Prehistory and antiquity
Erfurt is an old
Germanic settlement. The earliest evidence of human settlement dates from the prehistoric era; archaeological finds from the north of Erfurt revealed human traces from the
paleolithic period, ca. 100,000 BCE . The
Melchendorf dig in the southern city part showed a settlement from the
[note 1] The
Thuringii inhabited the Erfurt area ca. 480 and gave their name to Thuringia ca. 500.
Collegium maius building of the old university (1392)
The town is first mentioned in 742 under the name of "Erphesfurt": in that year,
Saint Boniface wrote to
Pope Zachary to inform him that he had established three
dioceses in central Germany, one of them "in a place called Erphesfurt, which for a long time has been inhabited by pagan natives." All three dioceses (the other two were
Büraburg) were confirmed by Zachary the next year, though in 755 Erfurt was brought into the
diocese of Mainz.
 That the place was populous already is borne out by archeological evidence, which includes 23 graves and six horse burials from the sixth and seventh centuries.
Middle Ages, Erfurt was an important trading town because of its location, near a
ford across the Gera river. Together with the other five Thuringian
woad towns of
Langensalza it was the centre of the German woad trade, which made those cities very wealthy. Erfurt was the junction of important trade routes: the
Via Regia was one of the most used east–west roads between France and Russia (via
Wrocław) and another route in north–south direction was the connection between the
Baltic Sea ports (e. g.
Lübeck) and the potent upper Italian city-states like
During the 10th and 11th centuries both the
Emperor and the
Electorate of Mainz held some privileges in Erfurt. The German kings had an important monastery on Petersberg hill and the Archbishops of Mainz collected taxes from the people. Around 1100, some people became free citizens by paying the annual "Freizins" (liberation tax), which marks a first step in becoming an independent city. During the 12th century, as a sign of more and more independence, the citizens built a city wall around Erfurt (in the area of today's Juri-Gagarin-Ring). After 1200, independence was fulfilled and a city council was founded in 1217; the town hall was built in 1275. In the following decades, the council bought a city-owned territory around Erfurt which consisted at its height of nearly 100 villages and castles and even another small town (
Sömmerda). Erfurt became an important regional power between the
Landgraviate of Thuringia around, the Electorate of Mainz to the west and the
Electorate of Saxony to the east. Between 1306 and 1481, Erfurt was allied with the two other major Thuringian cities (
Nordhausen) in the Thuringian City Alliance and the three cities joined the
Hanseatic League together in 1430. A peak in economic development was reached in the 15th century, when the city had a population of 20,000 making it to one of the largest in Germany. Between 1432 and 1446, a second and higher city wall was established. In 1483, a first city fortress was built on
Cyriaksburg hill in the southwestern part of the town.
The Jewish community of Erfurt was founded in the 11th century and became, together with
Speyer, one of the most influential in Germany. Their
Old Synagogue is still extant and a museum today, as is the
mikveh at Gera river near Krämerbrücke.
 In 1349, during the wave of
Black Death Jewish persecutions across Europe, the Jews of Erfurt were rounded up, with
more than 100 killed and the rest driven from the city. Before the persecution, a wealthy Jewish merchant buried his property in the basement of his house. In 1998, this treasure was found during construction works. The
Erfurt Treasure with various gold and silver objects is shown in the exhibition in the synagogue today.
 Only a few years after 1349, the Jews moved back to Erfurt and founded a second community, which was disbanded by the city council in 1458.
University of Erfurt was founded. Together with the
University of Cologne it was one of the first city-owned universities in Germany, while they were usually owned by the
Landesherren. Some buildings of this old university are extant or restored in the "Latin Quarter" in the northern city centre (like Collegium Maius, student dorms "Georgenburse" and others, the hospital and the church of the university). The university quickly became a hotspot of German cultural life in
Renaissance humanism with scholars like
Ulrich von Hutten,
Helius Eobanus Hessus and
Early modern period
Christina, Queen of Sweden, depicted on a 1645 Erfurt 10 ducat coin.
Martin Luther (1483 - 1546) moved to Erfurt and began his studies at the university. After 1505, he lived at
St. Augustine's Monastery as a monk. In 1507 he was ordained as priest in Erfurt Cathedral. He moved permanently to
Wittenberg in 1511. Erfurt was an early adopter of the
Protestant Reformation, in 1521.
In 1530, the city became one of the first in Europe to be officially bi-confessional with the
Hammelburg Treaty. It kept that status through all the following centuries. The later 16th and the 17th century brought a slow economic decline of Erfurt. Trade shrank, the population was falling and the university lost its influence. The city's independence was endangered. In 1664, the city and surrounding area were brought under the dominion of the
Electorate of Mainz and the city lost its independence. The Electorate built a huge fortress on Petersberg hill between 1665 and 1726 to control the city and instituted a governor to rule Erfurt.
During the late 18th century, Erfurt saw another cultural peak. Governor
Karl Theodor Anton Maria von Dalberg had close relations with
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe,
Johann Gottfried Herder,
Christoph Martin Wieland and
Wilhelm von Humboldt, who often visited him at his court in Erfurt.
Erfurt during the Napoleonic Wars
Die Napoleonshöhe im Steiger bei Erfurt
, painted by
Nikolaus Dornheim in 1812. Inaugurated in March 1811 to celebrate
's birthday, this
with grotto, flowerbeds and fountain in the Stiegerwald
was burned in November 1813 and completely destroyed by Erfurters and their
Erfurt became part of the
Kingdom of Prussia in 1802, to compensate for territories Prussia lost to France on the
Left Bank of the Rhine.
 In the
Capitulation of Erfurt the city, its 12,000 Prussian and Saxon defenders under
William VI, Prince of Orange-Nassau, 65 artillery pieces, and the
Petersberg Citadel and Cyriaksburg Citadel
Cyriaksburg were handed over to the French on 16 October 1806;
 At the time of the capitulation,
Marshal of France, had about 16,000 troops near Erfurt.
 With the attachment of the
Saxe-Weimar territory of
Blankenhain, the city became part of the
First French Empire in 1806 as the
Principality of Erfurt, directly subordinate to Napoleon as an "imperial state domain" (
French: domaine réservé à l'empereur), separate from the
Confederation of the Rhine, which the surrounding
Thuringian states had joined.
 Erfurt was administered by a civilian and military Senate
 (Finanz- und Domänenkammer Erfurt)
 under a French governor, based in the
Kurmainzische Statthalterei, previously the seat of city's governor under the Electorate.
 Napoleon first visited the principality on 23 July 1807, inspecting the citadels and fortifications.
 In 1808, the
Congress of Erfurt was held with
Alexander I of Russia visiting the city.
During their administration, the French introduced
street lighting and a tax on foreign horses to pay for maintaining the
Peterskirche suffered under the French occupation, with its inventory being auctioned off to other local churches — including the
bells and even the
tower of the Corpus Christi chapel (Fronleichnamskapelle) — and the former monastery's library being donated to the
University of Erfurt (and then to the Boineburg Library when the university closed in 1816).
 Similarly the Cyriaksburg Citadel was damaged by the French, with the city-side walls being partially dismantled in the hunt for imagined treasures from the convent, workers being paid from the sale of the building materials.
In 1811, to commemorate the birth of the
Prince Imperial, a 70-foot (21-metre) ceremonial
column (Die Napoleonsäule) of wood and plaster was erected on the
 Similarly, the Napoleonshöhe — a
temple topped by a
winged victory with shield, sword and lance and containing a
bust of Napoleon sculpted by
 — was erected in the Stiegerwald woods, including a grotto with fountain and flower beds, using a large pond (lavoratorium) from the Peterskirche,
 inaugurated with ceremony on 14 August 1811 after extravagant celebrations for Napoleon's birthday,
 which were repeated in 1812 with a concert in the
Predigerkirche conducted by
Sixth Coalition forming after French defeat in Russia, on 24 February 1813 Napoleon ordered the Petersburg Citadel to prepare for
siege, visiting the city on 25 April to inspect the fortifications, in particular both Citadels.
 On 10 July 1813, Napoleon put
Alexandre d'Alton ,
baron of the Empire, in charge of the defences of Erfurt. However, when the French decreed that 1000 men would be conscripted into the Grande Armée, the recruits were joined by other citizens in rioting on 19 July that led to 20 arrests, of whom 2 were
sentenced to death by French
 as a result, the French ordered the closure of all inns and alehouses.
Within a week of the Sixth Coalition's decisive
victory at Leipzig (16–19 October 1813), however, Erfurt was besieged by Prussian, Austrian and Russian troops under the command of Prussian Lt Gen
 After a first capitulation signed by d'Alton on 20 December 1813 the French troops withdrew to the two fortresses of Petersberg and Cyriaksburg,
 allowing for the Coalition forces to march into Erfurt on 6 January 1814 to jubilant greetings;
 the Napoleonsäule ceremonial column was burned and destroyed as a symbol of the citizens' oppression under the French;
 similarly the Napoleonshöhe was burned on 1 November 1813 and completely destroyed by Erfurters and their besiegers in 1814.
 After a call for volunteers 3 days later, 300 Erfurters joined the Coalition armies in France.
 Finally, in May 1814, the French capitulated fully, with 1,700 French troops vacating the Petersberg and Cyriaksburg fortresses.
 During the two and a half months of siege, the mortality rate rose in the city greatly; 1,564 Erfurt citizens died in 1813, around a thousand more than the previous year.
Congress of Vienna, Erfurt was restored to
Prussia on 21 June 1815, becoming the capital of one of the three districts (Regierungsbezirke) of the new
Province of Saxony, but some southern and eastern parts of Erfurter lands joined Blankenhain in being transferred to the
Grand Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach the following September.
 Although enclosed by
Thuringian territory in the west, south and east, the city remained part of the Prussian
Province of Saxony until 1944.
Streetscape in the southern city extension (
Housing projects in
style from 1930
Hotel "Erfurter Hof
", place of the first meeting of
German heads of government in 1970
1848 Revolution, many Germans desired to have a united national state. An attempt in this direction was the failed
Erfurt Union of German states in 1850.
Industrial Revolution reached Erfurt in the 1840s, when the
Thuringian Railway connecting
Frankfurt was built. During the following years, many factories in different sectors were founded. One of the biggest was the "Royal Gun Factory of
Prussia" in 1862. After German Unification in 1871, Erfurt moved from the southern border of Prussia to the centre of Germany, so that the fortifications of the city were not needed anymore. The demolition of the city fortifications in 1873 led to a construction boom in Erfurt, because it was now possible to build in the area formerly occupied by the city walls and beyond. Many public and private buildings emerged and the infrastructure (such as tramway, hospitals, schools) improved rapidly. The number of inhabitants grew from 40,000 around 1870 to 130,000 in 1914 and the city expanded in all directions.
Erfurt Program" was adopted by the
Social Democratic Party of Germany during its congress at Erfurt in 1891.
Between the wars, the city kept growing. Housing shortages were fought with building programmes and social infrastructure was broadened according to the welfare policy in the
Weimar Republic. The
Great Depression between 1929 and 1932 led to a disaster for Erfurt, nearly one out of three became unemployed. Conflicts between far-left and far-right oriented milieus increased and many inhabitants supported the new Nazi government and
Adolf Hitler. Others, especially some communist workers, put up resistance against the new administration. In 1938, the new synagogue was destroyed during the
Kristallnacht. Jews lost their property and emigrated or were deported to
Nazi concentration camps (together with many communists). In 1914, the company
Topf and Sons began the manufacture of crematoria later becoming the market leader in this industry. Under the Nazis, JA Topf & Sons supplied specially developed crematoria, ovens and associated plant to the
Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camps. On 27 January 2011 a memorial and museum dedicated to the Holocaust victims was opened at the former company premises in Erfurt.
Bombed as a target of the
Oil Campaign of World War II, Erfurt suffered only limited damage and was captured on 12 April 1945, by the US
80th Infantry Division.
 On 3 July, American troops left the city, which then became part of the
Soviet Zone of Occupation and eventually of the German Democratic Republic (
East Germany). In 1948, Erfurt became the capital of
Weimar. In 1952, the
Länder in the GDR were dissolved in favour of centralization under the new socialist government. Erfurt then became the capital of a new "
Bezirk" (district). In 1953, the
Hochschule of education was founded, followed by the Hochschule of medicine in 1954, the first academical institutions in Erfurt since the closing of the university in 1816.
On 19 March 1970, the East and West German heads of government
Willi Stoph and
Willy Brandt met in Erfurt, the first such meeting since the division of Germany. During the 1970s and 1980s, as the economic situation in GDR worsened, many old buildings in city centre decayed, while the government fought against the housing shortage by building large
Plattenbau settlements in the periphery. The
Peaceful Revolution of 1989/1990 led to
Socialist-era street signs removed from around the city of Erfurt after 1990
With the re-formation of the state of
Thuringia in 1990, the city became the state capital. After reunification, a deep economic crisis occurred in Eastern Germany. Many factories closed and many people lost their jobs and moved to the former West Germany. At the same time, many buildings were redeveloped and the infrastructure improved massively. In 1994, the new university was opened, as was the Fachhochschule in 1991. Between 2005 and 2008, the economic situation improved as the unemployment rate decreased and new enterprises developed. In addition, the population began to increase once again.