Wittenberg, officially Lutherstadt Wittenberg, is a town in Germany, in the Bundesland Saxony-Anhalt, at 12°59' east, 51°51' north. It has a population of about 50,000 inhabitants.
Wittenberg is interesting chiefly on account of its close connection with Martin Luther and the dawn of the Reformation; and several of its buildings are associated with the events of that time. Part of the Augustinian monastery in which Luther dwelt, at first as a monk and in later life as owner with his wife and family, is still preserved, and has been fitted up as a Luther museum. It contains numerous relics of Luther and portraits and other paintings by the Cranachs.
The Augusteum, built in 1564-1583 on the grounds of the monastery, is now a theological seminary.
All Saints Church, the Schlosskirche ('castle church'), to the doors of which Luther is said to have nailed his famous 95 theses in 1517, dates from 1439-1499; it was, however, seriously damaged by fire in 1760 during a bombardment by the French during the Seven Years War, was practically rebuilt, and was later (1885-1892) restored. The old wooden doors, burnt in 1760, were replaced in 1858 by bronze doors, bearing the Latin text of the theses. In the interior of the church are the tombs of Luther and Philipp Melanchthon, and of the electors Frederick the Wise, by Peter Vischer the elder (1527), and John the Constant, by Hans Vischer ; also portraits of the reformers by Lucas Cranach the younger.
St. Mary's Church, the parish church in which Luther often preached, was built in the 14th century, but has been much altered since Luther's time. It contains a magnificent painting by Lucas Cranach the elder, representing the Lord's Supper (with the faces of Luther and other reformers), Baptism and Confession, also a font by Hermann Vischer (1457).
The ancient electoral palace is another of the buildings that suffered severely in 1760; it now contains archives.
Melanchthon's house and the house of Lucas Cranach the elder (1472-1553), who was mayor of Wittenberg, are also pointed out.
Statues of Luther (by Schadow), Melanchthon and Bugenhagen embellish the town.
The spot, outside the Elster Gate, where Luther publicly burned the papal bull in 1520, is marked by an oak tree.
The settlement was first mentioned in 1180 as a small village founded by Flemish colonists. In 1293 the settlement was granted a town charter. Wittenberg soon developed into an important trade center during the following centuries due to its location. The city's importance reached one of its heydays at the end of the 15th century, when Friedrich III, Elector of Saxony (The Wise) took up residence in Wittenberg. Several parts of the city were extended in those days: the second bridge over the Elbe river was built from 1486-1490, the Castle Church was built from 1490-1499, the same time the palace was rebuilt. It was the capital of the little duchy of Saxe-Wittenberg, the rulers of which afterwards became electors of Saxony; and it continued to be a Saxon residence under the Ernestine electors. In 1502 the University was founded and gave home to a lot of important thinkers, among them Martin Luther (Professor of Theology since 1508) and Philipp Melanchthon (Professor of Greek since 1518). On October 31, 1517, Luther nailed his 95 theses against the selling of indulgences to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, marking the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in Germany. In the Wittenberg Concord (1536) the reformers agreed to a settlement of the eucharistic controversy. William Shakespeare's Hamlet and Horatio both study at Wittenberg, and Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus is also a graduate. The Anabaptist movement also had one of its early homes in Wittenberg, when the Zwickau prophets moved there, only to be suppressed by Luther.
The Capitulation of Wittenberg (1547) is the name given to the treaty by which John Frederick the Magnanimous was compelled to resign the electoral dignity and most of his territory to the Albertine branch of the Saxon family.
In 1760 the town was bombarded by the Austrians. It was occupied by the French in 1806, and refortified in 1813 by command of Napoleon; but in 1814 it was stormed by the Prussians under Tauentzien , who received the title of "von Wittenberg" as a reward. In 1815 Wittenberg became part of Prussia. Wittenberg continued to be a fortress of the third class until the reorganization of the German defences after the foundation of the new empire led to its being dismantled in 1873.
At the end of World War II in 1945 Wittenberg was occupied by Russian forces and became part of the German Democratic Republic in 1949. By means of the peaceful revolution of 1989 the communist regime was brought down and the city has been governed democratically since 1990.
Last updated: 06-02-2005 03:42:13