The Rhine-Neckar area is part of the German state (Bundesland) of Baden-Württemberg is largely urbanized in the west, with the three major cities Mannheim, Ludwigshafen am Rhein and Heidelberg. The eastern part is more sparsely populated but also a popular area for trips thanks to the Odenwald forest, old towns and the Neckar river.
Northern Baden-Württemberg combines the northern parts of the historic lands of Baden and Württemberg, north of Stuttgart and the Black Forest. Considerable parts of the region were only annexed by Baden or Württemberg in the early 19th-century when Napoleon “cleared up” the rag rug of petty states and scattered territories. Even two centuries later, some inhabitants of these regions stiffly insist on being neither Badeners nor Württembergers, but Kurpfälzer (in the northwest, around Mannheim and Heidelberg) or Franken (in the northeast), also speaking very distinct dialects.
The fertile lands along the rivers Rhine and Neckar have been quite densely populated and prosperous since the Middle Ages. The multitude of principalities, counties, baronial and knight’s estates, abbeys, but also free imperial cities, that were ruled by merchant and craft guilds, has resulted in many castles, palaces, churches and monasteries as well as old towns from medieval to early-modern times.
The Kurpfalz (Electoral Palatinate) was heavily hit by a French punitive expedition during the Nine Years’ War in 1688. The ruined Heidelberg castle is the most prominent example of that experience. In the early-18th century, the rulers of both Baden and Palatinate founded new capitals from scratch: Karlsruhe and Mannheim. Both are planned cities, designed on the drawing board, resulting in a very regular layout (square grid in the case of Mannheim, fan shape in Karlsruhe) that is rarely found in European cities.
Northern Baden was an epicentre of the 1848/49 revolution. After the revolution was defeated, many of the insurgents emigrated to the United States, becoming known as “Forty-Eighters”. Some of them rose to prominence, like Franz Sigel of Sinsheim, who was a Union general during the American Civil War. As the industrial revolution set in, cities like Karlsruhe and Mannheim also became heavily industrialized, and to a large part remain so today. Several groundbreaking inventions were made in this region, including the bicycle, elevator, and automobile. On the other hand, Heidelberg has largely preserved its historic character.
In the eastern part of the region, which historically belonged to Württemberg, is the southeastern end of the historic land of Franconia, which is reflected in the today’s macroregion name of Heilbronn-Franken. Gently hilly, as a result of being a continuation of the Swabian Mountains, and including a part of the valley of the meandering river of Neckar, this part provides many beautiful natural landscapes, sprinkled with historic cities like Heilbronn and Schwäbisch Hall.