Located in the heart of the coal and steelmaking area of Ruhr, part of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Essen is Germany’s ninth most populous city, at 570,000 inhabitants.
Historians believe Essen was founded around the year 845, but the city began to develop tremendously at the onset of the Industrial Revolution, when many coal mines and steel works opened in the Ruhr region. Essen’s name is tied to that of the Krupp family, owners of the steelworks of the same name. Since the seventies, the coal and steel industry has been declining, taking its toll on the city’s population, which dropped from 730,000 inhabitants in the early sixties.
Essen is also a center of culture, and, as a recognition of its role, it was designated the European Capital of Culture along with the other regions of the Ruhr urban area. Since 1958, the Catholic diocese of Ruhr is located in the city and the merged university of Duisburg-Essen has a campus and a university hospital here.
A testimony to the city’s coal mining legacy, Essen’s foremost landmark is the Zollverein Industrial Complex, a former coal mine and coke complex that closed down in the nineties. The winding tower siting at the top of the coal mine’s main shaft, built in the distinctive Bauhaus style, is considered the city’s symbol, a masterpiece that was inducted in the UNESCO World Heritage Site patrimony.
The complex was long neglected, but in recent years, the local authorities have acted to preserve and redevelop the area. Currently, several art and design studios work within the old industrial complex, and there’s hope that more will follow in the future. The complex is freely accessible and paid tours are frequently organized. The highlights of the tours are the Red Dot Design Museum and the Ruhrmuseum, dedicated to the history of the region, which functions since 2010 in a former coal-washing factory.
Author: © Raimond Spekking / CC-BY-SA-3.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)
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