The Black Forest (German: Schwarzwald [ˈʃvaʁtsvalt] (About this soundlisten)) is a large forested mountain range in the state of Baden-Württemberg in southwest Germany. It is bounded by the Rhine valley to the west and south. Its highest peak is the Feldberg with an elevation of 1,493 metres (4,898 ft) above sea level. The region is roughly oblong in shape, with a length of 160 kilometres (100 miles) and breadth of up to 50 km (30 mi).
Historically, the area was known for ore deposits, which led to mining featuring heavily in the local economy. In recent years, tourism has become the primary industry, accounting for around 140,000 jobs. The area features a number of ruined military fortifications dating back to the 17th century.
The Black Forest on the Tabula Peutingeriana: a mountain chain with fantastically formed trees as a symbol of an unsettled and virtually inaccessible terrain
An unmarried Black Forest woman wearing a red Bollenhut, 1898
In ancient times, the Black Forest was known as Abnoba mons, after the Celtic deity, Abnoba. In Roman times (Late Antiquity), it was given the name Silva Marciana («Marcynian Forest», from the Germanic word marka = «border»). The Black Forest probably represented the border area of the Marcomanni («border people») who were settled east of the Roman limes. They, in turn, were part of the Germanic tribe of Suebi, who subsequently gave their name to the historic state of Swabia. With the exception of Roman settlements on the perimeter (e.g. the baths in Badenweiler, and mines near Badenweiler and Sulzburg) and the construction of the Roman road of Kinzigtalstraße, the colonization of the Black Forest was not carried out by the Romans, but by the Alemanni. They settled and first colonized the valleys, crossing the old settlement boundary, the so-called «red sandstone border», for example, from the region of Baar. Soon afterwards, increasingly higher areas and adjacent forests were colonized, so that by the end of the 10th century, the first settlements could be found in the red (bunter) sandstone region. These include, for example, Rötenbach, which was first mentioned in 819.
Some of the uprisings (including the Bundschuh movement) that preceded the German Peasants’ War, originated in the 16th century from the Black Forest. Further peasant unrest, in the shape of the saltpetre uprisings, took place over the next two centuries in Hotzenwald.
Remnants of military fortifications dating from the 17th and 18th centuries can be found in the Black Forest, especially on the mountain passes. Examples include the multiple baroque fieldworks of Margrave Louis William of Baden-Baden or individual defensive positions such as Alexander’s Redoubt, the Röschenschanze and the Swedish Redoubt (Schwedenschanze).
Originally, the Black Forest was a mixed forest of deciduous trees and firs – see the history of the forest in Central Europe. At the higher elevations spruce also grew. In the middle of the 19th century, the Black Forest was almost completely deforested by intensive forestry and was subsequently replanted, mostly with spruce monocultures.
In 1990, extensive damage to the forest was caused by Hurricanes Vivian and Wiebke. On 26 December 1999, Hurricane Lothar raged across the Black Forest and caused even greater damage, especially to the spruce monocultures. As had happened following the 1990 storms, large quantities of fallen logs were kept in provisional wet-storage areas for years. The effects of the storm are demonstrated by the Lothar Path, a forest educational and adventure trail at the nature centre in Ruhestein on a highland timber forest of about 10 hectares that was destroyed by a hurricane.
Several areas of storm damage, both large and small, were left to nature and have developed today into a natural mixed forest again.
Woods and pastures of the High Black Forest near Breitnau
The Black Forest stretches from the High Rhine in the south to the Kraichgau in the north. In the west it is bounded by the Upper Rhine Plain (which, from a natural region perspective, also includes the low chain of foothills); in the east it transitions to the Gäu, Baar and hill country west of the Klettgau. The Black Forest is the highest part of the South German Scarplands and much of it is densely wooded, a fragment of the Hercynian Forest of Antiquity. It lies upon rocks of the crystalline basement and Bunter Sandstone, and its natural boundary with the surrounding landscapes is formed by the emergence of muschelkalk, which is absent from the Black Forest bedrock.
The fertility of the soil is dependent on the underlying rock; this line is a vegetation boundary as well as the border between the Altsiedelland («old settlement land») and the Black Forest, which was not permanently settled until the High Middle Ages. From north to south, the Black Forest extends for over 160 km (100 mi), attaining a width of up to 50 km (30 mi) in the south and 30 km (20 mi) in the north. Tectonically, the range forms a lifted fault block, which rises prominently in the west from the Upper Rhine Plain; from the east, it has the appearance of a heavily forested plateau.
Administratively, the Black Forest belongs completely to the state of Baden-Württemberg and comprises the cities of Pforzheim, Baden-Baden and Freiburg as well as the following districts (Kreise). In the north: Enz, Rastatt and Calw; in the middle: Freudenstadt, Ortenaukreis and Rottweil; in the south: Emmendingen, Schwarzwald-Baar, Breisgau-Hochschwarzwald, Lörrach and Waldshut.