First English edition of the Nuremberg chronicle: being the Liber chronicarum of Dr. Hartmann Schedel…
FOLIO XCIX verso and C recto

We have before us one of the most important woodcuts in the entire Chronicle. It covers two full pages, verso and recto. And here, of course, we have a right to expect the designer to be perfectly at ease in his own hometown. In the lower right hand corner, on the banks of the river Pegnitz, is Ulman Stromer’s paper mill. Stromer was Germany’s first paper-maker, and it is at this mill that the paper for the Chronicle was made. As we proceed to the left we meet a pedestrian, staff in hand, and burdened with a large basket that is strapped to his back, such as was used in those days and for centuries later in the delivery of wares or merchandise. He is approaching three wayside crosses—the central one representing the cross upon which Jesus was crucified, as is indicated by the symbolical spear and sponge. The circle in the center of the cross no doubt represents the crown of thorns, and above it is the board upon which the inscription was placed. On either side is a T-shaped cross upon which Jesus’ two fellow crucified victims suffered, and hanging from each of these is a cudgel representing the instrument with which their bones were broken. Beyond this is a wayside shrine—a stone monument inscribed with a suggestion of the crucifixion. Further on we meet a man in armor whose steed prances along in the direction of the city gate, probably bound for the Castle. As we anticipate his course, we come upon a bent old lady, hobbling along by the aid of a walking stick, under her heavily loaded basket. As we approach the city gate, we note the coat of arms of the city of Nuremberg above it. This portal is reached by means of the rather flimsy wooden bridge over the moat that surrounds the walled city. Looking closely, we note that there are two walls, both bristling with towers, bastions and other defenses. We may not be able to count 365 towers with which the Chronicle credits the city, but the woodcutter has given us the idea that there must have been a great number of these, many square, some round.

To the right the river Pegnitz enters through another gate, which is protected by a portcullis. As we gaze upon the city we see that it is built upon a slope, in fact a series of slopes, in the midst of a sandy plain, which is some 900 feet above the sea. The moat that we must cross was originally 100 feet wide and 50 feet deep. As we pass through the gate we come upon numerous steeply gabled buildings, most of which are covered with red tile. We enter a labyrinth of crooked narrow streets, and feel an ambition to climb the hill that culminates in a varied group of buildings on the Castle rock. We regret that we are not able to identify the Albrecht Dürer house, nor the Koberger establishment in which the Chronicle itself was printed. But we are certain of the old Castle on the summit of the hill, with its formidable outbuildings and towers. To the left, silhouetted against the horizon, are the twin spires of the churches of St. Lorenz and St. Sebald, of which something is said in the succeeding text and the accompanying notes.

At the inception of their career as city builders the Germans settled about isolated strongholds, or fastnesses. Until the Carolingian period agriculture and the chase sustained them and sat (in office)isfied their needs. They had little or no trade, nor were they much interested in commerce. Even much later than the Roman incursions they were rather averse to living in walled-up towns. Although they had before them the Roman colonies and their foundations, such as Cologne (Colonia), Mainz (Maguncia), Metz (Metis), Augsburg (Augusta), and Regensburg (Ratisbona), only few of the inhabitants in earlier times decided to stay or live there. They called the inhabitants of these towns burghers, and the place a burg: And the former is even today the German word for ‘citizen’; while the word burg has attached itself to the names of many places, such as Hamburg, Regensburg, Salzburg, etc. The word stadt (city) would appear to have been used for the first time in the Niebelungen, Germany’s great national epic.

The 500-year period from the 10th to the 14th century was one of great civic activity for German-speaking lands. No less than 2000 cities sprang up within that time. Many castles had been built by the nobility, and in the wake of Christianity came bishoprics, monasteries, churches and shrines, all of which attracted multitudes and stimulated the creation and growth of communities about them.

The development of the medieval city was not according to any fixed plan. Although in the 18th century and later it was considered preferable to locate towns in level country, the medieval builder preferred a rugged and picturesque topography, showing a decided preference for elevated ground. No doubt greater security was also a factor in this choice. The old city of Nuremberg slopes up to considerable heights on either side of the river.

These cities were often massively circumscribed with their walls and fortifications. The residences and places of business are closely crowded together about the public buildings and churches—a point emphasized by our woodcut.