Ravensburg was first mentioned in 1088. In the Middle Ages, it was an Imperial Free City and an important trading centre. The "Great Ravensburg Trading Society" (Große Ravensburger Handelsgesellschaft) owned shops and trading companies all over Europe.
The historic city centre is still very much intact, including three city gates and over 10 towers of the medieval fortification. "The all-white Mehlsack (Flour Sacks) is a tower marking the Altstadt’s southern edge. A steep staircase leads up to the Veitsburg, a quaint baroque castle."
Ravensburg was first mentioned in writing in 1088. It was founded by the Welfs, a Frankish dynasty in Swabia who became later Dukes of Bavaria and Saxony and who made the castle of Ravensburg their ancestral seat.
By a contract of inheritance, in 1191 the Hohenstaufen Frederick Barbarossa acquired the ownership of Ravensburg from Welf VI, Duke of Spoleto and uncle of both Frederick Barbarossa and Henry the Lion.
With the death of Conradin 1268 in Naples the Hohenstaufen line became extinct. Their former estates became imperial property of the Holy Roman Empire. Like many other cities in Swabia, at the end of the 13th century Ravensburg became an Imperial Free City in 1276.
The "Great Ravensburg Trading Society" (Große Ravensburger Handelsgesellschaft) was founded at Ravensburg and Konstanz around 1380 by the merchant families of Humpis (from Ravensburg), Mötteli (from Buchhorn, modern-day Friedrichshafen) and Muntprat (from Constance). At first, the society mostly dealt in the production of linen and fustian. With the opening of one of the first paper mills north of the Alps in 1402 in Ravensburg, paper became another commodity. The Ravensburg stores also sold oriental spices, Mediterranean wines and Bohemian ores. After the liquidation of the Great Ravensburg Trading Society in 1530, Ravensburg stagnated economically. The Thirty Years' War caused a grave decline of the population. Swedish troops destroyed the old castle, now named "Veitsburg" after the St. Veit chapel at the castle grounds.
Following the Reformation a "paritetic" government emerged, meaning an equal distribution of public offices between the Catholic and Protestant confession. The city council was one half each Protestant and Catholic. For some time there was even a Catholic and a Protestant mayor at the same time, and the both confessions celebrated the village fair, the "Rutenfest", apart from each other. This system was approved at the end of the Thirty Years' War in the Peace of Westphalia (1648) which named four "Paritetic Imperial Cities" (German: Paritätische Reichsstädte): Augsburg, Biberach, Dinkelsbühl and Ravensburg.
In 1803 the Immerwährende Reichstag passed the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss, a bill which included the secularisation and mediatisation of many German states — the first meaning the confiscation of the estates belonging to the church, the second the incorporation of the imperial estates and Imperial Free Cities into larger regional states. As a result, Ravensburg first became a Bavarian exclave within Württemberg. After a swap of estates between Bavaria and Württemberg it was incorporated in the Kingdom of Württemberg in 1810.
Since Ravensburg was impoverished and depopulated after the Thirty Years' War, only a few new buildings were raised during the 18th and the early 19th century. The benefit of this economic stagnation was the conservation of a widely intact medieval city with nearly all towers and gates of the historic fortification.
During World War II Ravensburg was strategically of no relevance. Ravensburg did not harbor any noteworthy arms industry (unlike nearby Friedrichshafen with its large aircraft industry), but was home to a major aid supplies center belonging to the Swiss Red Cross. The historic city centre was not damaged by air raids.
By 1945, the city came into the French occupation zone and thus came in 1947 to the newly founded state of Württemberg-Hohenzollern, which in 1952 merged to the state of Baden-Württemberg.
In the 1970s, Ravensburg increased in population and territory by the incorporation of smaller communities like Eschach, Schmalegg and Taldorf. Ravensburg University of Cooperative Education was established in the city in 1978.
In the 1980s, the Old Town was renovated and all transit traffic was banned from the city centre.
Ravensburg is a thriving shopping city in the wealthy region of Upper Swabia. Unemployment is relatively low. The nearest large cities are Munich, Stuttgart and Zurich, approximately a two-hour drive away each. Ulm, Konstanz and Bregenz are each less than a one-hour drive away.
Ravensburg is part of an urban agglomeration that also comprises Weingarten (Württemberg) and several suburbs. Ravensburg, Weingarten, and Friedrichshafen (on the shores of Lake Constance) share the functionality of a Oberzentrum (that is, the highest-ranked centre in the system of spatial planning and development in Baden-Württemberg).
Ravensburg is located at a crossing of the federal roads (national highways) B30, B31 and B32. A by-pass highway around Ravensburg and Weingarten was completed recently. The regional airport is situated at Friedrichshafen, about 15 km south of Ravensburg. The nearest national motor-ways are the A7 and A8 (approach at Ulm) and the A96 (approach at Lindau or Wangen im Allgäu).
In 1847, the railway station of Ravensbug was put in operation, part of the so-called "Swabian Railroad" from Stuttgart to Friedrichshafen, the oldest railroad of Württemberg and well known in all of Germany by the folk-style song Auf de Schwäb’sche Eisenbahne.
Mechanical engineering has traditionally been the main type of industry in the region. Based on the demand of the paper and textile industries (now widely reduced) and a long tradition of flour, paper and other mills, many engineering factories arose at the end of the 19th century. Today the primary engineering firms in Ravensburg are the left-overs of the former Escher-Wyss AG (a subsidiary of the Swiss Sulzer AG) which are now subsidiaries of the Austrian "Andritz Hydro".
Ravensburger AG, whose headquarters are located in the city, is a company internationally known for board games, jigsaw puzzles and children's books.
The pastry factory de:Tekrum (Theodor Krumm GmbH & Co. KG) is another company with an internationally known brand name. Since January 2005 it has been a wholly owned subsidiary of Griesson–de Beukelaer.
Other large industrial companies include:
The local newspaper is the Schwäbische Zeitung.
The radio companies Radio 7 and Südwestrundfunk run broadcasting studios at Ravensburg. In Horgenzell near Ravensburg, the Ravensburg-Horgenzell transmitter transmitted Deutschlandfunk on the medium wave frequency 756 kHz.
The city's most popular festival is the annual "Rutenfest", which takes place mid year.
Datteln is twinned with:
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