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It rose on rocky terrain in a marsh between the River Alster and the River Elbe as a defence against Slavic incursion, and acquired the name Hammaburg, burg meaning castle or fort. The origin of the Hamma term remains uncertain,  as does the exact location of the castle. The first bishop, Ansgar , became known as the Apostle of the North. In 845, 600 Viking ships sailed up the River Elbe and destroyed Hamburg, at that time a town of around 500 inhabitants.
Valdemar II of Denmark raided and occupied Hamburg in 1201 and in 1214. In 1265, an allegedly forged letter was presented to or by the Rath of Hamburg.
This was the first time in history that the word hanse was used for the trading guild of the Hanseatic League. This is considered the first constitution of Hamburg. Modern times[ edit ] When Jan van Valckenborgh introduced a second layer to the fortifications to protect against the Thirty Years War in the seventeenth century, he extended Hamburg and created a "New Town" Neustadt whose street names still date from the grid system of roads he introduced.
Russian forces under General Bennigsen finally freed the city in 1814. Hamburg re-assumed its pre-1811 status as a city-state in 1814. In 1842, about a quarter of the inner city was destroyed in the " Great Fire ". The fire started on the night of 4 May and was not extinguished until 8 May. It destroyed three churches, the town hall, and many other buildings, killing 51 people and leaving an estimated 20,000 homeless.
Reconstruction took more than 40 years. After periodic political unrest, particularly in 1848 , Hamburg adopted in 1860 a democratic constitution that provided for the election of the Senate, the governing body of the city-state, by adult taxpaying males. Other innovations included the separation of powers, the separation of Church and State, freedom of the press, of assembly and association.
Hamburg became a member of the North German Confederation 1866—1871 and of the German Empire 1871—1918 , and maintained its self-ruling status during the Weimar Republic 1919—1933. Hamburg acceded to the German Customs Union or Zollverein in 1888, the last along with Bremen of the German states to join. Hamburg was the departure port for many Germans and Eastern Europeans to emigrate to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Trading communities from all over the world established themselves there. A major outbreak of cholera in 1892 was badly handled by the city government, which retained an unusual degree of independence for a German city. About 8,600 died in the largest German epidemic of the late 19th century, and the last major cholera epidemic in a major city of the Western world.
Second World War[ edit ] Hamburg after the 1943 bombing Flakturm on the Heiligengeistfeld in Hamburg — one of four enormous fortress-like bunkers which were built of reinforced concrete between 1942 and 1944 and equipped with anti-aircraft artillery for air defense In the Third Reich 1933—1945 , Hamburg was a Gau from 1934 until 1945.
During the Second World War , Hamburg suffered a series of Allied air raids which devastated much of the city and the harbour. On 23 July 1943, Royal Air Force RAF firebombing created a firestorm which spread from the Hauptbahnhof main railway station and quickly moved south-east, completely destroying entire boroughs such as Hammerbrook , Billbrook and Hamm South.
Thousands of people perished in these densely populated working class boroughs. While some of the boroughs destroyed were rebuilt as residential districts after the war, others such as Hammerbrook were entirely developed into office, retail and limited residential or industrial districts. The raids, codenamed Operation Gomorrah by the RAF , killed at least 42,600 civilians; the precise number is not known.
About one million civilians were evacuated in the aftermath of the raids. Hamburg had the greatest concentration of Jews in Germany. These were all directed to Ghettos in Nazi-occupied Europe or to concentration camps.
Most deported persons perished in the Holocaust. On 10 June 1943 the Reichssicherheitshauptamt dissolved the Reichsvereinigung by a decree. Hamburg surrendered without a fight to British Forces on 3 May 1945. From 1960 to 1962, the Beatles launched their career by playing in various music clubs in the city. On 16 February 1962, a North Sea flood caused the Elbe to rise to an all-time high, inundating one-fifth of Hamburg and killing more than 300 people.