The picture of the Upper Rhine as a land flowing with milk and honey, painted in such vivid colours by the Revolutionary of the Upper Rhine around 1500, was the work, not of a realist, but of a landscape impressionist. The rich natural endowment of the Upper Rhine had allowed it to develop throughout the later Middle Ages into one of the most densely urbanized and commercialized areas of Germany, its fortunes underpinned by a flourishing export trade in wine and the exploitation of precious metals, which in turn helped stimulate a lively demand for goods within the region itself. Yet even before the dawn of the seventeenth century and the ravages of the Thirty Years War, the signs of economic sclerosis could not be overlooked. Indeed, the faltering of the regional economy was part of a wider malaise affecting the major trading and manufacturing cities of Upper Germany as a whole, including northern Switzerland.
The regional metropolis of the Upper Rhine, Strasbourg, was severely shaken by the collapse in 1559 of the French financial consortium, the Grand Parti, in which its merchants had invested heavily. In its wake many of Strasbourg's merchant families tumbled into bankruptcy in a domino effect over the next two decades, at a time when the city's wine trade was also being exposed to the winds of competition.1 In the case of Switzerland, the downturn can be measured by the fall in toll receipts from the 1560s in places such as Schaffhausen, Lucerne, or Olten, with textile manufacturing languishing at the same time in major centres such as Zürich and St Gallen, or, as in Fribourg, even earlier.2 On the Upper Rhine, for the regional submetropolis Basel, however, as Knut____________________
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Publication information: Book title: Regional Identity and Economic Change:The Upper Rhine, 1450-1600. Contributors: Tom Scott - Author. Publisher: Oxford University. Place of publication: Oxford. Publication year: 1997. Page number: 287.
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