Town Hall and Roland on the Marketplace of Bremen
Since 2004 • Cultural
The Town Hall and the statue of Roland on the marketplace of Bremen in north-west Germany are outstanding representations of civic autonomy and sovereignty, as these developed in the Holy Roman Empire in Europe. The old town hall was built in the Gothic style in the early 15th century, after Bremen joined the Hanseatic League. The building was renovated in the so-called Weser Renaissance style in the early 17th century. A new town hall was built next to the old one in the early 20th century as part of an ensemble that survived bombardment during the Second World War. The statue stands 5.5 m tall and dates back to 1404.
The Bremen Town Hall and Roland are an outstanding ensemble representing civic autonomy and market freedom, as developed in the Holy Roman Empire. The town hall represents the medieval Saalgeschossbau-type of hall construction, as well as being an outstanding example of the so-called Weser Renaissance in northern Germany. The Bremen Roland is the most representative and one of the oldest of the Roland statues erected as a symbol of commercial rights and freedom.
The city of Bremen is situated in north-western Germany, on the river Weser. The site of the medieval town has an oblong form, limited by the river on the south side and by the Stadtgraben, the water moat of the ancient defence system, on the north side. The town hall is situated in the centre of the eastern part of the old city area, separating the market in the south from the Domshof, the cathedral square in the north. The statue of Roland is located in the centre of the market place. The town hall is placed between two churches: the Dom (cathedral church of St Peter) is located on the east side, and the Liebfrauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) on the west. Across the market is the Schütting, the seat of the ancient merchant guilds. On the east side of the market is the Modernist building for the municipal institutions, the Haus der Bürgerschaft, built in the 1960s.
The World Heritage site consists of the town hall and the Roland statue; the buffer zone encloses the market and the cathedral square. The town hall has two parts: the Old Town Hall, on the north side of the market place, which was built in 1405-9, and renovated in 1595-1612, and the New Town Hall that was built in the early 20th century as an addition facing the cathedral square.
The Old Town Hall is a two-storey hall building with a rectangular floor plan. It has brick walls and wooden floor structures. The exterior is in exposed brick with alternating dark and light layers; the roof is covered by green copper. The ground floor served for merchants and for theatrical performances. The upper floor is the main festivity hall, of the same dimensions. Between the windows, there are stone statues representing the emperor and prince-electors, which date from the original Gothic phase, integrated with late Renaissance sculptural decoration symbolizing civic autonomy. In the 17th century the town hall was renovated, and the middle three of the eleven axes of the colonnade were accentuated by a bay construction with large rectangular windows and a high gable, an example of the so-called Weser Renaissance.
The New Town Hall was the result of an architectural competition, and it was built in 1909-13, designed by Gabriel von Seidl from Munich. The building has three main floors, and it was intended for representation and chancellery. The elevations are covered in tiles (clinker); windows and details are built from south German limestone.
The stone statue of Roland is about 5.5 m tall, and it was initially erected in 1404 to symbolize the rights and privileges of the free and imperial city of Bremen. Such statues were common in German towns and townships, representing a martyr who died in the struggle against heathens. The statue of Bremen is associated with the Margrave of Brittany, a paladin of Charlemagne.
The origins of Bremen go back to the 8th and 9th centuries, when it became the seat of a bishop. In 965, Bremen was given the rights to raise customs and to mint. There is a reference in 1225 to a city council whose members are known as consules; this council prepared a civic code as a law of the people. The town joined the Hanseatic League in 1358. Although having already obtained privileges of civic autonomy, it was formally recognized as a Freie Reichstadt (free imperial town) in 1646. Since 1947 it has been one of the Länder of the Federal Republic of Germany. The Roland statue in stone was erected in 1404, replacing an earlier wooden statue, and is considered the oldest Roland statue still in place in Germany.
The origins of Bremen go back to the 8th and 9th centuries, when it became a seat for a bishop. Its foundation is referred to Bishop Willehad and Emperor Charlemagne who supposedly granted the initial privileges. In 965, Bremen was given the rights to raise customs and to mint. The citizenry was united in a corporate body, universitas civium, as recognized in a diploma in 1186. There is reference to a city council whose members are called consules, in 1225. The City Council prepared a civic code as a law of the people, of which the 1303-04 version became the principal reference. The town entered the Hanseatic League in 1358. Though having already obtained privileges of civic autonomy, it was formally recognized as Freie Reichstadt (free imperial town) in 1646. From 1947, it is one of the Lands of the Federal Republic of Germany.
The Roland statue in stone was erected in 1404, replacing an earlier wooden statue, and is considered the oldest Roland statue still in place in Germany. The statue used to have a shelter, which was removed in 1885. In 1938, the statue was subject to a major repair, and other restorations followed in 1959 and 1969. In 1983-84, the Roland was again provided by a protective fence as originally; the head was replaced with a copy. Over the years, the statue has had various colour schemes.
The first Rathaus of Bremen existed in the 14th century. The current Old Town Hall was built in 1405-1409, and renovated in 1595-1612. The master builder was Lüder von Bentheim (ca. 1555-1612), who already had other projects in Bremen, as well as reconstructing the exterior of the Gothic town hall of Leiden (Netherlands) beginning in 1585. The new architectural elements were designed following the plans by Hans Vredeman de Vries, Hendrik Goltzius, Jacob Floris and other masters of the Dutch Renaissance. The New Town Hall was added in 1909- 1913.
The town of Bremen was heavily bombed during the Second World War, and some 62% of the buildings were lost. However, the area of the town hall survived relatively well.
Justification for being a World Heritage Site
Criterion (iii): the Bremen Town Hall and Roland bear an exceptional testimony to the civic autonomy and sovereignty, as these developed in the Holy Roman Empire.
Criterion (iv): The Bremen Town Hall and Roland are an outstanding ensemble representing civic autonomy and market freedom. The town hall represents the medieval Saalgeschossbau-type of hall construction, as well as being an outstanding example of the so-called Weser Renaissance in Northern Germany. The Bremen Roland is the most representative and one of the oldest of Roland statues erected as a symbol of market rights and freedom.
Criterion (vi): the ensemble of the town hall and Roland of Bremen with its symbolism is directly associated with the development of the ideas of civic autonomy and market freedom in the Holy Roman Empire. The Bremen Roland is referred to a historical figure, paladin of Charlemagne, who became the source for the French ‘chanson de geste’ and other medieval and Renaissance epic poetry.
About the source
Within UNESCO's broad remit, this specialised agency of the UN works towards international cooperation agreements to secure the world's cultural and natural heritage, designating venues of exceptional value as World Heritage Sites.