ERFURT, a city of Germany, in Prussian Saxony, on the Gera, and the railway Halle-Bebra, about midway between Gotha and Weimar, which are 14 m. distant. Pop. (1875) 48,025; (1905) 100,065. The city, which is dominated on the west by the two citadels of Petersberg and Cyriaxburg, is irregularly built, the only feature in its plan, or want of plan, being the Friedrich Wilhelmsplatz, a broad open space of irregular shape abutting on the Petersberg. On the south-western side of this square, which contains a monument to the elector Frederick Charles Joseph of Mainz (1719-1802), is the Domberg, an eminence on which stand, side by side, the cathedral and the great church of St Severus with its three spires (14th century). The churches are approached by a flight of forty-eight stone steps, the grouping of the whole mass of buildings being exceedingly impressive. The cathedral (Beatae Mariae Virginis) is one of the finest churches in Germany. It was begun in the 12th century, but the nave was rebuilt in the 13th in the Gothic style. The magnificent chancel (1349-1372), with the 14th-century crypt below, rests on massive substructures, known as the Cavate. The twin towers are set between the chancel and nave. The cathedral contains, besides fine 15th-century glass, some very rich portal sculptures and bronze castings, among others the coronation of the Virgin by Peter Vischer. In one of its towers is the famous bell, called Maria Gloriosa, which bears the date 1497, and weighs 270 cwt. Besides the cathedral and St Severus, which are Roman Catholic, Erfurt possesses several very interesting medieval churches, now Evangelical. Among these may be mentioned the Predigerkirche, dating from the latter half of the 12th century; the Reglerkirche, a Romanesque building (restored in 1859) with a 12th-century tower; and the Barfüsserkirche, a Gothic building containing fine 14th-century monuments. All these were originally monastic churches. Of the former religious houses there survive a Franciscan convent, with a girls' school attached, and an Ursuline convent. The Augustinian monastery, in which Luther lived as a friar, is now used as an orphanage, under the name of the Martinsstift. The cell of Luther was destroyed by fire in 1872. A bronze statue of the reformer was erected in the Anger, the chief street of the town, in 1890. At one time Erfurt had a university, of which the charter dated from 1392; but it was suppressed in 1816, and its funds devoted to other purposes, among these being the endowment of an institution founded in 1758 and now called the royal academy of sciences, and the support of the royal library, which now contains 60,000 volumes and over 1000 manuscripts. On the W. and S.W. extensive new quarters have grown up within recent years, e.g. Hirschbrühl. The interior of the town hall (1869-1875) is adorned with legendary and historical frescoes by Kämpfer and Peter Janssen. Erfurt possesses also a picture gallery and an antiquarian collection.
The educational establishments of the town include a gymnasium, a realgymnasium, a realschule, technical schools for building and handicrafts, a high-class commercial school, a school of agriculture, and an academy of music. The most notable industry of Erfurt is the culture of flowers and of vegetables, which is very extensively carried on. This industry had its origin in the large gardens attached to the monasteries. It has also important and growing manufactures of ladies' mantles, boots and shoes, machines, furniture, woollen goods, musical instruments, agricultural machinery and implements, leather, tobacco, chemicals, etc. Brewing, bleaching and dyeing are also carried on on a large scale, and there are extensive railway works and a government rifle factory.
Erfurt (Med. Erpesfurt, Erphorde, Lat. Erfordia) is a town of great antiquity. Its origin is obscure, but in 741 it was sufficiently important for St Boniface to found a bishopric here, which was, however, after the martyrdom of the first bishop, Adolar, in 755, reabsorbed in that of Mainz. In 805 the place received certain market rights from the emperor Charlemagne. Later the overlordship was claimed by the archbishops of Mainz, on the strength of charters granted by the emperor Otto I., and their authority in Erfurt was maintained by a burgrave and an advocatus, the office of the latter becoming in the 12th century hereditary in the family of the counts of Gleichen. In spite of many vicissitudes (from 1109 to 1137, for instance, the town was subject to the landgraves of Thuringia), and of a charter granted in 1242 by the emperor Frederick II., the archbishops succeeded in upholding their claims. In 1255, however, Archbishop Gerhard I. had to grant the city municipal rights, the burgraviate disappeared, and Erfurt became practically a free town. Its power was at its height early in the 15th century, when it joined the Hanseatic League. It had acquired by force or purchase various countships and other fiefs in the neighbourhood, and ruled a considerable territory; and its wealth was so great that in 1378 it established a university, the first in Europe that embraced the four faculties. By the end of the century, however, its prosperity had sunk owing to the perpetual feud with Mainz, the internecine war in Saxony, and the consequent dwindling of trade. By the convention of Amorbach in 1483 the overlordship of Erfurt was ultimately transferred by the electors of Mainz to Saxony. The political and religious quarrels of the 16th century still further depressed the city, in which the reformed religion was established in 1521. Then came the Thirty Years' War, during which Erfurt was for a while occupied by the Swedes. After the peace of Westphalia (1648) the city was assigned by the emperor to the elector of Mainz, and, on its refusal to submit, it was placed under the ban of the Empire (1660). In 1664 it was captured by the troops of the archbishop of Mainz, and remained in the possession of the electorate till 1802, when it came into the possession of Prussia. In 1808 it was the scene of the memorable interview between Napoleon and the emperor Alexander I. of Russia, at which the kings of Bavaria, Saxony, Westphalia and Württemberg also assisted, which is known as the congress of Erfurt. Here in 1850 the parliament of the short-lived Prussian Northern Union (known as the Erfurt parliament) held its sittings. In 1902 the 100th anniversary of the city's incorporation with Prussia was celebrated.
See W.J.A. von Tettau, Erfurt in seiner Vergangenheit und Gegenwart (Erfurt, 1880); C. Beyer, Geschichte der Stadt Erfurt (Erfurt, 1900); and F.W. Kampschulte, Die Universität Erfurt in ihrem Verhältnisse zu dem Humanismus und der Reformation (1856-1858). For a detailed bibliography see U. Chevalier, Répertoire des sources. Topo-bibliographie (Montebéliard, 1894-1899), s.v.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)