Magdeburg

Magdeburg (mäkˈdəbŏrkh) [key], city (1994 pop. 270,546), capital of Saxony-Anhalt, central Germany, on the Elbe River. It is a large inland port, an industrial center, and a rail and road junction. Manufactures include metal products, textiles, and chemicals. The city is a food processing center, primarily in sugar refining and flour milling. There are lignite and potash mines nearby. Known in 805, Magdeburg became, under Emperor Otto I, an outpost for the colonization of the Wendish territories. In 968 it was made an archiepiscopal see. The archbishops of Magdeburg ruled a large territory as princes of the Holy Roman Empire. The city of Magdeburg obtained from them (13th cent.) a charter that was the model for hundreds of medieval town charters in Germany, Austria, Bohemia, and Poland. Under this Magdeburg Law a town governed itself through an elected council, had its own courts of justice, and was exempt from all duties except the payment of rent to the prince of the land. Magdeburg prospered and became one of the chief members of the Hanseatic League. It accepted (1524) the Reformation, joined (1531) the Schmalkaldic League, and continued its resistance against Emperor Charles V until its fall (1551) to Maurice of Saxony. The archbishops were converted to Protestantism, and the family, members of the house of Brandenburg, ruled the archbishopric as administrators. The Magdeburg Centuries, the first comprehensive history of Protestantism, was edited there in the late 16th cent. During the Thirty Years War the imperial forces laid siege to Magdeburg in 1630. On May 20, 1631, the imperial troops under Tilly and Pappenheim stormed the city and put the garrison to the sword. Fires mysteriously broke out in various quarters, and by the following day virtually the entire city had burned down. Roughly 25,000 persons (about 85% of the city's population) perished in the conflagration and the sacking. The sack of Magdeburg produced an immense impression and caused the Protestant princes to conclude a closer alliance. The city was rebuilt and its trade revived after the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which transferred both the city and the archbishopric (which was secularized and made a duchy) to the electorate of Brandenburg. From the late 17th cent. Magdeburg was an important Prussian fortress. The city was severely damaged in World War II. Historic landmarks of Magdeburg include an 11th-century Romanesque church and the 13th-century cathedral. The city is the birthplace of Otto von Guericke (1602–86), the physicist and inventor of the Magdeburg hemispheres (which demonstrate air pressure); the composer G. P. Telemann (1681–1767); and Baron von Steuben (1730–94), the Prussian general who fought in the American Revolutionary War.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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