Wimpfen is situated opposite the mouth of the river Jagst where the regions of Kraichgau, the Hohenlohe plains and the Neckar basin come together. Early settlement is unclear, but from the 5th century BC onwards, small inhabited areas and early stone age villages can be traced. Important for this early settlement, besides the good soil, was its proximity to an ancient road which came from France, crossed the Neckar and then split into two directions: one towards the east between Jagst and Kocher via Nuremburg and the other towards south-eastern Europe from Öhringen to the Danube. This was the road of the Nibelungs, if historical tales are to be believed.
Around 450 BC, new settlers arrived bringing an important culture to the central Neckar area for the first time: the Celts. They are thought to have given the rivers in this area their names (Kocher and Jagst) and probably also Wimpfen. According to Obermüller (German-Celtic Dictionary, Leipzig 1872) the name of Wimpfen consists of „uimpe“ (walled–in) and „bin“ (mountain), meaning „walled-in mountain“ or „wall on the mountain“. A Celtic castle is said to have existed on the „Altenberg“, but there is no archeological evidence. Roman historians later on recorded Germanic Suebi Nicreti (Swabians of the Neckar) having settled here.
Wimpfen’s history becomes more substantial with the invasion of the Romans. In the second half of the 1st century AD, having defeated the Gauls and arrived at the Rhine and Danube rivers, the Romans under Emperor Domitian began correcting the borders of the area, eventually conquering the so-called Decumat country. This new border of the Roman empire, also called the upper German limes, was safeguarded by a system of castles, one standing opposite the mouth of the Jagst where the ancient road joined the Neckar – a strategically important point. The first reliable historical date of Wimpfen stems from this time – not from an inscription or a document but from an oak beam retrieved from the Neckar in 1957 which turned out to be part of an old bridge. For the first time, the existence of a Roman bridge could be proved as closer examination dated the find to the year 85 AD. The Roman fort in Wimpfen in the valley can be considered to be the cradle of the town’s development. Soon workmen and merchants seeking protection settled here and numerous farms in the surrounding countryside became affiliated to the town.
As the emperor Antonius Pius advanced the limes further to the north-east and the fort lost its military importance, a large settlement had already formed which, as excavations carried out between 1983 and 1987 clearly prove, was one of the most important towns in the Decumat country, along with Ladenburg and Rottweil. This „vicus“ was the main place of the Civitas Alisinensis (the Elsenzgau). Among the many archaeological findings, numerous statues of Gods should be mentioned; especially a town guardian spirit with a mural crown. It embodies the essence of the Roman town of Wimpfen in the valley. Whether this town was called „Cornelia“ – as the chronicler Burkhard of Hall tells us at the end of the 13th century – cannot be verified and could be an error of the chronicler. At Burkhard’s time there were surely visible ruins of the once splendid Roman town. The town was destroyed, not by the rage of the Huns, however, but by the destructive forces of the Alemans.
We know only little about Wimpfen’s history in the Franconian Kingdom. It is certain that the Francs brought Christianity, and since the settlement at the Neckar bridge continued to play an important role, we can guess that a church was built on the remains of the Roman “Prätoriums” very early on. In connection with the construction of the first church in the valley, tradition names the legendary Bishop Crotold of Worms, whose existence is historically unproven, but who, if at all, was active in the 7th Century. It is also sure that Wimpfen was royal estate at this time, and it is possible that the Merowing Kings had a castle built to protect the important Neckar crossing. Legend has it that King Sigebert lived parts of his life in this castle and had finally given Wimpfen to Bishop Amandus of Worms as a present. It is certain, however, that at the turn of the century, the bishops of Worms were the owners of this old Franconian royal estate with all its rights. In 965, Kaiser Otto 1. confirmed this Immunity to the Bishop.
The Hungarians destroy Wimpfen
At this time, Wimpfen must have felt the weight of global political events. The ancient road, which had probably been used by the Huns under Attila was now used by the Hungarians to burn and plunder the Neckar area. Wimpfen was not to escape this cruel fate. Having served as a limited refuge for a large number of people, the city was destroyed. Every male person was said to have been killed and the breasts of the raped women to have been cut off, so as to prevent them from suckling children. This is reported by the aforementioned chronicler Burkhard von Hall, and he derives the name Wimpfen from the word “Weiberpein” (female agony) – surely a very memorable, yet unsustainable interpretation.
The first church, which had been destroyed, was later rebuilt and enlarged and was consecrated to Saint Peter, who was also the patron saint of the cathedral of Worms and of the diocese. From then on, the church was part of an influential chancel chapter, whose provost was also arch-deacon of Worms and held the clerical court between Heidelberg and Kirchheim/Neckar. The noblemen who made up the chapter were laymen, but lived temporarily in a kind of monastery community. During the 13th century a moral decline seemed to take place, which necessitated an energetic reform by dean Richard von Deidesheim. It was also he who, in 1269, began rebuilding St. Peter's church in the Gothic style for which he employed a civil engineer from France. Today the church of St. Peter of the Knights' Chapter in Wimpfen in the valley with its unique juxtaposition of Romanesque westwork and the Gothic chancel and south side with rich sculptural decoration, is one of the most valuable sacred buildings in the country. In the shadow of this free chapter, the town in the valley developed quickly into a market town with walls, customs rights and fishing rights. The “Talmarkt” which takes place on the feast of Peter and Paul every year goes back to the beginning of the chapter, making it one of the oldest in Germany. From the 14th century onwards, the town distanced itself more and more from the chapter, but lost its finally achieved independence 100 years later, as the city on the hill, by now more powerful, subsumed it. The chapter itself remained free until its secularisation, which, as it was situated within the boundaries of Wimpfen, led to renewed controversies with the town authorities.
The origins of this town on the hill lie hidden in the past. Although reports that the Celts are said to have built a castle on the hillcrest above the River Neckar as a refuge and that the Romans erected a shrine to Diana and a temple to Mercury are credible, they can no more be proven than the existence of a Merowingian Castle. Archaeological findings in the Town Church do, however, support the conclusion that at a very early time, even before the Staufian palace was built, a small church (which, with time, was continually enlarged in five building phases) once stood here at the highest point in the town. It is certain that there was already a settlement around this church when Emperor Friedrich I Barbarossa, in his attempts to regain earlier royal property entered into an enfeoffment with the Bishop of Worms. The first recorded mention of the Staufians in Wimpfen was in 1182 and so this year is taken to be the founding year of the Imperial Palace in Wimpfen. Since the medieval kingdom had no capital, meaning that the kings travelled from palace to palace in order to pass judgements and, indeed, to constantly show their presence, Wimpfen, too, repeatedly played host to the court in which that way of life developed, which inspires our fantasy to this day: the glorious medieval age with its knights, minnesong and falcon hunts. For the population of the town, however, this invariably meant a huge economic burden! Heinrich VI is known to have held court three times in Wimpfen and the great Friedrich II was here eight times. Of all the Staufians, however, the unfortunate King Heinrich (VII), whom history only mentions in parentheses in the list of medieval rulers, visited Wimpfen most often. He visited twice with his father: in 1218 at seven years of age and already crowned King of Sicily, when he was brought from the Italian Southern Kingdom to Germany, and in 1235 when his father, the Emperor, took his by then rebellious son prisoner in Wimpfen to finally deposit him in Worms and have him taken to southern Italy as a prisoner. This was probably the first time that Wimpfen bore witness to history in the making, as the exotic and magnificent imperial majesty triumphed over the king who was familiar here in the town. Litte is known of Wimpfen’s role in the preceding dispute between Emperor and King, father and son. The people certainly respected the Emperor, but felt sympathy for the King, for it was he who had furthered the expansion of the town around the palace and granted it special privileges. Being presented with Wimpfen Forest, which lies approximately 10 km outside the actual boundaries of Wimpfen, was significant for the development of the town and repeatedly played an important historical role, for good and for bad. To this day the forest represents a significant part of the property of the community.
With the end of the Staufer Age a time of political test began for Bad Wimpfen. The bishops of Worms who had never stopped stressing their claims on Wimpfen as well as the mighty masters of Weinsberg who had acquired large amounts of property in town now tried to gain power over this politically important place. Wimpfen not only maintained its independence it also gained more and more rights, becoming a imperial town around 1300. At a time of great political turmoil the rising bourgeoisie enforced a town constitution which became exemplary for other towns. The town nobility lost its power and cleared the way for a town regiment with two mayors and a town court with a magistrate. Wimpfen had become a self-confident free town with external political interests and membership in different town alliances. This is proudly expressed in the town seal of 1250:“ REGIA WIMPINA GERIT HAEC VICTRICIA SIGNA“ – royal Wimpfen carries this victorious sign. The coat of arms shows the imperial eagle carrying the key of the City of Worms in its beak as a symbol of the independent imperial town. The rise of the crafts, trade and agriculture contributed to a considerable economic boom in this relatively small town. Many splendid bourgeois residences with Aleman-Franconian half-timbered structures provide evidence of this. The town extended beyond its old medieval walls. Suburbs grew, especially to the west of the Speyrer gate and in the southeast towards the town in the valley. Wealth permitted an enlargement of the territory. Parts of Rappenau and the whole village of Biberach were purchased. At that time the extension of the hospital was undertaken which, divided into a religious and secular part, not only served as hospital but also provided for the old and poor. At the end of the 13th century the Dominican monastery had been founded and it quickly developed into one of the country’s largest monasteries and contributed to the town’s immense progress. Many theologians and scholars Started their careers here, one of them even teaching at the university of Paris
The time of the Reformation
In the 15th century, Wimpfen had reached the peak of its development when dark clouds gathered above the town. The old road, so important for its progress, gradually lost its importance, on the one hand because Regensburg had built a bridge of stone across the Danube, thus changing the route of traffic to Nuremberg, on the other hand because of the proximity of the economic rival Heilbronn. So with the beginning of modern times, the decline of imperial grandeur began. Soon Martin Luther’s doctrine took root in Wimpfen, encouraged by the appearance of Erhard Schnepf, the important theologian who worked here from 1523 to 1526 as an evangelical preacher. Having married the daughter of Mayor Wurzelmann he can be thought to have had the support of the population. In the early days of the Reformation, Wimpfen seems to have been a kind of centre of this new doctrine as at the same time the painter Heinrich Vogtherr lived here, the author of numerous reformation pamphlets and songs. There must have been a circle of supporters of the reformation in this town. The monasteries, by which these „damned Lutheran teachings“ were passionately denounced, were fierce opponents. The controversies escalated, splitting many families, when imperial orders confirmed the Catholic possession of the big parish church, submitting the Dominican church to a simultaneous use. The town council, however, handed over the parish church to the evangelical majority against the judgement of the magistrate, because by 1588 only 32 citizens were still Catholic. From then on, the council took over the appointment and supervision of the clergy and also decreed that no Catholic could obtain municipal citizenship. This led to endless arguments with the monasteries and the church chapter.
The Thirty Years War spelled disaster and accelerated the decline of this once so proud imperial town although the peasants‘ wars had spared the town before. In 1622 one of the war’s biggest battles was fought before the town gates, in which General Tilly defeated the Margrave of Baden and Magnus, the brother of Duke Johann Friedrich of Württemberg died. The event figures in Grimmelshausen's „Courage“. This battle, however, was only the beginning of an endless time of misery. Pillage, extortion, looting and the repeated destruction of the harvest became everyday occurrences; plagues further worsened the situation. At the end of the war only one tenth of the population had survived – 37 families. The imperial palatinate was now used as a quarry for reconstruction work. Thus the wonderful Baroque Age left hardly any traces on Wimpfen. Only the monasteries were able to afford larger constructions: the „Baroquisation“ of the Dominican and Hospital Church and the renovation of the curia in the „Lindenplatz“ in front of the cathedral in the valley.
Wimpfen had turned into a miserable, forgotten little town. All attempts at putting money in its coffers failed. Especially devasting was the attempt at a town salt works, which only led to further debts. Inner confusion was the consequence. As the council wanted to limit the very old rights to firewood out of the forest in a desperate attempt at rescue, there were violent riots, which found their desperate climax in 1783 in the so-called “Wimpfen wood revolution”. The authorities were no longer master of the situation, so they had to ask the emperor to delegate a commission which should bring order into the disorganized municipal community while a regional team took care of peace and order in the town. An improvement in the prevailing bad conditions was impossible because of the outbreak of the Napoleonic wars, but nobody was sorry when the five hundred year period as an imperial town ended in 1802 with secularisation and mediatisation. At last, Wimpfen was joined to Hesse after a certain amount of dispute in 1803.
With this new order, a slow and modest, but nevertheless continual rise began. In 1817 the Ludwigshalle salt works were founded – in a different place and finally successfully. And the brine which was found at this place was the reason for Wimpfen gradually becoming a popular spa. The beginning of this development was the hotel Mathildenbad which was established in 1835, a world-famous attraction for convalescents and those seeking relaxation. This also marked the gradual beginning of tourism to the area. By reading the former lists of the guests now, one can learn something about the high society who met there, coming from all parts of Germany. The spa business was greatly boosted when the railway Heilbronn-Wimpfen-Heidelberg was opened in 1866. Further progress, above all in hygiene, was brought in the installation of water pipes, a sewage system and a power station. In 1930, the town received the title “Bad” (spa).
The fact that Wimpfen was now an exclave of Hesse about 100 km away from the seat of government and at least 40 km outside the state boundary was the reason for its special role in the Grand Duchy and later also in Hesse. The town with its surrounding forest area remained an independent territory between Württemberg and Baden which was respected as “the pearl in the crown of Hesse” by the mother country, and which more or less administrated itself. Thus the people were generally satisfied with this situation and didn’t strive for any changes, even when connections to the neighbouring Württemberg, mainly because of jobs, intensified. An important decisive point was brought by the end of WW II. Wimpfen had escaped air-raids, but soon after the occupation by the Americans it was assigned to the administrating district Sinsheim by decree - totally against the wish of the population. A great number of refugees and people who had been expelled from their native countries came to the town and changed the social and economic structures. But all were occupied with the question of their political affiliation. Two camps formed very soon: one, for the most part original citizens of Wimpfen, would have liked to be an exclave of Hesse, the others, mostly new citizens, supported connection to the district of Heilbronn / Württemberg. The very intensive discussions were finally settled by means of a public opinion poll which was carried out in 1951 and brought a majority for Heilbronn.
In May 1952 the ceremonial annexation took place. Since then, Bad Wimpfen has officially belonged to the state of Baden-Württemberg even though the legal situation is still not completely clear.
The advertising slogan “modern spa - romantic holiday resort – Feel the past and enjoy the present ” characterizes the economic pillars of the town. Today’s modern health centre is the result of an intensive development in recent years. The central concept of the enterprise is medical and therapeutical treatment according to tried and tested principles and the comprehensive individual care of guests and patients. The indoor saltwater swimming pool (32-33 °C), connected to the open-air saltwater pool by a narrow channel fulfills many therapeutical requirements and is also used by guests for recreation.
Since 1976 a greater awareness of the value of the medieval monuments has led to the redevelopment of all the older parts of Bad Wimpfen, supported by a federal grant. It is also possible to visit the numerous monuments of Bad Wimpfen in a virtual guided tour.