Frankfurt am Main, city in west central Germany, in Hessen, a port on the Main River. It is a major manufacturing, financial, commercial, and transportation center, served by rail lines and the Rhine-Main Airport, the most important in Germany. Manufactures include machinery, electrical equipment, chemicals (notably in the Höchst district), pharmaceuticals, motor vehicles, clothing, and printed materials. International trade fairs, including the world's largest annual book fair, are held in the city.
Frankfurt is divided into an old town, or Altstadt, bordering the river, and a new town, or Neustadt, north of the older section. The old town, inhabited mainly by tradespeople and skilled artisans, retains many medieval characteristics. The new town contains the business quarter and the most important public buildings. A cluster of Gothic houses, the Römer, was used as the town hall for nearly 500 years. It forms the nucleus of the Römerberg, a square flanked by medieval houses of various dates. Other places of interest are the Leinwandhaus, or linen drapers' hall, of the 14th century; the Eschenheimer Turm, a tower once part of the city's old fortifications; the palace of the princes of Thurn and Taxis, which was the meeting place of the diet of the German Confederation from 1816 to 1866; and the house (now a museum) where the German poet and writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe spent his youth. The diarist Anne Frank was born in Frankfurt.
The outstanding church of Frankfurt is the Cathedral of Saint Bartholomew. It was constructed in the 13th century on the site of a 9th-century church and was the seat of the elections of emperors of the Holy Roman Empire and, after 1562, of the imperial coronations. Also notable are Saint Paul's Church (18th-19th century), where the Frankfurt Parliament, the first German national assembly, met from 1848 to 1849; Saint Leonard's Church (15th-16th century); and Saint Michael's Church (1953). Seven museums make up the Museum Embankment, a major construction project first planned in the late 1970s and completed only recently. The complex includes the Postal Museum and museums of applied arts, ethnography, cinema, architecture, sculpture, and European painting from the 14th century, as well as an art school and parks. Across the river but generally mentioned in conjunction with the embankment is the Jewish Museum. It was opened in 1988, on the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht (German for “Night of Broken Glass”), a night of anti-Jewish rioting instigated by the Nazi party, and is located in the palace of the House of Rothschild, the famous family of Jewish financiers. The museum depicts the history of Jews in Germany from the Middle Ages to the present and focuses on Frankfurt's Jewish ghetto. Also, the new Museum Judengasse (1992) displays preserved ruins of the Jewish ghetto as well. Another major museum in Frankfurt is the Senckenberg Museum, with a large collection on natural history, especially paleontology. The city also has a large zoo and a botanical garden and is the seat of a university (1914).
Though the area was settled as early as the Stone Age, Frankfurt was probably established as a Roman settlement about the 1st century AD. In the late 8th century, it was referred to as Frankonovurd by Einhard, the biographer of Charlemagne. During Charlemagne's reign (800-814) a number of imperial councils were held in Frankfurt. The Golden Bull of 1356 established Frankfurt as the seat of the imperial elections, and it was made a free imperial city in 1372. About 1530 the city became an important stronghold of Protestantism. Upon the formation of the Confederation of the Rhine in 1806, Frankfurt became subordinate to the confederation. It regained the status of a free city in 1815, and it was the unofficial capital of the confederation until 1866. In the same year, during the Seven Weeks' War, Frankfurt was seized by Prussia. During World War II (1939-1945), the city was badly damaged by bombing, but it has since been rebuilt. In 1993 Frankfurt was chosen as the site of the European Monetary Institute, the European Union body that is the forerunner of the European Central Bank. Population (1997) 652,412.
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