Rüdesheim is a winemaking town in the Rhine Gorge and thereby part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. It lies in the Rheingau-Taunus-Kreis district in the Regierungsbezirk of Darmstadt in Hesse, Germany. It is officially known as Rüdesheim am Rhein, which distinguishes it from Rüdesheim an der Nahe.
It lies at the foot of the Niederwald on the Rhine’s right (east) bank on the southern approach to the Lorelei. The town belongs to the Frankfurt Rhine Main Region and is one of Germany’s biggest tourist attractions. Only Cologne Cathedral draws more tourists from other countries. Making the town worth visiting is, not only the wine or even the Old Town itself, but also the picturesque Rheingau landscape together with the romantic Rhine.
Rüdesheim borders in the east on the town of Geisenheim, in the south on the town of Bingen, in the west on the communities of Weiler and Trechtingshausen (all three in Mainz-Bingen district in Rhineland-Palatinate) over on the other side of the Rhine, and in the west and north on the town of Lorch.
In 1939, under the secrecy that held sway at the time, the formerly self-governing community of Eibingen was forcibly amalgamated with the town by the National Socialists, against the community inhabitants’ will. In 1977, within the framework of municipal reform, Assmannshausen, Aulhausen and Presberg also became new Ortsteile of Rüdesheim.
Rüdesheim – extract from the Topographia Hassiae by Matthäus Merian the Younger, 1655
The area was settled first by the Celts, then after the turn of the Christian Era by Ubii and later by Mattiaci. In the first century, the Romans pushed forth to the Taunus. In Bingen they built a castrum, and on the other side, near what is now Rüdesheim, lay a bridgehead on the way to the Limes.
The Romans were followed by the Alamanni, and along with the Migration Period (Völkerwanderung) came the Franks. Archaeological finds of glass from this time suggest that there was already winegrowing in Rüdesheim even then. The town’s origin as a Frankish Haufendorf (roughly, “clump village”) can still be seen on today’s town maps.
Rüdesheim had its first documentary mention in 1074. Its livelihood came mainly from winegrowing and shipping, particularly timber rafting.
After Prussia annexed the Duchy of Nassau in 1867 and divided the area into districts (Kreise), Rüdesheim became a district seat in the newly founded Rheingaukreis. This status it held for 110 years until 1977, when in the course of municipal reform in Hesse the districts of the Rheingaukreis and the Untertaunuskreis were merged into the new Rheingau-Taunus-Kreis, and Rüdesheim had to yield the district seat to Bad Schwalbach. However, owing to its widespread recognizability, the old car licence designation RÜD came through the shift in district alignment unchanged, despite all the existing rules that would have seen SWA become the new district’s designation.
In 1877, the first foundation stone for the Niederwalddenkmal, which would be finished in 1883, was laid. This patriotic monument drew a great many tourists, who at that time reached the site high above the town on a cog railway, although today it is a gondola lift that brings visitors up to the monument. Tourism is more and more displacing shipping as a source of income.
In 1970, a single was released under the title Rüdesheim liegt nicht an der Themse (“Rüdesheim Does Not Lie on the Thames”). The artist was British hit singer David Garrick, who had a great hit with this song.