The date and the history of the foundation of the town of Bayreuth are unknown. The city was founded by the Counts of Andechs, and the city centre still has the typical structure of a Bavarian street market: the settlement was grouped around a through road, widening into a square, in the middle of which the Town Hall was located. The church stood apart from it, and on a small hill stood the castle. The most ancient preserved document mentioning Bayreuth, represented by the spiritual and secular governors of the period, is dated 1194. In 1260 the country at the Upper Main (with Bayreuth, Kulmbach and Hof) was inherited by the Counts of the castle of Nuremberg. From that time it belonged to the dynasty of the Margraves of Brandenburg-Culmbach, which was to determine the history of the town and the region for over half a century.
Until 1603 the Plassenburg in Kulmbach was the royal seat and the centre of the region. Bayreuth was developing very slowly and was regularly damaged by wars and epidemics. In 1430 the followers of the reformer Huss destroyed the town. In 1602 it was afflicted by the pest, in 1605 and 1621 it suffered badly from fires in the city.
The turning point in the history of the town was the beginning of the reign of the Margrave Christian in 1603. He moved his royal seat from Kulmbach to Bayreuth. With its new function as a royal
seat, the structure of the population and the townscape changed. The city of craftsmen became a city of officials of the Court. The young Margrave Christian was very ambitious at the beginning of
his reign. In spite of his diplomatic efforts he got involved in the Thirty Years` War, so that the improvement of the town came to a standstill. The countryside and the town of Bayreuth were
strucked by devastation and pillaging, and hostages were taken by imperial troops.
Christian died in 1655 after a reign of 52 years. His grandson Christian Ernst ruled from 1661 until 1712. Life was slowly returning to normal after the long war. The fountain of the Margraves and an equestrian monument, placed at first in the courtyard of the Old Castle and now in the middle of the square in front of the New Castle, still remind us of Christian Ernst who participated in the liberation of Vienna from the Turks.
From 1701 on, the town of St. Georgen was founded, the favourite project of the prince and the later Margrave Georg Wilhelm. The feudal St. Georgen consisted of a few castle buildings and an old people’s home; the "Gravenreuther Stift". The church of the order remains up until today the most beautiful testimony to the art of the Court of Bayreuth around 1700. Until 1811 St. Georgen was an autonomous town, independent from Bayreuth.
Bayreuth flourished under the reign of the couple of Margraves Frederic and Wilhelmina, the favourite art-loving
sister of Frederic the Great. Between 1735 and 1763 the representative buildings and parks that are still significant for the town were built in quick succession: the Margravial Opera House, the
most beautiful baroque theatre still existing in Europe, the Hermitage, The New Castle, Friedrichstraße and the Court Garden (Hofgarten). Wilhelmina kept an Opera ensemble, a ballet and an
The Margrave Frederic was a cultivated and educated prince of the Enlightenment. In 1742 he founded a University in Bayreuth, which is now the University of Erlangen, as well as an academy of the fine arts. The art at the Court of Bayreuth was inspired by French ideals, and favoured artists from France and Italy. Bayreuth ceased to be a royal seat in 1769, when the Margrave of Ansbach inherited the principality. In 1792 Bayreuth became Prussian, with the employment of exceptional people such as mining director Alexander von Humboldt and Karl August von Hardenberg as provincial governor. From 1806 on, the town suffered under the occupation of Napoleonic forces, which repeatedly extorted war contributions.
The transition into the newly formed kingdom of Bavaria returned some administrative order to the town. In 1818 the Bavarian community law was introduced, whereby the town had a full-time mayor. To replace its lost function as a royal seat, Bayreuth became the seat of the government of the Upper Main region, which later became the Upper Franconian government. Industry established itself only hesitantly. It was mainly the spinning mills and breweries, which established bigger factories. The Bavarian armed forces were represented by the 6th Chevau-légers regiment and the 7th Infantry regiment in Bayreuth.
The peaceful life of the small Franconian town ended in 1876, when the Richard Wagner Festival began. In 1873 Wagner had already moved into his villa, which he called "Wahnfried". The town
councillors rightly expected the Festival to stimulate and develop the town. After the death of Wagner, the Festival continued under the direction of his widow, Cosima. High-ranking musicians and
writers, but also more and more prominent people from business and politics among the visitors, were the reason that the Richard Wagner Festival was firmly established in the cultural and social calendar of Europe from 1888 onwards.
In 1945 Bayreuth had to pay for the special role the town and Wagner held in the ideology of Adolf Hitler. The town had celebrated its position as "the power centre of National Socialism" and had acclaimed Hitler and his entourage as regular visitors to the Festival. During the final weeks of the war, the town was heavily bombed. One third of the town was destroyed and about a thousand people lost their lives.
The town grew considerably after the war with the building of many new districts. The old town of authorities and administration has developed into an attractive business location and a modern service centre with impressive medical and sports facilities. The Festival was reintroduced in 1951. The most important event since the war was certainly the foundation of the 7th Bavarian University, at which lectures began in 1975 and where more than 12.000 students learn nowadays.
Bayreuth is today the biggest town of Upper Franconia with about 73,000 inhabitants.