At the end of July this year, Assyriologists from all over the world will be travelling to Marburg to take part in the 63rd Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale. The conference itself will be an exciting array of papers and posters, focusing on the interplay between past, present, and future. But what of the city of Marburg? And what to do there when the conference is over? Professor Sommerfeld has written a short guide for those wishing to explore the ‘medieval fairytale’ that is Marburg.
The City of Marburg
By Walter Sommerfeld
History, culture, science and the unique ambience all contribute to the special attractiveness of Marburg, situated on the river Lahn, 100 km north of Frankfurt. The castle is visible from a long distance. It was built before Marburg officially became a town in 1222 AD. St. Elizabeth’s Church dates back to the 13th century and remains one of the most impressive works of early gothic architecture. The market square with its 16th century town hall is another especially beautiful part of the town.
In the castle’s shadow lies the historical city center with its fascinating narrow lanes, crooked steps, venerable old churches and superbly restored half-timbered houses, home to a variety of coffee shops, pubs, and bars. A stroll through Marburg becomes a journey through a medieval fairytale.
Everywhere clues can be found to the lives of great personalities who lived here and left their mark, such as Martin Luther who, in 1529, was invited with many other leaders of the Reformation by Landgrave Philipp the Magnanimous for the Ecumenical Colloquy in the castle.
In 2017, Germany will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Like other historical sites that were important stops for Luther and the Reformation, Marburg will boast a rich programme as part of the celebration.
Landgrave Philipp founded the university in 1527 as the first Protestant university in the world. It started with eleven professors, 84 students and four subjects: Theology, Law, Medicine and Philosophy. Today it has 17 faculties that offer a wide range of subjects in the natural sciences and liberal arts. Numerous superior intellects and famous people studied or taught in Marburg, among them are also nine Nobel laureates.
Marburg has a population of around 80,000 and currently hosts more than 25,000 students. Thus, it is certainly true that Philipps-University and its students dominate the city. A saying goes, “Other towns have a university, Marburg is a university”.
A beautiful multifaceted collection of university buildings from several centuries in a singular urban unity, together with the intimate relationship between the development of the town and its role in the evolution of education and science have created a unique cultural space. Consequently, Marburg has applied as ‘university town’ for the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Ancient Near Eastern Studies in Marburg
Assyriology has a long history in Marburg. P. Jensen (1892-1928) held the first professorial chair, followed by B. Landsberger (1928-29), A. Götze (1930-33), C. Frank (1937-45), W. Eilers (1954-58), H. Otten (1959-79), H.M. Kümmel (1980-86); he was followed by W. Sommerfeld in 1989. G. Steiner (1971-1998) had a second professorial chair.
Since 2006, the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Studies has been part of the newly-founded interdisciplinary Center for Near and Middle Eastern Studies (CNMS). This Area Studies center combines all Oriental Studies capacities in Hesse, as all disciplines related to the study of the Near and Middle East formerly located at other universities in Hesse have been transferred to Marburg. With a total of seven professorial chairs, a multitude of staff, and through a broad network, a unique range of possibilities in the field of Oriental Studies has emerged.
The profile of Ancient Near Eastern Studies is characterized by the historically close ties with neighboring disciplines in Marburg, especially the Old Testament (O. Kaiser, E. Gerstenberger, J. Jeremias, R. Kessler, C.M. Maier, A. Grund-Wittenberg), Archaeology (A. Müller-Karpe, E. v.d. Osten-Sacken), Semitic linguistics (O. Rössler, W.W. Müller, S. Weninger), and Historical-comparative linguistics (M. Job, E. Rieken).