In 2015 the city and the diocese celebrated their 1200th anniversary.
The historic market square at night
According to tradition, the city was named after its notorious founder Hildwin. The city is one of the oldest cities in Northern Germany, became the seat of the Bishopric of Hildesheim in 815 and may have been founded when the bishop moved from Elze to the ford across the River Innerste, which was an important market on the Hellweg trade route. The settlement around the cathedral very quickly developed into a town and was granted market rights by King Otto III in 983. Originally the market was held in a street called Alter Markt (Old Market) which still exists today. The first marketplace was laid out around the church St. Andreas. When the city grew further, a larger market place became necessary. The present market place of Hildesheim was laid out at the beginning of the 13th century when the city had about 5,000 inhabitants.
When Hildesheim obtained city status in 1249, it was one of the biggest cities in Northern Germany. For four centuries the clergy ruled Hildesheim, before a town Hall was built and the citizens gained some influence and independence. Construction of the present Town Hall started in 1268. In 1367 Hildesheim became a member of the Hanseatic League. A war between the citizens and their bishop cost dearly in 1519–23 when they engaged in a feud.
Reformation to 17th Century
Hildesheim became Lutheran in 1542, and only the cathedral and a few other buildings remained in Imperial (Roman Catholic) hands. Several villages around the city remained Roman Catholic as well.
During the Thirty Years' War, Hildesheim was besieged and occupied several times: in 1628 and 1632 by imperial troops; and in 1634 by troops from Brunswick and Lüneburg.
In the beginning of WWII, roundups of the Jewish population began, with hundreds of Hildesheim's Jews being deported to concentration camps. The city was heavily damaged by air raids in 1945, especially on 22 March. Although it had little military significance, two months before the end of the war in Europe the historic city was bombed as part of the Area Bombing Directive in order to undermine the morale of the German people. 28.5% of the houses were completely destroyed and 44.7% damaged. 26.8% of the houses remained undamaged. The centre, which had retained its medieval character until then, was almost levelled. The city as a whole was destroyed by 20 - 30%. As in many cities, priority was given to rapid building of badly needed housing, and concrete structures took the place of the destroyed buildings. Most of the major churches, two of them now UNESCO World Heritage Sites, were rebuilt in the original style soon after the war. During the war, valuable world heritage materials had been hidden in the basement of the city wall.
Late 20th century and present
In 1978, the University of Hildesheim was founded. In the 1980s a reconstruction of the historic centre began. Some of the unattractive concrete buildings around the market place were torn down and replaced by replicas of the original buildings. In the autumn of 2007, a decision was made to reconstruct the Umgestülpter Zuckerhut (Upended Sugarloaf), an iconic half-timbered house famous for its unusual shape. In 2015 the city and the diocese celebrates their 1200 anniversary with the Day of Lower Saxony.
In 1542 most of the inhabitants became Lutherans. Today, 28.5% of the inhabitants identify themselves as Roman Catholics (Hildesheim Diocese) and 38.3% as Protestants (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover). 33.0% of the inhabitants are adherents of other religions or do not have a religion at all. Up until 2015 the Serbian Orthodox Bishop of Germany had his seat in Himmelsthür (a locality of Hildesheim), before the seat moved to Frankfurt and, in 2018, to Düsseldorf.
Alte Kemenate, a medieval store house (15th century)
St. Magdalena's Church
Half-timbered house (1981) built on the medieval city wall in Mühlenstraße
The Marktplatz (historic market place) was reconstructed in 1984–1990 after its destruction in the March 1945 air raid. The more noteworthy buildings in the square are:
The Knochenhaueramtshaus (Butchers' Guild Hall), originally built in 1529 and destroyed in 1945, it was reconstructed from 1987 to 1989 according to original plans. The façade is sumptuously decorated with colourful paintings and German proverbs. Today the building houses a restaurant and the City Museum.
The Bäckeramtshaus (Bakers' Guild Hall) is a half-timbered house which was originally built in 1825. It was destroyed in 1945 and rebuilt 1987-89. Today, it houses a café.
The Town Hall, erected in the 13th century in Gothic style. Partly destroyed in 1945, it was rebuilt and inaugurated in 1954.
The Tempelhaus, a late-Gothic 14th-century patrician house, which today houses the tourist information office. It suffered some damage during the Second World War but was restored and inaugurated in 1950.
The Wedekindhaus, a 16th-century patrician house, is characterised by its high, ornately carved storeys including their ledges with depictions of allegorical figures.
The adjoining Lüntzelhaus was built in 1755 in Baroque style.
The Rolandhaus was originally built in the 14th century in Gothic style. In 1730, the house was remodelled, and a Baroque portal and a large bay window were added.
The Stadtschänke (Town Tavern) is a large half-timbered house which was originally built in 1666. The smaller adjoining Rococcohaus was built in 1730 in rococo style.
The Wollenwebergildehaus (Weavers' Guild Hall) was approximately built in 1600.
The RomanesqueSt. Mary's Cathedral (Hildesheim Cathedral), with its ancient bronze doors (Bernward Doors) (c. 1015) and other treasures. The cathedral was built in the 9th century, but almost completely destroyed in 1945; it was reconstructed soon after the war. It has been listed as a UNESCOWorld Heritage Site since 1985. The "Thousand-year Rose" is a reputedly 1,000‑year‑old dog rose bush, allegedly the world's oldest living rose. It continues to flourish on the wall of the cathedral apse.
The Kreuzkirche (Church of the Holy Cross) was originally a part of the medieval fortifications. It was converted into a church around 1079, severely damaged in 1945 and rebuilt after the war.
The Romanesque Basilica Minor of St. Godehard (St. Gotthard's Church), built 1133–1172, which is scheduled to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the near future. Other notable buildings stand opposite the church: St. Nicolai's Chapel is a former parish church which was built in the Romanesque style in the 12th century and transformed into a residential building after 1803, and the Hospital of the Five Wounds which is a large half-timbered house dating from 1770 with a half-hip roof.
The church St. Lamberti is a late Gothic building, venue of a weekly concert series at market time.
The Kehrwiederturm (Kehrwieder Tower), built around 1300, is the only remaining tower of the medieval fortifications.
Half-timbered houses which were not destroyed during World War II can be seen around St. Godehard and the Kehrwieder Tower, in the streets Keßlerstraße, Knollenstraße, Gelber Stern, Am Kehrwieder, Lappenberg, Brühl, Hinterer Brühl, and Godehardsplatz. Some of them have ornate wood carvings in their façades, e.g. the Wernersches Haus (1606) in Godehardsplatz and the Waffenschmiedehaus (weapon smith house, 1548) at Gelber Stern.
The church St. Jacobi (St. James' Church) is a 500-year-old pilgrim church in the Gothic style and was one of the many St. James chapels on St. James's Path. Today the church is a culture church with emphasis on literature.
The Monument of the Synagogue (consecrated in 1849 and destroyed in 1938 during the Kristallnacht) was erected in 1988 in the old Jewish quarter on Lappenberg Street. The foundations were reconstructed to give observers an idea of how large the synagogue was. The reddish brick building (built around 1840) opposite was the Jewish school.
Mauritiuskirche (St. Maurice's Church), a Romanesque church (11th century) on a hill in the west of the city in the quarter of Moritzberg with a cloister. The interior of the church is Baroque and the tower was added in 1765.
Kaiserhaus (Emperor's House): Renaissance building (1586) in Alter Markt, the oldest street of Hildesheim, rebuilt after the war. The façade is decorated with Roman statues and medallions. Opposite, there is a noteworthy sandstone bay window dating from 1568. Originally, it belonged to a private house which was torn down at the end of the 19th century. The bay window was dismantled before and added to another house in the eastern part of Hildesheim which remained undamaged during World War II. From there, the bay window was removed when the house was remodelled and added to the school at the present site in 1972.
Close to the Kaiserhaus (Emperor's house) the Alte Kemenate, a noteworthy medieval store house reaching a height of 5.5 meters, can be seen behind the school in the street Alter Markt. It has a rectangular basis measuring 6.5 meters × 5.0 meters and a cellar with a vaulted construction. The store house, one of the oldest profane buildings in Hildesheim, was built of sandstone in a Gothic style the 15th century. According to other sources it might be even older, i.e. built between the end of the 11th and the middle of the 13th century. The building has two floors. As it did not consist of wood it did not burn down in 1945, but was only damaged and immediately repaired after the war. From 1945 - 1951 it was used for residential purposes. The Alte Kemenate is not open to the public.
St Magdalena's Church (Magdalenenkirche) is a small church with large lancet windows in the historic street Old Market (Alter Markt) which was consecrated in 1224. It was originally built in a Romanesque style, but enlarged and remodelled in Gothic style in 1456. It houses a wooden altar (about 1520) with carvings and other works of art. The small street Süsternstraße features a well-preserved part of the medieval city wall with a round tower. Opposite the church, a tall half-timbered house which was rebuilt in 1981 on the medieval city wall can be seen in the small side street Mühlenstraße. The façade is decorated with wood carvings.
Magdalenengarten, a Baroque park which was laid out in 1720–1725, is near St. Magdalena's Church. There are many different kinds of rose bush, a rose museum, pavilions, Baroque statues, a well-preserved part of the medieval city wall in it and even a vineyard yielding 100–200 bottles of wine per year. In spring a rare species of wild yellow tulip (tulipa sylvestris) blossoms in the western part of the park.
St. Bernward's Church, a neo-Romanesque church built 1905–1907, destroyed in 1945 and rebuilt from 1948 to 1949, houses a Gothic wooden altar retable dating from the beginning of the 15th century.
A part of the medieval defence system consisting of a wall with moats and ramparts, built around the city in the 13th century, is well preserved. Kalenberger Graben, an artificial lake, is a part of it. It is surrounded by a park. In April a rare species of wild yellow tulip (tulipa sylvestris) blossoms in the park.
Steuerwald Castle (Burg Steuerwald) in the north of the city, about 3 km (2 mi) from the Market Place, was built 1310–13. Its tower (25 m) was added in 1325. The chapel, dedicated to St Magdalena, was originally built in the Romanesque style and transformed into a Gothic chapel in 1507. Today it is used for weddings and concerts.
Marienburg Castle (Burg Marienburg) is in the southeast of Hildesheim, about 6 km (4 mi) from the Market Place. It was built 1346–1349.
Sorsum is a former village in the West of Hildesheim which became a part of the city in 1974. There is a former domain, founded in the Middle Ages, which was transformed into a residential area after 2000. The pigeon tower, built in 1733, the large barn (1786) and the manor house dating from 1734 are the most notable sights in this rural part of Hildesheim.
Marienrode Priory (Kloster Marienrode) is in the southwest of Hildesheim, about 6 km (4 mi) from the Market Place. It was founded in 1125. The foundation stone of the present church was laid in 1412. The church was built in Gothic style with three naves and completed in 1462. The Baroque ridge turret was added in the 18th century. In the church, there are two noteworthy Baroque altars dating from 1750 approximately and a Gothic sandstone sculpture of Saint Mary which was made in 1460. The organ dates from the middle of the 18th century. A small chapel of the priory, Saint Cosmas and Damian, which was built in 1792, was converted into a small Protestant church in 1830. The priory was dissolved in 1806, but returned to the Catholic Church in 1986. Since 1988, it has again been operated by nuns. Near the monastery there is a large fishpond with a tall windmill built in 1839.
Other places of interest include the theatre, offering opera, operetta and musicals, drama, ballet and concerts.
^Möglich wäre die Benennung nach Abt Hilduin von Saint-Denis: In seinem Kommentar zur „Fundatio“ und in Ergänzung einer schon früher geäußerten Annahme hat sich Berges auch um den Nachweis bemüht, den Namen Hildesheim, der zweifellos auf die Form ‚Hilduinesheim‘ zurückgeht, auf den bekannten Abt Hilduin von St. Denis, den Berater und (seit 818) Erzkanzler Ludwigs des Frommen, zurückzuführen. In der Tat ist wohl der mit dem Stammwort -heim verbundene Personenname fränkisch, und W. Berges hat darüber hinaus eine Reihe von Beispielen fränkischer Ortsbenennungen nach noch lebenden Personen beibringen können. So hat sein Vorschlag einige Wahrscheinlichkeit für sich, zumal darüber hinaus die Möglichkeit bestände, dass auch die in der erwähnten Fraternitätsliste des Hildesheimer Domkapitelsgedenkbuchs (…) unmittelbar auf die mater Reims folgende Verbrüderung mit einer (ecclesia) Parisiensis in Francia auf die Verbindung mit Hilduin zurückgehen könnte. Und daß Hilduin und Gunthar möglicherweise miteinander verwandt waren, wird nicht völlig ausgeschlossen werden können. Hans Goetting: Germania Sacra, Neue Folge 20, Berlin 1984, S. 40. Berges gibt auch die Möglichkeit zu bedenken, dass der in der Gründungslegende erwähnte capellarius Ludwigs des Frommen dieser Hilduin gewesen sein könne (ebd., Anm. 22).