Saarbrücken (; ; Luxembourgish: Saarbrécken) is the capital of the state of Saarland in Germany. The city is situated at the heart of a metropolitan area that borders Dillingen to the west and Neunkirchen, where most of the people of the Saarland live, to the north-east.
Saarbrücken used to be the industrial and transport centre of a great coal basin. Products included iron and steel, sugar, beer, pottery, optical instruments, machinery, and construction materials. However, over the past decades the industrial importance of Saarland has declined, as the mining industry has become unprofitable.
Historic landmarks in the city include the stone bridge across the Saar (1546), the Gothic church of St Arnual, the 18th-century Saarbrücker Schloss (castle) and the old part of the town, the St. Johanner Markt. In 1815 Saarbrücken came under Prussian control, and for two periods in the 20th century (1919–35 and 1945–57) it was part of the Saar territory under French administration. For this reason, coupled with its proximity to the French border, it retains a certain French influence.
From the 1st century AD to the 5th century, there was the Gallo-Roman settlement called vicus Saravus west of Saarbrücken's Halberg hill, on the roads from Metz to Worms and from Trier to Straßburg. Since the 1st or 2nd century AD, a wooden bridge, later upgraded to stone, connected vicus Saravus with the south-western bank of the Saar, today's St Arnual, where at least one Roman villa was located. In the 3rd century AD, a Mithras shrine was built in a cave in Halberg hill, on the eastern bank of the Saar river, next to today's old 'Osthafen' harbor, and a small Roman camp was constructed at the foot of Halberg hill next to the river.
Middle Ages to 18th century
The Saar area came under the control of the Franks towards the end of the 5th century. In the 6th century, the Merovingians gave the village Merkingen, which had formed on the ruins of the villa on the south-western end of the (in those times still usable) roman bridge, to the Bishopric of Metz. Between 601 and 609, Bishop Arnual founded a community of clerics, a Stift, there. Centuries later the Stift, and in 1046 Merkingen, took on his name, giving birth to St Arnual.
The oldest documentary reference to Saarbrücken is a deed of donation from 999, which documents that Emperor Otto III gave the "castellum Sarabrucca" (Saarbrücken castle) to the Bishops of Metz. The Bishops gave the area to the Counts of Saargau as a fief. By 1120, the county of Saarbrücken had been formed and a small settlement around the castle developed. In 1168, Emperor Barbarossa ordered the slighting of Saarbrücken because of a feud with Count Simon I. The damage cannot have been grave, as the castle continued to exist. In 1321/1322 Count Johann I of Saarbrücken-Commercy gave city status to the settlement of Saarbrücken and the fishing village of St Johann on the opposite bank of the Saar, introducing a joint administration and emancipating the inhabitants from serfdom.
From 1381 to 1793 the counts of Nassau-Saarbrücken were the main local rulers.
After 1815 Saarbrücken became part of the Prussian Rhine Province. The office of mayor Saarbrücken administrated the urban municipalities Saarbrücken and St Johann, and the rural municipalities Malstatt, Burbach, Brebach, and Rußhütte. The coal and iron resources of the region were developed: In 1852, Saarbrücken got a railway connecting the Palatine Ludwig Railway with the French Eastern Railway, the Burbach ironworks started production in 1856, the Saar up to Ensdorf was channeled since 1860, and Saarbrücken was connected to the French canal network.
At the start of the Franco-Prussian War, Saarbrücken was the first target of the French invasion force which drove off the Prussian vanguard and occupied Alt-Saarbrücken on 2 August 1870. Oral tradition has it that 14-year old French Prince Napoléon Eugène Louis Bonaparte fired his first cannon in this battle, an event memorated by the Lulustein memorial in Alt-Saarbrücken. The French left Saarbrücken on 4 August 1870 and were driven away towards Metz in the Battle of Spicheren on 6 August 1870.
In 1909 the cities of Saarbrücken, St Johann und Malstatt-Burbach merged and formed the major city of Saarbrücken with a population of over 100.000. Saarbrücken became capital of the Saar territory established in 1920: under the Treaty of Versailles (1919), the Saar coal mines were made the exclusive property of France for a period of 15 years as compensation for the destruction of French mines during the First World War. The treaty also provided for a plebiscite, at the end of the 15 year period, to determine the territory's future status, and in 1935 more than 90% of the electorate voted for reunification with Germany, while only 0.8% voted for unification with France. The remainder wanted to rejoin Germany but not while the Nazis were in power. This 'status quo' group voted for maintenance of the League of Nations administration. In 1935, the Saar territory rejoined Germany and formed a district under the name Saarland.
World War II and after
Saarbrücken was heavily bombed in World War II and in 1945 temporarily became part of the French Zone of Occupation. In 1947, France created the nominally politically independent Saar Protectorate and merged it economically with France in order to exploit the area's vast coal reserves. Saarbrücken became capital of the new Saar state. A referendum in 1955 came out with over two thirds of the voters rejecting an independent Saar state. The area rejoined the Federal Republic of Germany on 1 January 1957, sometimes called Kleine Wiedervereinigung (little reunification). Economic reintegration would however take many more years. Saarbrücken became capital of the Bundesland (federal state) Saarland. After the administrative reform of 1974 the city had a population of more than 200.000.
On March 9, 1999 at 4:40am, there was a bomb attack on the controversial Wehrmachtsausstellung exhibition next to Saarbrücken Castle, resulting in minor damage to the adult high school building housing the exhibition and the adjoining Schlosskirche church - but not causing any injuries.