ALTONA, a town of Germany, in the Prussian province of Schleswig-Holstein, on the right bank of the Elbe immediately west of Hamburg. Though administratively distinct, the two cities so closely adjoin as virtually to form one whole. Lying higher than Hamburg, Altona enjoys a purer and healthier atmosphere. It has spacious squares and streets, among the latter the Palmaille, a stately avenue ending on a terrace about 100 ft. above the Elbe, whence a fine view is obtained of the river and the lowlands beyond. Of the six Evangelical churches, the Hauptkirche (parish church), with a lofty steeple, is noteworthy. The main thoroughfares are embellished by several striking monuments, notably the memorials of the wars of 1864 and 1870, bronze statues of the emperor William I. and Bismarck and the column of Victory (Siegessaule). The museum (1901) is an imposing building in the German Renaissance style and contains, in addition to a valuable library, ethnographical and natural history collections. Its site is that formerly occupied by the terminus of the Schleswig-Holstein railways, but a handsome central station lying somewhat farther to the N., connected with Hamburg by an elevated railway, now accommodates all the traffic and provides through communication with the main Prussian railway systems. There are also fine municipal and judicial buildings, a theatre (under the same management as the Stadttheater in Hamburg), a gymnasium, technical schools, a school of navigation and a hospital. In respect of its local industries Altona has manufactures of tobacco and cigars, of machinery, woollens, cottons and chemicals. There are also extensive breweries, tanneries and soap and oil works. Altona carries on an extensive maritime trade with Great Britain, France and America, but it has by no means succeeded in depriving Hamburg of its commercial superiority - indeed, so dependent is it upon its rival that most of its business is transacted on the Hamburg exchange, while the magnificent warehouses on the Altona river bank are to a large extent occupied by the goods of Hamburg merchants. Since 1888, when Altona joined the imperial Zollverein, approximately half a million sterling has been spent upon harbour improvement works. The exports and imports resemble those of Hamburg. In the ten years 1871-1880, the port was entered on an average annually by 737 vessels of 67,735 tons, in 1881-1890 by 608 vessels of 154,713 tons, and in 1891-1898 by 839 vessels of 253,384 tons.
In 1890 the populous suburbs of Ottensen to the W., where the poet Gottlieb Klopstock lies buried, Bahrenfeld, Othmarschen and Ovelgonne were incorporated. Without these suburbs the growth of the town may be seen from the following figures: - (1864, when it ceased to he Danish) 53,039; (1880) 91,049; (1885) 104,717; (1890) together with the four suburbs, 143,249; (1895) 148,944; (1900) 161,508; (1905) 168,301. Altona is the headquarters of the IX. German army corps.
The name Altona is said to be derived from allzu-nah ("all too near"), the Hamburgers' designation for an inn which in the middle of the 16th century lay too close to their territory. For a long time this was the only house in the locality. When in 1640 Altona passed to Denmark it was a small fishing village. Its rise to its present position is mainly due to the fostering care of the Danish kings who conferred certain customs privileges and exemptions upon it with a view to making it a formidable rival to Hamburg. In 1713 it was burnt by the Swedes, but rapidly recovered from this disaster, and despite the trials of the Napoleonic wars, gradually increased in prosperity. In 1853, owing to the withdrawal by Denmark of its customs privileges, its trade waned. In 1864 Altona was occupied in the name of the German Confederation, passed to Prussia after the war of 1866, and 1888 together with Hamburg joined the Zollverein, while retaining certain free trade rights over the Freihafengebiet which it shares with Hamburg and Wandsbek.
See Wichmann, Geschichte Altonas (2 vols., Alt., 1896); Ehrenberg & Stahl, Altonas topographische Entwickelung (Alt., 1894).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)