Gregory Brown
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also called Hesse,

Land (state) of Germany, eighth largest of the 16 Länder, occupying an area of 8,152 square miles (21,114 square km) in the west-central part of that country. Hessen is bounded by the states of Lower Saxony (north), North Rhine-Westphalia (northwest), Rhineland-Palatinate (west), Baden-Württemberg (south), Bavaria (southeast), and Thuringia (east). The state lies between the Upper Rhine Plateau to the west and the Thuringian Forest to the east. It was formed in 1945 through the amalgamation of former Prussian provincial units. Its capital is Wiesbaden.


The Hessians are generally supposed to be descended from the Frankish tribe of the Chatti, whose homeland lay north of the Main River. The Chatti were Christianized by St. Boniface in the early 8th century. Their territory was governed by various dynasties of counts beginning in the 10th century, but in 1130 the region of Hesse was joined to the landgraviate of Thuringia. Upon the death in 1247 of the last landgrave of Thuringia, Henry Raspe, Hesse was acquired by his niece, Sophia, the wife of Henry II of Brabant. Sophia gave the territory to her son, Henry I the Child (died 1308). He founded the Brabant dynasty of Hesse and was raised to the rank of a prince of the Holy Roman Empire in 1292.

For the next two centuries the landgraves of Hesse expanded their territory and often clashed with the neighbouring archbishop-electors of Mainz. Hesse was twice partitioned in the 15th century, but Philip the Magnanimous, landgrave from 1509 to 1567 and Hesse's greatest ruler, reunited the territory. Philip introduced Reformed into Hesse in 1526 and the next year founded the first Protestant university in Europe, at Marburg. By his last will Philip divided Hesse between his four sons into Hesse-Kassel, Hesse-Darmstadt, Hesse-Rheinfels, and Hesse-Marburg. Rheinfels and Marburg were absorbed by the other two lines in 1583 and 1648, respectively. (See Hesse-Darmstadt; Hesse-Kassel.) In 1945 most of the Hesse territories and part of old Nassau were merged to form the Land of Greater Hesse (Gross-Hessen), later called simply Hessen.

Land and people.

The present-day Land of Hessen consists mainly of richly wooded uplands. Eastern Hessen is dominated by the Vogels Mountain, a great basaltic mountain, and by the Rhön, a mountainous mass rising to the Wasser Peak (3,117 feet [950 m]), Hessen's highest mountain. The Spessart and the Oden forests both belong in part to Hessian territory. The northern part of Hessen is drained by the northward-flowing Eder and Fulda rivers before they unite to form the Weser, while most of the rest of the state is drained westward by rivers that are tributaries of the Main and Rhine rivers. Beechwoods and conifers cover the highlands, and cultivated land lies on the limestone uplands and on the loess soils of the river lowlands.

The largest towns are Frankfurt am Main, Wiesbaden, Kassel, Darmstadt, and Offenbach am Main. The majority of the population is Protestant and most of the remainder is Roman Catholic.

The economy.

The state is well wooded, and small-scale farming is still widespread. Wheat is the most widely grown crop, followed by potatoes and sugar beets. Poultry, pigs, and cattle are the chief livestock. The southwest of Hessen is primarily industrial but is also an area of intensive agriculture. The plains along the Rhine and Main rivers are a mosaic of vineyards, orchards, and fields of grain, potatoes, and tobacco. Market gardening is especially important near the cities. The surrounding hills have a three-year rotation of rye, oats, and potatoes, and livestock farms concentrate on the production of butter and cheese.

The state's mineral resources are sparse; there are some low-grade iron ores in the Taunus Mountains, which are of little economic significance, salt mines near Fulda, and small brown-coal deposits near Frankfurt am Main and Kassel. The state's industries depend on the Rhine waterway and its extensions up the Main and Neckar. The Rhine-Main area, centred on Frankfurt am Main, Mainz, and Wiesbaden, is one of the great industrial regions of Germany. Kassel, Offenbach, Wiesbaden, and Darmstadt are other large manufacturing centres. Vehicles, machinery, chemicals (especially at Höchst, a western quarter of Frankfurt am Main), electrical goods, scientific instruments, and textiles are among the products of these and other towns. New industries have developed since World War II, stimulated by the arrival of German refugees from eastern Europe; these manufactures include the making of glass, toys, and musical instruments. Book publishing is a prominent economic activity.

Hessen has a highly developed network of highways, and there are federal and private bus services. The Rhine provides the chief waterway, and its economic importance cannot be overestimated. Frankfurt's Rhine-Main Airport is one of western Europe's busiest airports. Rail travel in Hessen is largely electrified and has international European links.

Cultural life.

The universities at Frankfurt am Main, Giessen, and Marburg in Hessen are supplemented by a technical university at Darmstadt, Protestant and Roman Catholic theological colleges, teacher-training colleges, and colleges of music and fine arts. On the banks of the Weser River are many ruined castles, old churches, and palaces, and there are also interesting half-timbered buildings, burgher houses, and town halls throughout the state. Pop. (1989 est.) 5,568,892.

Additional reading

Little material specifically on Hessen is in English. An exhaustive bibliography of ancient to contemporary works is in Schrifttum zur Geschichte und geschichtlichen Landeskunde von Hessen, ed. by Karl E. Demandt, 3 vol. (1965–68); see also the same author's Geschichte des Landes Hessen (1959). A more elementary but useful history of the postwar Land and its predecessor states is Kurt Finke, Hessen: Vergangenheit und Gegenwart (1970). A firsthand account of the early postwar period appears in Dexter L. Freeman, Hesse: A New German State (1948). The standard geography series Harms Landeskunde devotes vol. 1, ed. by Julius Wagner, to Hessen (1961). Detailed information on Hessen's population, economy, political structure, judiciary, education, and modern historical development are given in a series of volumes of the Hessisches Statistisches Landesamt, Wiesbaden. For a handy ready-reference with abundant information, see the Hessenlexikon (1965). A well-illustrated, informative treatment of the Hessian economy appears in Hessen um Rhein und Main, 2nd ed. by Klaus Erhr. von Verschuer (1966). Hessen's lead in reform of primary and secondary education is covered in Robert Geipel, Bildungsplanung und Raumordnung (1968); health and social care are discussed in the Hessisches Sozialministerium, Heute für Morgen: Hessens Gesundheits- und Sozialwesen (1970). Aspects of Hessian ethnology are dealt with in Ingeborg Weber-Kellermann, Volksleben in Hessen (1970).

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