossi. Completed in 1745, the room provides an entirely deliberate aesthetic breathing-space between the Treppenhaus and the most extravagant of the state rooms, the giddily opulent Kaisersaal. With its twenty red marble columns, large oval dome and Tiepolo frescoes celebrating Würzburg’s position in the Holy Roman Empire, the richly coloured Kaisersaal provides a memorable setting for classical music concerts. To either side, long processions of rooms lead into the north and south wings. In the north, the delicate stucco ceilings had to be re-created after wartime damage; the Grünlackiertes Zimmer, or Green Lacquered Room, is the highlight.
The Southern Imperial Apartments can only be visited on a free guided tour – enquire in the Weisser Saal – but are well worth seeing for the Spiegelkabinett, a riot of painted mirror panels and gold leaf that was re-created after wartime destruction using old photographs and surviving shards of glass as a guide. Afterwards, visit the Hofkirche on the south side of the complex, the religious counterpart to the Residenz’s secular pomp, again with frescoes by Tiepolo. The south wing is also the venue for interesting temporary exhibitions, and contains the Martin von Wagner Museum, the university’s collections of antiquities and art, exhibited over the Gemäldegalerie, Graphische Sammlung and Antikensammlung. Art highlights include works by Tilman Riemenschneider and Tiepolo.
Franconia isn’t historically Bavarian at all. It owes its name to the Frankish tribes whose territory it originally was, and from the Middle Ages until the early nineteenth century it was highly fragmented.
In Lower Franconia and Bamberg, ecclesiastical rule predominated, and the archbishops of Mainz in Aschaffenburg and the prince-bishops of Würzburg and Bamberg ruled their modest fiefdoms in some style, leaving behind the architectural splendour to prove it.
Protestantism took root in the north and east, specifically in Hohenzollern-ruled Brandenburg-Bayreuth and Wettin-ruled Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, whose territories spanned the boundary between Franconia and Thuringia and whose judicious marriage policy ensured its familial links included many of the royal houses of Europe.
Outshining all – until its decline at the end of the sixteenth century – was the free imperial city of Nuremberg, seat of the Holy Roman Empire’s imperial Diet and one of Europe’s great medieval manufacturing and trading centres. Free, too, were the little city-states of Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Dinkelsbühl, though political diversity ended when Napoleon incorporated Franconia into the newly upgraded Kingdom of Bavaria – previously a mere duchy – in 1806.