Bayreuth before Wagner… is it imaginable? Well yes, the little town had its very own story before its destiny and Wagner’s became irremediably bound.

Documents created by Bishop Otto II of Bamberg mentioned for the first time in 1194 the current capital of Upper Franconia; the small town then bore the name of Baierrute (from Baier – Bavarian and reut- clearing). It was a farming village, a large village (1199), that did not become a town strictly speaking until 1231, when a charter of the city was drafted. The town belonged until 1248 to the Counts of Andechs-Merania, before being attached to the jurisdiction of its neighbor Nuremberg and thus passing in the heritage of the house of Hohenzollern.

The city developed peacefully, and even obtained from the Emperor Charles IV the right to issue its own currency. It appeared for the first time on a map in 1421.

However, Bayreuth risked being wiped off the map a few times: a terrible attack by the Hussites, a Bohemian tribe, ravaged the city. The terrible plague epidemic of 1634 decimated the city which counted only a hundred survivors. But the inhabitants always stood up, pickaxes in their hands, to rebuild what had been destroyed.

With courage certainly, but also nonconformism and a libertarian spirit: in 1528, so less than ten years after the beginnings of the reformation, the Margraves – the ruling lords of the city – of Bayreuth turned to the brand-new Protestant cult.

In 1603, the Christian Margrave made Bayreuth the official residence of the Margraves: it was a turning point in the history of the city. In 1610, he enriched the first Hohenzollern castle (the altes Schloss, dating from the XVth century) with a magnificent octagonal tower.

The importance of the Margraves of Bayreuth in the political life of Germany grew throughout the XVIIth century: the grandson of the Christian Margrave, Christian Ernest,  even participated in the liberation of Vienna against the Turkish siege in 1683.

It was with the arrival of Sophie-Willhelmine of Prussia, the “favorite” sister of Frederick II “the Great” and wife of the Frederic Margrave, that the city reached its apex starting from 1732. Proud of its renown and of an undeniable opulence, Bayreuth developed both politically and architecturally, thanks particularly to the projects of the architects Joseph Saint-Pierre and Karl von Gontard. The Hermitage Palace – an admirable little Versailles, a true jewel of Baroque architecture – was embellished, as were its French-style gardens; the fabulous Margravial Opera House was witness to a way of life envied by the European courts and an abundant cultural wealth that counted among the very first in Europe. Voltaire and Frederick the Great would thus be seen during sumptuous parties that the film Farinelli by Gérard Corbiau (shot in loco in 1994) faithfully retraced.

This splendour alas disappeared with the death of the Margravine, real instigator in her time of the rise of Bayreuth. And it took the arrival of a certain Richard Wagner for, like the Sleeping Beauty, the “sleeping city” to awaken after a hundred years…


List of reference materials consulted for the realization of Section IV : BAYREUTH

MVRW Picto Section 4

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