Proud AUGSBURG may only be Bavaria's third-largest city, but it's the state's oldest, tracing its origins to the first century Roman fort of Augusta Vindelicum founded. The largest city of Bavarian Swabia – a western region linguistically, and historically quite distinct from Bavaria proper – it was one of the wealthiest financial centres in Europe during the Middle Ages, helped by its position on the route south to Italy. Augsburg was renowned for its craftsmanship too, above all in metalwork, and the city also produced the father-and-son artists Hans Holbein the Elder and Younger. The city reached a peak of magnificence during the Renaissance, from when much of the city's most impressive architecture dates, notably the splendid Rathaus by Elias Holl.
An imperial free city, Augsburg took centre stage in the major religious controversies of the sixteenth century. The city, though with a Catholic bishopric, nevertheless favoured Luther. In 1530 the Augsburg Confession – one of the founding documents of the Lutheran faith – was formulated here and presented to the Emperor Charles V at an Imperial Diet. At a subsequent Diet, in 1555, the Peace of Augsburg initiated peaceful coexistence between the religions, though Ferdinand II attempted to overturn it with his Edict of Restitution in 1629 in the thick of the Thirty Years' War. This had the effect of reversing the power balance between Catholic and Protestant in Augsburg, and the city remains largely – but not overwhelmingly – Catholic today.
Augsburg became Bavarian in 1806, and in the century that followed grew into an important industrial centre. Firms such as MAN and Messerschmitt ensured the city became a target for Allied air raids during World War II, yet the scars were successfully repaired afterwards, and the glory of Augsburg's illustrious past is evident to this day in its Altstadt, which runs north– south along the axis of Maximilianstrasse– Karolinenstrasse– Hoher Weg– Frauentorstrasse, with a busy east– west traffic route cutting it into unequal halves. The northern Altstadt is smaller and quieter, centred on the Dom; the southern Altstadt, with its magnificent Rathaus and the stately mansions of Maximilianstrasse, is the hub of the city's shopping and nightlife.