First mentioned in 1050, Nuremberg received a charter in 1219 and was made a free imperial city by the end of the 13th cent. The city was independent of the burgraviate of Nuremberg, which included a large part of Franconia and which came (1192) under the control of the Hohenzollern family. Nuremberg soon became, with Augsburg, one of the two great trade centers on the route from Italy to N Europe.
The cultural flowering of Nuremberg in the 15th and 16th cent. made it the center of the German Renaissance. Among the artists who were born or lived there, the painter and printmaker Albrecht Dürer was the greatest; others, such as the sculptors Adam Kraft, Veit Stoss, and Peter Vischer, and the painter and woodcarver Michael Wolgemut, adorned the city with their works, which brought together the Italian Renaissance and the German Gothic traditions. The city was also an early center of humanism, science, printing, and mechanical invention. The scholars W. Pirkheimer and C. Celtes lectured in the city, A. Koberger set up a printing press and Regiomontanus an observatory, and the first pocket watches, known as Nuremberg eggs, were made there c.1500. An interest in culture on the part of the prosperous artisan class found expression in the contests of the meistersingers (mastersingers), among whom the shoemaker-poet Hans Sachs was the most prominent.
In 1525, Nuremberg accepted the Reformation, and the religious Peace of Nuremberg, by which the Lutherans gained important concessions, was signed there (1532). In the Thirty Years War, Gustavus II was besieged (1632) in Nuremberg by Wallenstein. The city declined after the war and recovered its importance only in the 19th cent., when it grew as an industrial center. In 1806, Nuremberg passed to Bavaria. The first German railroad, from Nuremberg to nearby Fürth, was opened in 1835.
After Adolf Hitler came to power, Nuremberg was made a national shrine by the National Socialists (Nazis), who held their annual party congresses nearby from 1933 through 1938. The city was the home of the Nazi leader Julius Streicher and became a center of anti-Semitic propaganda. At the party congress of 1935 the so-called Nuremberg Laws were promulgated; they deprived German Jews of civic rights, forbade intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews, and deprived persons of partly Jewish descent of certain rights. Until 1945, Nuremberg was the site of roughly half the total German production of airplane, submarine, and tank engines; as a consequence, the city was heavily bombed by the Allies during World War II and was largely destroyed. After the war, Nuremberg was the seat of the international tribunal for war crimes.
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