Gotha is the fifth-largest city in Thuringia, Germany, located west of Erfurt and east of Eisenach with a population of 44,000. The city is the capital of the district of Gotha and was also a residence of the Ernestine Wettins from 1640 until the end of monarchy in Germany in 1918. The city-native House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha spawned many European rulers, including the royal houses of England, Belgium, Portugal (until 1910) and Bulgaria (until 1946).
In the Middle Ages, Gotha was a rich trading town on the trade route Via Regia and between 1650 and 1850, Gotha saw a cultural heyday as a centre of sciences and arts, fostered by the dukes of Saxe-Gotha. The first duke, Ernest the Pious was famous for his wise rule; for example in his evangelical mindset he introduced the compulsory school attendance for all children up to the age of 12 in 1642 as one of the first rulers in the world. The cartographer Justus Perthes and the encyclopedist Joseph Meyer made Gotha to a leading centre of German publishing around 1800. In 1820, Ernst-Wilhelm Arnoldi founded the Feuerversicherung (fire insurance) in Gotha, which became a basis of German insurance business. The SPD was founded in Gotha in 1875 by mergering two predecessors. In that time, Gotha became an industrial core with companies like the Gothaer Waggonfabrik, a producer of trams and planes.
The main sights of Gotha are the early-modern residential buildings around Friedenstein Castle, one of the biggest Renaissance/Baroque castles in Germany, the medieval city centre and the Gründerzeit buildings of 19th century commercial boom.
Gotha lies in the southern part of the Thuringian Basin in a flat and agricultural landscape.
Gotha has existed at least since the 8th century, when it was mentioned in a document signed by Charlemagne as Villa Gotaha ("Good Waters") in 775. The first settlement was probably located around today's Hersdorfplatz outside the north-eastern edge of the later city centre. During the 11th century, the near-based Ludowingians received the village and established the city in later 12th century, as Gotha became their second important city after Eisenach. The city generated wealth because it was conveniently located at the junction of two important long-distance trade routes: the Via Regia from Mainz and Frankfurt to Leipzig and Wrocław and a north-southern route from Mühlhausen over the Thuringian Forest to Franconia. A first evidence of busy trade in the city is the Gotha cache of coins with nearly 800 Bracteates, buried in 1185 within the centre. In 1180, Gotha was first mentioned as a city, whereby the area between Brühl and Jüdenstraße became the core of urban development, highlighting the early presence of Jews in this old trading town.
The parish church of this first urban settlement was today's non-preserved St. Mary's Church (demolished in 1530) at Schlossberg. The castle (today's Friedenstein) was first mentioned in 1217. As the Ludowingians died out in 1247, Gotha became part of the Wettins territories, where it remained until 1918. The new town east of Querstraße was established in early 15th century (with the Neumarkt, first mentioned in 1428).
The monastery (first Cistercians, since 1258 Augustines) was founded before 1251 and abandoned in 1525. Until 1665, the bourse of Gotha was located in the middle of Hauptmarkt square inside the Renaissance building, which hosts the town hall today. The medieval town hall was located on the north-eastern edge of Hauptmarkt, where is today's Innungshalle.
Water supply was a big problem, because Gotha is not located on a river. In 1369, Landgrave Balthasar had the Leinakanal built. This channel, over 25 kilometres long, brought fresh water from the Thuringian Forest (Hörsel and Apfelstädt river) to the city. The main businesses of medieval Gotha were cloth-making and woad trade.
Early modern period
The Reformation was introduced in Gotha in 1524 and the castle was rebuilt as a bigger fortress between 1530 and 1541. While Gotha was already part of the Ernestine Wettins territory after the 1485 Treaty of Leipzig, the Ernestines' loss of power after the Schmalkaldic War in 1547, the Treaty of Erfurt in 1572, as the city became part of Saxe-Coburg, and the Thirty Years' War pulled down Gotha. The turnaround was brought by the choice of Gotha as a ducal residence in the 1640 territorial partition, when Ernest the Pious founded the duchy of Saxe-Gotha. The both evangelical and absolutist sovereign reorganized his small state quickly and fostered in particular the school system, for example by introducing the Compulsory education up to the age of 12 in 1642. This was the origin of the often mentioned liberal education of the Gotha citizens and the following cultural heyday.
The Friedenstein castle was built between 1643 and 1654 and is one of the first big Baroque residence castles in Germany. Between 1657 and 1676, the city received a stronger fortification, which was put down between 1772 and 1811. At their place, a park around Friedenstein and a boulevard around the city were established. Some important scientific institutions were the ducal library (today's Forschungsbibliothek Gotha as part of the University of Erfurt), founded in 1650, the coin cabinet (1712), the art and natural collection, basis of today's museums, and the Gotha Observatory at Seeberg mountain, established 1788. The Gotha porcelain manufactory (established in 1767) was famous around 1800 for their faiences, the Almanach de Gotha was first published in 1763 and Justus Perthes founded his science publishing company in 1785. Joseph Meyer followed him up in 1826 by founding the Bibliographisches Institut, one of the two leading encyclopedia publishers in German language besides the Brockhaus and Adolf Stieler first published his Handatlas in Gotha in 1816.
From 1826 to 1918, Gotha was one of the two capitals of the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Under the rule of Duke Ernest II, Gotha was a centre of Germany's liberal movement, where the Gothaer Nachparlament, an aftermath of 1848 German Revolution took place. In 1875, the German socialist party (SPD) was founded in Gotha through the merger of two organizations: the Social Democratic Workers' Party, led by August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht, and the General German Workers' Association, founded by Ferdinand Lassalle. A compromise known as the Gotha Program was forged, although it had been strongly criticized by Karl Marx for its reformist bias in his Critique of the Gotha Program. The first crematory in Germany was built in Gotha in 1878.
Industrialization started in Gotha around 1850, as the city was connected to the Thuringian Railway in 1847. The city became a centre of engineering with companies like the Gothaer Waggonfabrik, a tram and plane constructer founded in 1883. During the 19th century, Gotha became also a centre of banking and insurances in Germany. Ernst-Wilhelm Arnoldi funded the first fire insurance in 1820, followed by the life insurance in 1827. The Gothaer mutual insurance is one of the biggest insurance companies in Germany and moved to Cologne after World War II. Gotha's tram network was established in 1894.
The German Revolution of 1918–19 brought some trouble to the city. The dukes of Gotha abdicated in 1918 and the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany, a left-wing breakaway of the SPD was founded in Gotha in 1917 to object against SPD's war policy during World War I. This was the beginning of the fission of Germany's workers movement, which remained until today. A far-left government was elected in Gotha in 1919 and opposed heavily against both the Weimar National Assembly and the Kapp Putsch in 1920 bringing the city to the edge of a civil war. Nevertheless, the state of Gotha joined the new founded Thuringia in 1920.
The Nazi rule made Gotha to a centre of arm industry with nearly 7,000 fourced labourers working in the city's factories, where more than 200 died. Furthermore, the Gotha barracks at the southern periphery were enlarged and the synagogue was destroyed during the Kristallnacht in 1938. Bombings in 1944/45 damaged some buildings in the city, in particular the theatre (ruin demolished in 1958) and the main station (which is only a "half building" until today) and the main church (rebuilt after the war). Nevertheless, some 95% of the city's buildings survived the war unscathed.
The American Army reached the city in April 1945 and was replaced by the Soviets in July and in 1949, Gotha became part of the GDR. During this period, some historic inner-city quarters were replaced by Plattenbau buildings, especially west of the Hauptmarkt and at Gartenstraße north of the city centre. Many other buildings derelicted during the later GDR period and the city's shrinking time in 1990s, whereas others were refurbished after the German Reunification in 1990. Gotha's economy was hit by the transition from state to market economy after 1990, nevertheless, some companies survived or were newly founded and make in economics a relatively successful city of Gotha.