Baden-Baden is known as a spa town as well as a media, art and international festival city. Even the Romans enjoyed the hot thermal springs at the edge of the Black Forest. In the Middle Ages, Baden-Baden was the residence of the margraviate of Baden, which in turn gave its name to the state of Baden. After a catastrophic fire in 1689, the town lost its status as a residential town to the neighbouring Rastatt. The spa town was rediscovered in the 19th century and developed into an internationally important meeting place for aristocrats and wealthy citizens, also thanks to the income from the casino. A rich, well-preserved material and immaterial heritage has been preserved from this heyday in the 19th century.
The first traces of settlement in the eastern valley can be found from the Mesolithic around 8000 to 4000 BC. However, it was not until the Romans, who discovered and learned to appreciate the local thermal springs, which were up to 68 degrees Celsius hot, that Baden-Baden gained in importance. After the occupation of the areas on the right bank of the Rhine by Emperor Vespasian between the years 9 and 79 AD, the Romans founded a military camp on the Rettig plateau south of today’s old town around the middle of the 70s AD. The settlement and bathing facilities in the area of the old town were built from there and the camp then became an administrative district. The colony Aquae developed into a military spa and subsequently became the administrative centre of the Civitas Aquensis in the second century.
In around 260 AD, the Germanic tribe of the Alamanni conquered the area.
The area came under Frankish rule around the year 500 and became the border town to the Alemannic tribal area, which began south of the Oos. The first documented mention of Baden-Baden is controversial. According to medieval sources, the Merovingian king Dagobert III (699-716) gave the Mark and its hot springs to the Benedictine monastery of Weissenburg in today’s Alsace in 712. In the earliest documents, the place was called “balneas in pago Auciacensi sitas” (baths located in the Oosgau region) and in other places “balneis, quas dicunt Aquas calidas” (baths they call hot springs). A document from the year 856 also refers to the same endowment but is controversial. The first verified document for today’s Baden-Baden is a deed of donation from the year 987, in which the Roman-German king Otto III (980-1002) who later became emperor, called the village “Badon” and mentioned a church for the first time. In the year 1046, there are references to the town as being the first to be granted market rights.
The Zähringer count Hermann II Von Baden (1060-1130) acquired the area around Baden-Baden at the beginning of the 12th century and called himself Margrave of Baden for the first time in 1112; he built Hohenbaden Castle in around 1100. In 1245, the Cistercian monastery Lichtenthal was founded and Baden acquired its town charter at that time. Baden was first explicitly mentioned as such in 1288.
With the permission of the Margrave Friedrich II of Baden († 1333), the thermal springs were again used for baths from 1306 onwards, for the first time since ancient times. At the end of the 14th century, a castle was built on the Schlossberg, forming the core of today’s Neues Schloss (New Castle) on the Florentinerberg.
The first spa tax was levied in 1507, and a spa director was also appointed, who from then on took care of the up-and-coming spa business. From 1500, the town was part of the Swabian Imperial District, one of the ten government areas under the Holy Roman Empire. After the division of the margraviate of Baden in 1535, today’s Baden-Baden remained the residence of the Bernardine line and the capital of the margraviate of Baden-Baden.
The city was affected by the witch hunts between 1570 and 1631. The trial involved 134 people and at least 102 died. During the War of the Palatinate Succession between 1688 and 1697, Baden-Baden was burned down by French troops on 24 August 1689, and the operation of the baths came to a standstill. In 1705, Ludwig Wilhelm von Baden-Baden (1655-1707) moved the residence to Rastatt, but Baden-Baden remained the official city.
Baden-Baden was rediscovered at the end of the 18th century and developed from merely a state in Baden into a sophisticated spa resort. Many dignified guests transformed Baden-Baden into the summer capital of Europe. Artists, poets, thinkers, politicians and aristocrats flocked to Baden-Baden in summer, while Paris was the official winter capital. Baden-Baden was particularly popular during its heyday among German composers and musicians such as Clara Schumann (1819-1896), Richard Wagner (1813-1883) and Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) as well as Russian and French intellectuals such as Victor Hugo (1802-1885), Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) and Lev Tolstoy (1828-1910). Luxury hotels, the spa hotel and the casino were built, but were closed again in 1872 by decree. From 1858, international horse races took place on the Iffezheim racecourse. Initially, these were organised by the French entrepreneur and patron Edouard Bénazet (1801-1867) and financed with income from the Baden-Baden casino, of which he was the leaseholder. In 1872, the International Club Baden-Baden took over the organisation of the horse races.
Baden-Baden owes its present sophisticated style to urban planners and architects such as Friedrich Weinbrenner (1766-1826).
The roman bath ruins under the roman square
Cityscape from the Topographia Sueviae by Matthäus Merian, 1643
Friedrich Weinbrenner, 1826