The city and citadel of Mannheim, copper engraving by Matthäus Merian, first half of the 17th century

Ideal and realityThe planned city of Mannheim

For many religious refugees, such as the Huguenots of France, the city was a sanctuary for Protestants. It was also an increasingly important place for trade in the Electoral Palatinate. Mannheim is the first of a series of Baroque planned cities in southwest Germany: Freudenstadt, Rastatt, Ludwigsburg and Karlsruhe.

A modern aerial view of Mannheim

Still visible today: streets laid out using geometric patterns.

The creation of the "square city"

Prince-Elector Friedrich IV von der Pfalz (1574–1610) commissioned the Dutch fortification architect, Bartel Janson, to plan his ideal city. For the planned city, Bartel Janson followed ideals strongly characterized by military aspects. He designed the extremely regular system of geometric shapes that characterizes Mannheim even today: It consists of parallel streets that cross at right angles with city blocks of equal sizes.

Friedrichsburg Castle, detail of a copper engraving of the city and citadel, 17th century

The Friedrichsburg Residence.

A citadel as the "head"

The city was surrounded by a broad, star-shaped fortification of projecting bastions. On the northernmost point of this star fortress, a citadel was added as a second star fortress. It housed Prince-Elector Friedrich IV's garrison and was named "Friedrichsburg" after him. In this citadel, the buildings were arranged in rings and divided by streets that radiated out from the center.

Friedrich IV von der Pfalz, sculpture on the facade of the Friedrich Building, Heidelberg Palace

Prince-Elector Friedrich IV: sovereign and protestant founder of Mannheim.


On March 17, 1606, Prince-Elector Friedrich IV von der Pfalz laid the foundation stone of the fortress. One year later, he conferred the privileges of a city on Mannheim to promote its development. In the next decades, people of different nationalities and religious beliefs were encouraged to settle in the new city, including many religious refugees. This was beneficial not merely for religious reasons, but also for economic and political ones: the political power of a territory depended on its population. This was why "peopling," or planned settlement, was an important maxim for rulers.

Barockschloss Mannheim, Gemälde Kurfürst Karl I. Ludwig

Responsible for the reconstruction: Karl I Ludwig.


How many of Bartel Janson's plans were actually realized is now unclear. In 1622, during the Thirty Years' War, the city and fortress were destroyed. Reconstruction occurred under Prince-Elector Karl I Ludwig, a grandson of the city's founder. Quick completion of the construction was accomplished through an immigration of workers from France, who were specifically drawn to the city by the special privileges offered by the prince-elector, a kind of 17th-century Marshall Plan that turned Mannheim into a successful trading town. In 1685, there was a second wave of immigration of French Protestants to the Electoral Palatinate. The reason: Under King Louis XIV, the Huguenots were severely persecuted.


The sense of safety was short-lived: In 1688, French troops attacked the city as part of the Nine Years' War. The Huguenots were forced to flee again, primarily going towards Brandenburg-Prussia. In 1689, Mannheim was destroyed by French troops. Ten years later, Prince-Elector Johannes Wilhelm decided to rebuild the city. However, he decided against rebuilding the citadel. Beginning in 1720, Mannheim Baroque Palace, one of the largest palaces in Europe, was built on the site of the former citadel.

Fortified complex and palace in Mannheim, inlaid image circa 1725

The Baroque palace was built to replace the destroyed citadel.

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