Heidelberg is an ancient university town in the south west of Germany, located just where the quiet river Neckar flows out of the mountains into the broad and warm valley of the Rhine. Among its attractions is a castle that inspired romanticists for over two centuries. It also is home to one of Europe's oldest educational institutions, the Ruprecht Karls University, which was founded in 1386. Its old town is one of a few almost completely preserved Baroque towns in Germany.
The city is a vibrant mixture of tradition and modernity. In the past it has been a centre for both science and the arts and today this tradition is carried on with many research centres located in or around the city.
Here is a list of some of the most remarkable sights:
Originally a fort, the Heidelberg Castle was transformed into a castle in 1544. Over the centuries, it has been damaged by war and fire. Today, it still looks down on the Neckar. It contains elements of different architectural periods for it has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. Therefore, the architectural style is a mixture of the Romanesque, the Gothic and the Baroque. The Castle is also the home of the enormous Heidelberg Tun, a wine barrel with a capacity of 200,000 litres.
The Heiliggeistkirche (Church of the Holy Spirit) is the most popular amongst Heidelberg's churches. Located in the centre of the city, it marks the silhouette of the Old Town with its majestic facade. In 1398, the erection began and it was designed in the typical style of the late Gothic. The construction went through several phases and finally ended in 1544 with the completion of its tower. The library of the university, the famous Bibliotheca Palantina, was kept in it, containing more than 5000 books and 3524 manuscripts. During the 30 Years' War, however, it was stolen and brought to pope Gregor XV.
Having been built from 1786 to 1788, the Old Bridge was the first stone bridge preceded by four wooden bridges, which were destroyed by flods and fire. At that time, the bridge gate on the town side was built, consisting of two towers and the archway in between. One of the towers contains a dungeon, the other one a spiral staircase. To both towers, Baroque tower helmets have been attached. Near the gate, there are sculptures of the "Kurfürst" (prince elector) Carl Theodor, of the Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva, and of the Brückenaffe (Bridge Ape). The Old Bridge was destroyed in the Second World War by the German army, that tried to stop the advance of the allied troops. However, it was rebuilt two years later thanks to an extensive fundraising campaign.
Heidelberg's Ruprechts Karls University was was founded at the behest of Ruprecht I, "Kurfürst von der Pfalz" (Count Palatine of the Rhine), because he wanted to have a spiritual center in his territories which would attract foreigners as well. He convinced the Curia to endow the university with a Papal Bull of Foundation for he already had his first professors, who came from Prague and Paris, where they had fled from the papal schism and struggles of nationality. After the Papal Bull, the University of Heidelberg gained acceptance. "Semper apertus" - [the book of learning is] always open - became the motto of the university. The first lectures were held in 1386 and therefore the University of Heidelberg is the oldest in today's Germany.
Today, the university is distributed over different parts of the town. Most buildings of the arts and humanities faculties are located in the old part of the town while the largest parts of the natural sciences and medicine faculty buildings, including three large university hospitals, are situated in the new campus of the "Neuenheimer Feld". It is one of Germany's bigger universities with 25,000 students being enrolled and more than 15,000 academics working there. At the moment, there are twelve faculties: theology, law, medicine, clinical medicine, philosophy, modern languages, economic and social sciences, behaviourial and emperical cultural sciences, mathematics and computer science, chemistry and earth sciences, physics and astronomy, and biosciences. Apart from the university, Heidelberg hosts also a number of independent research institutes: the German cancer research centre (DKFZ), the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), an institute for astronomical calculations (ARI), the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and four Max-Planck-Institutes for astronomy, for nuclear physics, for medical research, and for comparative public and international law.
Some quite interesting buildings of the university are the library, the student's prison, the University Museum and the "Alte Aula" (old assembly hall).