From the 10th century onwards, this town became an important link with the Slav peoples, especially those of Poland and Pomerania. During its period of greatest prosperity, from the 12th century onwards, the architecture of Bamberg strongly influenced northern Germany and Hungary. In the late 18th century it was the centre of the Enlightenment in southern Germany, with eminent philosophers and writers such as Hegel and Hoffmann living there.
The layout and architecture of medieval and Renaissance Bamberg exerted a strong influence on urban form and evolution in the lands of central Europe from the 11th century onwards. Bamberg is an outstanding and representative example of an early medieval town in central Europe, both in its plan and in its many surviving ecclesiastical and secular buildings.
The Counts of Babenberg had a castle on the hill around which Bamberg developed as early as the late Carolingian period. This became royal property in 906, and then passed to the Dukes of Bavaria. When Henry II, Duke of Bavaria, became King of Germany in 1007 he made Bamberg the seat of a bishopric, intended to become a 'second Rome'.
It played a significant role as a link with the Slav peoples of Eastern Europe, especially in modern Poland and Pomerania. The town was laid out according to medieval planning rules as a cross, with the churches of St Michael, St Stephen, St Gangolf, and St Jacob at the four cardinal points. With the advent of Bishop Otto I it became the seat of a powerful Prince-Bishopric in the early 12th century. This marked the beginning of a period of great prosperity, as demonstrated by the lavish restoration of the cathedral in the early 13th century.
This prosperity continued into the later Middle Ages, being helped by the fact that it was the starting point for shipping on the Main, as well as a renowned cultural centre. The late 17th and early 18th centuries saw a remarkable cultural flowering, represented by artists such as Dientzenhofer and Balthasar Neumann. This cultural role became even more important in the late 18th century, when Bamberg was the centre of the Enlightenment for southern Germany under Prince-Bishop Franz-Ludwig von Erthal.
This intellectual supremacy continued after Bamberg was ceded to the Elector of Bavaria in 1803, through such eminent writers as Hegel and Hoffman. Bamberg was not affected to any great extent by 19th-century industrialization: its economic basis continued to be trade, particularly in hops. It will be remembered as the birthplace of the first democratic constitution for Germany after the First World War.
The World Heritage site covers the three centres of settlement that coalesced when the town was founded. These are the Bergstadt, with the cathedral and its precincts, the former Prince-Bishop's Residence, and the burgher area with the Parish Church of Our Lady and the former vintners' settlement; the Inselstadt, defined by the two-arms of the Regnitz River, which was founded in the 12th century with a market and pre-urban settlement; and the Theuerstadt, a late medieval area of market gardens with scattered houses and large open spaces, which has retained this character to the present day.
Bamberg is a good example of a central European town with a basically early medieval plan and many surviving buildings. Of particular interest is the way in which the present town illustrates the link between agriculture (vineyards, hop gardens, market gardens) and the urban distribution centre.
The town had early cultural links with eastern Europe. Its architecture had strong influences on north Germany and Hungary in the Gothic period, whereas its Baroque element is intimately linked with developments in Bohemia. The street layouts of the three historic core areas retain their medieval features.