SPIRES (Ger. Speyer or Speier), a town and episcopal see of Germany, capital of the Bavarian palatinate, situated on the left bank of the Rhine, at the mouth of the Speyerbach, 16 m. S. of Mannheim by rail. Pop. (1905), 21,823. The principal streets are broad but irregular, and the general appearance of the town little corresponds to its high antiquity, owing to the fact that it was burned by the French in 1689. The only important ancient building that survived the flames is the cathedral, a very large and imposing basilica of red sandstone, and one of the noblest examples of Romanesque architecture now extant. Beyond the general interest attaching to it as one of the old Romanesque churches of the Rhineland, Spires Cathedral has a peculiar importance in the history of architecture as probably the earliest Romanesque basilica in which the nave as well as the side arcades was vaulted from the first (see ARCHITECTURE: Romanesque in Germany). Built in 1030-1061 by Conrad II. and his successor, this church has had a chequered history, its disasters culminating in 1689, when the soldiers of Louis XIV. burned it to the bare walls, and scattered the ashes of the eight German emperors who had been interred in the king's choir. Restored in 1772-1784 and provided with a vestibule and facade, it was again desecrated by the French in 1794; but in 1846-1853 it was once more thoroughly restored and adorned in the interior with gorgeous frescoes at the expense of the king of Bavaria. The large cathedral bowl (Domnapf) in front of the west facade formerly marked the boundary between the episcopal and municipal territories. Each new bishop on his election had to fill the bowl with wine, while the burghers emptied it to his health. The heathen tower to the east of the church, on foundations supposed to be Roman, was probably part of the town-wall built in 1080 by Bishop Rudger. Of the Retscher, or imperial palace, so called because built after the model of the Hradschin at Prague, only a mouldering fragment of wall remains. It was in this palace that the famous Diet of Spires met in 1529, at which the Reformers first received the name of Protestants. The Altportel (alia porta), a fine old gateway of 1246, is a relic of the free imperial city. Among the modern buildings are several churches and schools, a museum and picture gallery, etc. Spires, although rebuilt in 1697, has never recovered from the injuries inflicted by the French in 1689. Its trade is insignificant, although it still has a free harbour on the Rhine. Its manufactures include cloth, paper, tobacco and cigars, sugar, sugar of lead, vinegar, beer and leather. Vines and tobacco are grown in the neighbourhood.
Spires, known to the Romans as Augusta Nemetum or Nemetae, and to the Gauls as Noviomagus, is one of the oldest towns on the Rhine. The modern name appears first under the form of Spira, about the 7th century. Captured by Julius Caesar in 47 B.C., it was repeatedly destroyed by the barbarian hordes in the first few centuries of the Christian era. The town had become an episcopal seat in the 4th century; but heathenism supervened, and the present bishopric dates from 610. In 830 Spira became part of the Prankish Empire, the emperors having a " palatium " here; and it was especially favoured by the Salic imperial house. The contentions between the bishops and the citizens were as obstinate and severe as in any other city of Germany. The situation of the town opposite the mouths of several roads through the Rhine valley early fostered its trade; in 1294 it rose to be a free imperial city, although it owned no territory beyond its walls and had a population of less than 30,000. It enjoyed great renown as the seat of the imperial supreme court from 1527 till 1689; it was fifth among the free cities of the Rhine, and had a vote in the Upper Rhenish Diet. Numerous imperial diets assembled here. From 1801 till 1814 it was the capital of a department of France; but it was restored to Bavaria in the latter year. By the Peace of Spires in 1544 the Habsburgs renounced their claims to the crown of Sardinia.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)