Around two millennia ago Frankfurt was a site of Celtic and Germanic settlement, and later – in the area known today as the Römerberg – a Roman garrison town.
Mentioned in historical documents as far back as AD 794, Frankfurt was an important centre of power in the Holy Roman Empire. With the election of Frederick I (Barbarossa) in 1152, the city became the customary site of the selection of German kings. International trade fairs – attracting business from the Mediterranean to the Baltic – were held here from the 12th century.
In 1372 Frankfurt became a ‘free imperial city’, a status it enjoyed almost uninterrupted until the Prussian takeover of 1866. A stock exchange began operating in Frankfurt in 1585, and it was here that the Rothschild banking family began its ascent in the 1760s.
Frankfurt has a strong Jewish history – in 1933, its Jewish community, with 30,000 members, was Germany’s second largest. Around town, you may see brass squares the size of a cobblestone embedded in the pavement. These Stolpersteine (‘stumbling blocks’) serve as memorials to Jews deported by the Nazis by marking their last place of residence.
About 80% of Frankfurt's medieval city centre was destroyed – and over 1000 people were killed – by Allied bombing raids in March 1944. The area around the Römerberg has since been reconstructed.
Today, Frankfurt is a thriving, contemporary city still focused on trade fairs and finance.