Archaeological finds dating back to the Thuringii epoch (3rd to 6th centuries) show that the Weimar part of the Ilm valley was settled early, with a tight network of settlements where the city is today.
The Kasseturm is a relic of the former city wall at Goetheplatz
The oldest records regarding Weimar date to 899. Its name changed over the centuries from Wimares through Wimari to Wimar and finally Weimar; it is derived from Old High German wīh- (holy) and -mari (standing water, swamp). Another theory derives the first element from OHG win (meadow, pasture). The place was the seat of the County of Weimar, first mentioned in 949, which was one of the mightiest actors in early-Middle Ages Thuringia. In 1062 it was united with the County of Orlamünde to the new
County of Weimar-Orlamünde, which existed until the Thuringian Counts' War in 1346 and fell to the Wettins afterwards.
The Weimar settlement emerged around the count's wooden castle and two small churches dedicated to St Peter (which became later the main church), and to St James. In 1240, the count founded the dynasty's monastery in Oberweimar, which ran under Cistercian nuns. Soon after, the counts of Weimar founded the town, which was an independent parish since 1249 and called civitas in 1254. From 1262 the citizens used their own seal. Nevertheless, the regional influence of the Weimar counts was declining as the influence of the Wettins in Thuringia increased. Hence, the new small town was relatively marginal in a regional context, also due to the fact that it was situated far away from relevant trade routes like the Via Regia. The settlement around St James Church developed into a suburb during the 13th century.
After becoming part of the Wettin's territory in 1346, urban development improved. The Wettins fostered Weimar by abolishing socage and granting privileges to the citizens. Now Weimar became equal to other Wettinian cities like Weißensee and grew during the 15th century, with the establishment of a town hall and the current main church. Weimar acquired woad trade privileges in 1438. The castle and the walls were finished in the 16th century, making Weimar into a full city.
Early Modern Period
Market Square with some 16th-century Renaissance patricians' houses
After the Treaty of Leipzig (1485) Weimar became part of the electorate of the Ernestine branch of Wettins with Wittenberg as capital. The Protestant Reformation was introduced in Weimar in 1525; Martin Luther stayed several times in the city. As the Ernestines lost the Schmalkaldic War in 1547, their capital Wittenberg went also to the Albertines, so that they needed a new residence. As the ruler returned from captivity, Weimar became his residence in 1552 and remained as such until the end of the monarchy in 1918. The first Ernestine territorial partition in 1572 was followed by various ones, nevertheless Weimar stayed the capital of different Saxe-Weimar states. The court and its staff brought some wealth to the city, so that it saw a first construction boom in the 16th century. The 17th century brought decline to Weimar, because of changing trade conditions (as in nearby Erfurt). Besides, the territorial partitions led to the loss of political importance of the dukes of Saxe-Weimar and their finances shrunk. The city's polity weakened more and more and lost its privileges, leading to the absolutist reign of the dukes in the early 18th century. On the other hand, this time brought another construction boom to Weimar, and the city got its present appearance, marked by various ducal representation buildings. The city walls were demolished in 1757 and during the following decades, Weimar expanded in all directions. The biggest building constructed in this period was the Schloss as the residence of the dukes (north and east wing: 1789–1803, west wing 1832–1835, south wing: 1913–1914). Between 1708 and 1717 Johann Sebastian Bach worked as the court's organist in Weimar.
Golden or Classical Age (1758–1832)
The period from the start of the regencies of Anna Amalia (1758–1775) and her son Carl August (1775–1828) through to Goethe's death in 1832 is denoted as the "golden" or the "classical" age because of the high level of cultural activity in Weimar. The city became an important cultural centre of Europe, having been home to such luminaries as Goethe, Schiller, Herder, Wieland and Bertuch; and in music the piano virtuoso Hummel. It has been a site of pilgrimage for the German intelligentsia since Goethe first moved to Weimar in 1775. Goethe was also active in civic duties while living there. He served as Privy Councilor to the Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach for an extended period. The tombs of Goethe and Schiller, as well as their archives, may be found in the city. Goethe's Elective Affinities (1809) is set around the city of Weimar. In comparison to many major German states, the dukes' policy was liberal and tolerant in this period. The liberal Saxe-Weimar constitution was brought into effect in 1816.
Silver Ages and The New Weimar (1832–1918)
The time after Goethe's death is denoted as the "silver" age because Weimar remained an influential cultural centre. The first emphasis was fostering music. In 1842, Franz Liszt moved to Weimar to become the Grand Ducal court conductor. Liszt organized the premiere of Richard Wagner's Lohengrin (1850) in the city. The Weimar School of Music was founded in 1872 as Germany's first orchestra school. Richard Strauss worked in Weimar between 1889 and 1894 as second conductor in the acclaimed Staatskapelle Weimar (the court orchestra founded in 1491). Several of his encores for works such as Don Juan and Macbeth were performed by the Staatskapelle Weimar. Friedrich Nietzsche moved to Weimar in 1897, and died there three years later.
In 1860 the Weimar Saxon-Grand Ducal Art School, the precursor of today's Bauhaus University, was founded. This was the beginning of academic arts education in Weimar. The institution created its own painting style, the "Weimar School" of painting with representatives such as Max Liebermann and Arnold Böcklin. The Kunstgewerbeschule Weimar was found by Henry van de Velde with the support of Grand Duke William Ernest in 1902 and represents the other root of the Bauhaus, known as "Das Neue Weimar" ("The New Weimar") around Harry Graf Kessler. It was a foundation against Prussia's restrictive arts policy favouring Historicism instead of international Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau.
As early as the 19th century, the curation of Weimar and its heritage started. Many archives, societies and museums were founded to present and conserve the cultural sights and goods. In 1846, Weimar was connected by the Thuringian Railway. In the following decades, the city saw a construction and population boom (like most late-19th century cities in Germany). Nevertheless, Weimar did not become industrialised, and remained a city of clerks, artists and rentiers. During the German Revolution of 1918–19 the last reigning grand duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, William Ernest, had to abdicate and went in exile to Heinrichau in Silesia.
The period in German history from 1919 to 1933 is commonly referred to as the Weimar Republic, as the Republic's constitution was drafted here. Berlin as the capital was considered too dangerous for the National Assembly to use as a meeting place, because of its street rioting after the 1918 German Revolution. The calm and centrally-located Weimar had a suitable place of assembly (the theatre), hotels and infrastructure, so it was chosen as the capital.
In 1920, the federal state of Thuringia was founded by an association of eight former microstates (Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, Saxe-Gotha, Saxe-Altenburg, Saxe-Meiningen, Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, Schwarzburg-Sondershausen, Reuss-Gera and Reuss-Greiz) and Weimar became its capital. Due to that fact, the city experienced another period of growth.
In 1919, Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus School by a merger of the Weimar Saxon-Grand Ducal Art School with the
Kunstgewerbeschule Weimar. The Bauhaus in Weimar lasted from 1919 to 1925, when it moved to Dessau, after the newly elected right-wing Thuringian council put pressure on the School by withdrawing funding and forcing its teachers to quit. Many buildings in Weimar today have influences from the Bauhaus period. However, only one original Bauhaus building was constructed during 1919–1925, the Haus am Horn, now used for exhibitions and events on Bauhaus culture.
The Weimar Republic era was marked by a constant conflict between "progressive" forces and right wing forces, the former represented by Harry Graf Kessler and the latter Adolf Bartels in Weimar. After 1929, the right wing forces prevailed and Weimar became an early centre of Nazism.
Nazi Germany and World War II
Weimar was important to the Nazis for two reasons: first, it was where the hated Weimar Republic was founded, and second, it had been a centre of German high culture during recent centuries. In 1926, the NSDAP held its party convention in Weimar. Adolf Hitler visited Weimar more than forty times prior to 1933. In 1930, Wilhelm Frick became minister for internal affairs and education in Thuringia, the first NSDAP minister in Germany. In 1932, the NSDAP came to power in Thuringia under Fritz Sauckel. In 1933, the first Nazi concentration camps were established around Weimar in Nohra (the first one in Germany) and Bad Sulza. Most prisoners at this time were communists and social democrats. After Kristallnacht in 1938, harassment of Jews became more intense, so that many of them emigrated or were arrested. The Weimar Synagogue was destroyed in 1938.
During the 1930s, the barracks in Weimar was greatly extended. One famous person serving as a soldier in Weimar was Wolfgang Borchert, later a well known poet and playwright. As it was the capital of Thuringia, the Nazis built a new Roman-fascist-style administrative centre between the city centre and the main station. This
Gauforum, designed by Hermann Giesler, was the only Nazi governmental building completed outside Berlin (though there were plans for all German state capitals). Today it hosts the Thuringian State Administration. Other Giesler buildings are the "Villa Sauckel", the Governor's palace and the "Hotel Elephant" in the city centre.
In 1937, the Nazis established Buchenwald concentration camp only eight kilometres from Weimar city centre. The slogan Jedem das Seine ("to each his own") was placed over the camp's main entrance gate. Between July 1938 and April 1945, some 240,000 people were incarcerated in the camp by the Nazi regime, including 168 Western Allied POWs. The number of deaths in Buchenwald is estimated at 56,545. The Buchenwald concentration camp provided slave labour for local industry (arms manufacturer Wilhelm-Gustloff-Werk).
The city centre was partially damaged by US Air Force bombing in 1945 with some 1,800 people killed and many historic buildings destroyed. Nevertheless, most of the destroyed buildings were restored soon after the war because of their importance in German cultural history. The Allied ground advance into Germany reached Weimar in April 1945, and the city surrendered to the US 80th Infantry Division on April 12, 1945. The residents of Weimar were ordered to walk through Buchenwald, to see what had been happening so close to the city, as documented in Billy Wilder's film Death Mills. The city ended up in the Soviet zone of occupation, so US troops were soon replaced by Soviet forces.
From 1945 to 1950, the Soviet Union used the occupied Buchenwald concentration camp as a NKVD special camp to imprison defeated Nazis and other Germans. The camp slogan remained Jedem das Seine. On 6 January 1950, the Soviets handed over Buchenwald to the East German Ministry of Internal Affairs.
In 1948, the East German government declared Erfurt as Thuringia's new capital, and Weimar lost its influence on German contemporary culture and politics. (The state of Thuringia itself was dissolved in 1952 and replaced by three Bezirke (districts) in a local government reform; Weimar belonged to the Bezirk of Erfurt.) The city was the headquarters of the Soviet Union's 8th Guards Army as part of the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany. Due to its fame and importance for tourism, Weimar received more financial subsidies from the GDR government and remained in better condition than most East German cities.
The destroyed Anna Amalia Library in 2004
After German reunification in 1990, Weimar experienced significant economic hardship, but funding restored much that had deteriorated, and it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996 (Bauhaus) and 1998 (Classical Weimar). The European Council of Ministers selected the city as European Capital of Culture for 1999. Tourism has become an important economic factor over the decades. Weimar is now a popular residence of people working in Erfurt and Jena, both less than 20 minutes away.
In 2004, a fire broke out at the Duchess Anna Amalia Library. The library contains a 13,000-volume collection including Goethe's masterpiece Faust, in addition to a music collection of the Duchess. An authentic Lutheran Bible from 1534 was saved from the fire. The library is one of the oldest in Europe, dating back to 1691, and is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Over one million volumes were housed in the library, of which forty to fifty thousand were damaged beyond repair. A number of books were shock-frozen in Leipzig to save them from rotting. The library was reopened in 2007.