Rothenburg ob der Tauber
The name “Rothenburg ob der Tauber” means, in German, “Red fortress above the Tauber”. This is so because the town is located on a plateau overlooking the Tauber River. As to the name “Rothenburg”, some say it comes from the German words Rot (Red) and Burg (burgh, medieval fortified town), referring to the red colour of the roofs of the houses which overlook the river. The name may also refer to the process of retting (“rotten” in German) flax for linen production.
In 950 the weir system in today’s castle garden was constructed by the Count of Comburg-Rothenburg.
In 1070, The Counts of Comburg-Rothenburg, who also owned the village “Gebsattel”, built Rothenburg castle on the mountain top high above the River Tauber.
The Counts of the Comburg-Rothenburg dynasty died out in 1116. The last Count, Count Heinrich, willed all his belongings, including Gebsattel and Rothenburg, to the Comburg convent, but Emperor Heinrich V appointed instead his nephew Konrad von Hohenstaufen as successor to the Comburg-Rothenburg properties.
In 1142, Konrad von Hohenstaufen, who became Konrad III (1138–52) the Roman-German King, traded a part of the monastery Neumünster in Würzburg above the village Detwang and built the Stauffer-Castle Rothenburg on this cheaper land. He held court there and appointed officials called ‘reeves’ to act as caretakers.
In 1170 the city of Rothenburg was founded at the time of the building of Staufer Castle. The centre was the market place and St. James’ Church (in German: the St. Jakob). The development of the oldest fortification can be seen: the old cellar/old moat and the milk market. Walls and towers were built in the 13th century. Preserved are the “White Tower” and the Markus Tower with the Röder Arch.
From 1194 to 1254, the representatives of the Staufer dynasty governed the area around Rothenburg. Around this time the Order of St. John and other orders were founded near St. James’ Church and a Dominican nunnery (1258)
From 1241 to 1242, The Staufer Imperial tax statistics recorded the names of the Jews in Rothenburg. Rabbi Meir Ben Baruch of Rothenburg (died 1293, buried 1307 in Worms) had a great reputation as a jurist in Europe. His descendants include members of the dynastic family von Rothberg, noteworthy in that they were accorded noble status in the nineteenth century, becoming the hereditary Counts of Rothberg, later taking up residence in the city of Berlin where they were well known as jewelers until the 1930s. Most members of the family disappeared and are presumed to have been killed during the Second World War. Several of the von Rothbergs were laid to rest in a crypt located in the Weißensee Cemetery, while two members emigrated to the United States during the Second World War. The family is survived by its last living descendant, Andrew Sandilands Graf von Rothberg (b. 1972), who resides in the United States.
In 1274 Rothenburg was accorded privileges by King Rudolf of Habsburg as an imperial city. Three famous fairs were established in the city and in the following centuries the city expanded. The citizens of the city and the Knights of the Hinterland build the Franziskaner (Franciscan) Monastery and the Holy Ghost Hospital (1376/78 incorporated into the city walls). The German Order began the building of St. James’ Church, which the citizens have used since 1336. The Heilig Blut (Holy Blood) pilgrimage attracted many pilgrims to Rothenburg, at the time one of the 20 largest cities of the Holy Roman Empire. The population was around 5,500 people within the city walls and another 14,000 in the 150 square miles (390 km2) of surrounding territory.
The Staufer Castle was destroyed by an earthquake in 1356, the St. Blaise chapel is the last remnant today.