Archaeological Park Cambodunum

Kempten’s Town History


Roman town, double town, Allgäu metropolis

The history of Kempten goes back to the times of the Romans that is more than 2,000 years of town history. Apart from being a Celtic settlement and capital of a Roman province, Kempten also became known as a rival double town. For a rather long time, there existed two competing town, both called Kempten, next to each other. They were unified under Bavarian leadership and they are known as the metropolis of the Allgäu region these days.

But – one after the other. Carry on reading and learn all about the most important stations of the 2,000-year-old history of Kempten.

Foundation and Roman town of Kempten

Today, it cannot be established exactly when Kempten’s history began. There is, however, extraordinary evidence about the age of Kempten to be detected at the entrance to the Tourist Information Centre – an extract of Strabon’s 'Geographika'. The ancient Greek geographer Strabon (approx. 63 B.C. to 23 A.D.) mentioned a Celtic 'polis' – a town – Kambodounon in his early scripts when he wrote down a description of the earth. This mention is the oldest written mention of a town in Germany.
The Roman Cambodunum developed from this Celtic settlement Kambodounon and became increasingly important. Numerous excavations proved that the former Roman settlement had been the capital of a province at the time.
The everyday Roman life can be relived in an exhibition combined with the Cambodunum App at the original sites in the Cambodunum Archaeological Park.
Small bath thermes in the Archaeological Park Cambodunum
Archaeological finds
Drawing of Charlemagne
Basilica of St. Lorenz from the outside
Drawing of the historical personality queen Hildegard

The historic beginnings of Kempten

Once the Romans had left Kempten, the place became quiet. The beginnings of the town and thus the history of Kempten during the early Middle Ages remain mostly in the dark. A known fact is, however, that during the first century A.D., Magnus and Theodor, monks from St. Gallen, arrived at the present Allgäu metropolis. Apart from a St. Mary’s church, Theodor also built a monastic cell which was later on to become an independent monastery – the first in the region. Over the years the monastery was turned into the ecclesiastical diocese Kempten with numerous estates, serfs, gaining increasingly more influence. Also worth mentioning: In 771 King Karl der Große married Hildegard, the duke’s daughter. Relatives of her’s lived in Kempten and from 773 onwards she became an important benefactor of the monastery and thus also of the town of Kempten.

The double town – Ecclesiastical Diocese Kempten and Imperial Town Kempten

Historical street map

The craving of people to be free and escape from their fate of being serfs favoured the development of towns and cities in Europe. This is then the reason, why a settlement called Kempten developed next to the ecclesiastical diocese Kempten – which also owned numerous estates and serfs. This settlement – the imperial town of Kempten as it was called later on – inhabited free citizens, mostly handicraftsmen and traders.

As from 1289, the imperial town of Kempten was finally subordinated to the king by a privilege granted by King Rudolf von Habsburg; the monastic diocese Kempten and the abbots living there – from the twelfth century onwards even prince abbots – still continued to have a great influence on the imperial town. To this end, for example, the citizens of the imperial town had to pay taxes to the princely abbey of Kempten. This oppression and the taxes to be paid agitated the citizens of the imperial town and was the reason for dissatisfaction and their desire to become independent.

Gordian Seuter

But only the year 1525 offered the imperial town of Kempten the opportunity to change Kempten’s history in a large way. At that time a peasants’ revolt raged in the Allgäu region and also the serfs and peasants of the ecclesiastical town of Kempten joined in. The revolting peasants looted the monastery and in order to protect himself the prince abbot fled to the imperial town of Kempten.

The involuntary visit of the prince abbot was a chance the mayor of the imperial town of Kempten, Gordian Seuter, could not let pass. In return for protection and shelter, Gordian Seuter bought the remaining town rights from the prince abbot. And now, after more than three hundred years, the imperial town of Kempten was free and became finally independent from the princely abbey of Kempten.

The double town, consisting of the princely abbey of Kempten and the free imperial town of Kempten, upheld their tensions for a further 300 years being so closely connected, due to forced cooperation, rivalry and open antipathy.

Prince abbot

In order to extend the spiritual distance from the ecclesiastical part of town, the free imperial town of Kempten followed the teachings of Martin Luther in the years to come. The princely abbey of Kempten, however, remained faithfully Catholic. The rivalry between the two competing parts of Kempten increased over the years and culminated in the 30-year-war (1618 – 1648). During this war the princely abbey of Kempten and the free imperial town of Kempten faced each other as enemies. Both suffered huge losses, among others, the Residence was completely destroyed.

Three years after the end of the war another prince abbot influenced Kempten’s history in a large way: The young Roman Giel von Gielsberg began to rebuild the Residence – monastery and Residence of the Kempten prince abbots, although he was hard up financially. About 80 years later, the State Rooms of the Residence were decorated magnificently. These impressive and luxuriant rooms can be visited today and convey an impression of the glamour of that era.


Secularisation and Mediatisation

The history of Kempten indicates as early as the beginning of the 19th century, based on the progressing secularisation and mediatisation, that the independence of the two separate towns of Kempten cannot last much longer. Whether it was the unification of the former double town or the fact that it became Bavarian which led to the citizens to become rather discontent cannot be established beyond doubt today. A note written by a vicar in 1802 read: “Now we are Bavarians. God have mercy on us”, leaves however little room for speculation.
In 1818 it became a fact: the former double town of Kempten with its imperial town and ecclesiastical town in hostile dispute, were unified to become the town of Kempten.
But it took a long time for the citizens to come to terms with the new situation. However, the official unification of the former free imperial town with the ecclesiastical town of Kempten created the foundation for the current flourishing and lively Allgäu metropolis.
Today, more than 200 years on, Kempten is an important economic centre, university town and metropolis of the Allgäu region with its manifold cultural offers.
Church of St. Mang

Imperial TowN

Church of St Mang in the center of the former imperial town
Basilica of St. Lorenz from the outside

Monestary Town

Basilica of St Lorenz and Residence, once seat of the prince abbots

Kempten tipster


Drawing of the historical personality queen Hildegard

Wildehilde Tip

My favourite town has a truly fabulous history! A town chronicle, a shortened multi-vision version ‘to go‘ and further exciting topics of the history of Kempten wait for you in the Kempten-Museum – admission is free.