UNESCO World Heritage Site #228: Collegiate Church, Castle, and Old Town of Quedlinburg

UNESCO World Heritage Site #228: Collegiate Church, Castle, and Old Town of Quedlinburg
UNESCO World Heritage Site #228: Collegiate Church, Castle, and Old Town of Quedlinburg

From the World Heritage inscription:

The importance of Quedlinburg rests on three main elements: the preservation of the medieval street pattern; the wealth of urban vernacular buildings, especially timber-framed houses of the 16th and 17th centuries, and the important Romanesque collegiate church of St Servatius. The original urban layout is remarkably well preserved: it is a classic example of the growth of European medieval towns. The history of the medieval and early modern town is perfectly illustrated by the street pattern of the present-day town.

Situated in a hilly region to the north of the Harz Mountains, villa Quitilingaburg is first mentioned in 922 in an official document of Henry I (the Fowler), who was elected German King in 919. The town owes its wealth and importance during the Middle Ages to Henry I and his successors. On the death of Henry I in 936 his widow Mathilde remained in Quedlinburg at the collegiate church of St Servatius on the Castle Hill, founded by Henry’s son and successor Otto I as a collegial establishment for unmarried daughters of the nobility.

Westendorf, the area around the Burgberg, quickly attracted a settlement of merchants and craftsmen, which was granted market rights in 994. Several other settlements also developed in what was to become the early town centre, which was granted special privileges by the Emperors Henry III and Lothar IV in the 11th and 12th centuries. A Benedictine monastery was founded in 946 on the second hill, the Münzenberg. The Quedlinburg merchants were given the right to trade without restriction or payment of duties from the North Sea to the Alps. The resulting prosperity led to a rapid expansion of the town. A new town (Neustadt) was founded in the 12th century on the eastern bank of the river Bode, laid out on a regular plan.

The two towns were merged in 1330 and were surrounded by a common city wall. The new, enlarged town joined the Lower Saxon Town Alliance (Städtebund) in 1384, and in 1426 it became a member of the Hanseatic League. Quedlinburg retained an important economic role, as evidenced by the many elaborate timber-framed houses from the 16th and 17th centuries. The protectorate (Vogtei) of the town was sold by its hereditary owner, the Elector of Saxony, to the House of Brandenburg-Prussia in 1698, and in 1802 its special free status as an imperial foundation came to an end when it was formally incorporated into the Kingdom of Prussia.

I really liked Quedlinburg. It is a very small town which few people, even in Germany, are aware of. There are several things which I found interesting about the town:

  • It is the burial site of Otto I, the first Holy Roman Emperor.
  • The town of Quedlinburg is one of the best preserved old towns in Germany as it was not bombed in WWII and there was little renovation done by the East German government after the war.
  • The cathedral was the site of a bizarre Nazi shine that venerated Otto I and his father King Henry I as the beginning of a golden age for Germany. They attempted to turn the church into the seat of a new Nazi religion that never quite caught on.
  • Millions of dollars in artifacts were stolen from Quedlinburg after the war by American soldier, Joe Meador from Texas. He mailed home a jewel covered bible belonging to Henry I that he found in a nearby cave. The bible sat in his house until his death when his brother took it to a flea market to sell it for $500. (It was worth several million). All of the stolen artifacts were return to Quedlinburg and are now on display.

Quedlinburg is probably the best kept secret in German world heritage sites and well worth a visit.