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It must have been around the year 800 when men started to settle down in the area of the Jeetzefurt. (Fort at the Jeetze) Most probably the fortress was erected as a protection for the strategic important Jeetzefurt located at the trade route between Magdeburg and the saline town Lueneburg. The name of the town might be a hint, as the part "wedel" is said to be related to "waten". There are suppositions that this was the trading base "Schezla" which might have been located between Bardowiek and Magdeburg mentioned in the Carolingian time.
There is a proof for the name "Salzwedel" dated 1112 on the occasion of a besieging of the fortress by Kaiser Heinrich V.
Nearby the fortress a settlement developed which was mentioned in 1233 for the first time as a "civitas" i.e. a town in the legal status. Already in 1247 a new part of the town was developed as a result of a methodical planning of a new founding in the north east of the old part of the town.
For centuries both cities existed side by side in an eager changing relation as independent communities with their own administration. Several conciliatory proposals lead to no result until the sovereign interfered in 1713 and the old and the new part of the town were united.
The wealth of the Hanse- and double town in the Middle Ages are still to be detected at the residual town fortification. Especially the two churches of the old town (St.Marien) and the new town St.Katharinen) as well as the concert- and exhibition hall of the Mönchskirche - a former church of the Franciscan monastery - and the town council building of Altstadt - erected in the style of the north German brick gothic - are impressing examples building monuments. Many other buildings like the church St.Nikolei, the nunnery "Annenkloster", most of the charitable foundation the "Augustiner Chorherren Stift" the St. Spiritus, nearly all town gates, the fortifications of both towns, the hospitals, the tower of the Lorenz-Church and the town council building of Neustadt fell into decay in the course of time.
In both cities of Salzwedel in the 16th century there lived about 9000 inhabitants making use of 10 churches i.e. chapels surrounded by town walls equipped with more than 10 gates.
In the Thirty years' War 1618-1648 Salzwedel was not threatened by besieging, pillage and plunder, but the town suffered from billet, marching through and demands of the different armies. This lead to enormous financial and economical loss and it took a long time for the cities to recover from all that.
The unification of both cities in 1713 probably was the first attempt to improve the economical situation of the administration gaining more effectiveness.
The 18th century meant a period of growing together for Salzwedel. For example there were the unification of the Latin Schools of the old and the new part of the city becoming a local grammar school as well as a unification of two riflemen's guilds took place.
In the 19th century there were greater economical changes. The handicrafts had been organized in guilds and had been seriously damaged by the freedom of trade proclaimed in the kingdom of Westphalia, thus anyone who applied for an official allowance was allowed to produce and sell whatever he wanted to. The decline of the formerly very important fabric production in Salzwedel in the Middle Ages and the early Modern Times was mainly caused by the lack of intensity regarding the transition to the industrial ways of production.
Around the end of the 19thcentury industrialisation finally reached Salzwedel, too and a manifold industry was developed.
Parallel to the economical infrastructure improved. 1870 the first railway line (Salzwedel-Stendal) was put into operation , 1876 Salzwedel started to make use of electricity, 1893 the local gas-works were opened and in 1909 a central supply of water and drainage was realized by having finished canalisation.
Serious damages in the area of the station and more than 300 dead persons were caused by the bombing in February 1945. Salzwedel did not have to complain about any further direct damages caused by World War II.
There had been changes after the war mainly caused by resettlers and the development of two independent German states. Until the Wall fell in 1989/90 Salzwedel had been located in the border area, cut off from the former Nether-Saxon "Hinterland" it had been just of economical interest due to the natural gas production which had started in 1968.
Since the opening of the border Salzwedel has been located in the midst again. Being a district town of the "Altmarktkreis Salzwedel" and the middle-centre in the county of Saxony-Anhalt Salzwedel will have to fulfil important supraregional tasks in the future, too.