Sprawling across a sandy plain on the right bank of the Saale River, 37km northwest of Leipzig, HALLE got its name from the pre-Germanic word for salt, the presence of which encouraged settlement and extraction during the Bronze Age. The city continues to be an important industrial and commercial centre, and forms a large part of a regional concentration of industrial plants and cities called the Chemiedreieck (Chemical Triangle), even if its industrial heyday is long gone and its population – some 235,000 – is waning by around two thousand each year. Nevertheless, Halle remains the state's largest city in its most urbanized region.
The Altstadt centres around the Marktplatz, where sights include the city's main church and the Händel-Haus the mansion where the composer was born. The Moritzburg to the northwest now houses an important art collection, while a few attractions outside the Altstadt together provide a picture of Halle's historical context, including the Technisches Halloren- und Salinenmuseum which explores the town's origins and its salt industry, and the Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte, museum of prehistory.
Halle's Martin Luther University, founded in 1694 and long a principal seat of Protestant learning, particularly flourished during the German Enlightenment when Christian Wolff and Christian Thomasius both resided here. Today, the university continues to add a youthful energy to a town that's thin on sights but is an important national rail junction, and well connected to other regional towns – particularly Eisleben and Naumburg. Otherwise the best reason to visit is the Händel Festival in the second week of June, which devotes itself to the work of George Frideric Handel, the town's most famous son.