Hesse (hĕs, hēs´ē, hĕs´ə), Ger. Hessen, state (1994 pop. 5,800,000), 8,150 sq mi (24,604 sq km), central Germany. Wiesbaden is the capital. It is bounded by Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria in the south, Rhineland-Palatinate in the west, North Rhine–Westphalia and Lower Saxony in the north, and Thuringia in the east. It was formed in 1945 through the consolidation of Hesse-Nassau, a former Prussian province, and most of Hesse-Darmstadt, a former grand duchy.
Land and Economy
Nearly all of Hesse is a hilly, agricultural land, heavily forested in parts. It has the Odenwald hills and the Taunus range and is drained by the Rhine, Main, Lahn, Eder, and Fulda rivers. Grain, potatoes, and fruit are grown, and cattle are raised there. Along the beautiful Rhine valley some of the finest German wines are produced. Industry is centered in the Frankfurt area and at Kassel, Wiesbaden, and Darmstadt. The chief manufactures include textiles, chemicals, machinery, and metal goods, as well as electrical products and scientific instruments. In recent years eastern European immigrants have sparked a number of small industries, including glass, toy, and musical-instrument manufactures. Wiesbaden, Bad Homburg, and Bad Nauheim are among numerous health resorts of Hesse. Frankfurt, Marburg, Giessen, and Darmstadt have noted universities.
Hesse has no unified history. Enfeoffed first to the dukes of Franconia, later to the counts of Thuringia, Hesse emerged in 1247 as a landgraviate immediately subject to the emperor under a branch of the house of Brabant. Landgrave Philip the Magnanimous (see Philip of Hesse), a leading figure in the German Reformation, was responsible for reuniting a territory that had been torn by border disputes with neighboring areas. At his death (1567) Philip's lands were divided among his four sons, with Kassel, Marburg, Rheinfels, and Darmstadt their respective capitals. Upon the demise shortly afterward of the Rheinfels (1583) and Marburg (1648) lines, the whole territory was held by the two remaining lines—Hesse-Kassel and Hesse-Darmstadt. The Congress of Vienna (1814–15) awarded Hesse-Kassel and Hesse-Darmstadt substantial territorial gains. Electoral Hesse, the free city of Frankfurt, and Nassau, having all three sided with Austria in the Austro-Prussian War (1866), were annexed by Prussia and were merged (1868) in the province of Hesse-Nassau, of which Kassel became the capital. The former state of Waldeck was incorporated into Hesse-Nassau in 1929. The grand duchy of Hesse-Darmstadt also had sided against Prussia. It ceded Hesse-Homburg (which it had just acquired through the extinction of that line). In 1871, Hesse-Darmstadt joined the newly founded German Empire, and it continued under its own dynasty until the German revolution of 1918. The Battenberg (Mountbatten) family is a morganatic branch of the house of Hesse. In World War II nearly all the major cities of Hesse suffered severe damage.