Konstanz (locally ; English: Constance, Latin: Constantia) is a university city with approximately 80,000 inhabitants located at the western end of Lake Constance in the south-west corner of Germany, bordering Switzerland. The city houses the University of Konstanz and was for more than 1200 years residence of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Konstanz.
The first traces of civilization in Konstanz date back to the late Stone Age. During the reign of Augustus, the Celts living south of the Danube were conquered by the Romans. Around 40 AD, the first Romans settled on the site. This small town on the left bank of the Rhine was probably first called Drusomagus and belonged to the Roman province of Raetia. Its later name, originally Constantia, comes either from the Roman emperor Constantius Chlorus, who fought the Alemanni in the region and built a strong fortress around 300 AD, or from his grandson Constantius II, who visited the region in 354. The remains of the late Roman fortress Constantia were discovered in 2003.
Around 585 the first bishop took up residence in Konstanz and this marked the beginning of the city's importance as a spiritual centre. By the late Middle Ages, about one quarter of Konstanz's 6,000 inhabitants were exempt from taxation on account of clerical rights.
Trade thrived during the Middle Ages; Konstanz owned the only bridge in the region, which crossed the Rhine, making it a strategic location. Its linen production had made an international name for the city and it was prosperous. In 1192, Konstanz gained the status of Imperial City so it was henceforth subject only to the Holy Roman Emperor.
In 1414 to 1418, the Council of Constance took place, during which, on 6 July 1415, John Hus (Czech religious thinker, philosopher and reformer), who was seen as a threat to Christianity by the Roman Catholic Church, was burned at the stake. It was here that the Papal Schism was ended and Pope Martin V was elected during the only conclave ever held north of the Alps. Ulrich von Richental's illustrated chronicle of the Council of Constance testifies to all the major happenings during the Council as well as showing the everyday life of medieval Konstanz. The Konzilgebäude where the conclave was held can still be seen standing by the harbour. Close by stands the Imperia, a statue that was erected in 1993 to commemorate the Council.
In 1460, the Swiss Confederacy conquered Thurgau, Konstanz's natural hinterland. Konstanz then made an attempt to get admitted to the Swiss Confederacy, but the forest cantons voted against its entry, fearing over-bearing city states; Konstanz then joined the Swabian League instead. In the Swabian War of 1499, Konstanz lost its last privileges over Thurgau to the Confederation.
The Protestant Reformation took hold in Konstanz in the 1520s, headed by Ambrosius Blarer. Soon the city declared itself officially Protestant, pictures were removed from the churches, and the bishop temporarily moved to Meersburg, a small town across the lake. The city first followed the Tetrapolitan Confession, and then the Augsburg Confession. However, in 1548 Emperor Charles V imposed the Imperial Ban on Konstanz and it had to surrender to Habsburg Austria which had suddenly attacked. Thus Konstanz lost its status as an imperial city. The new Habsburg rulers were eager to re-Catholicise the town and in 1604 a Jesuit College was opened. Its accompanying theatre, built in 1610, is the oldest theatre in Germany still performing regularly.
The city became part of the Grand Duchy of Baden in 1806. In 1821, the Bishopric of Constance was dissolved and became part of the Archdiocese of Freiburg. Konstanz became part of the German Empire in 1871 during the unification of Germany. After World War I it was included within the Republic of Baden.
Because it almost lies within Switzerland, directly adjacent to the Swiss border, Konstanz was not bombed by the Allied Forces during World War II. The city left all its lights on at night, and thus fooled the bombers into thinking it was actually part of Switzerland. After the war, Konstanz was included first in South Baden and then in the new state of Baden-Württemberg.
The Altstadt (Old Town), which is large considering the small size of modern Konstanz, has many old buildings and twisting alleys. The city skyline is dominated by the majestic "Münster" Cathedral ("Münster Unserer Lieben Frau"), several other churches and three towers left over from the city wall, one of which marks the place of the former medieval bridge over the Rhine.
The University of Konstanz was established close to the town in 1966. It houses an excellent library with approximately two million books, all freely accessible 24 hours a day, as well as a botanical garden (the Botanischer Garten der Universität Konstanz). Especially since 2007, the university, being one of the nine German universities most successful in the German Universities Excellence Initiative, has gained considerable reputation as a so-called "elite university".