City history & development

Attendorn owes its origins not only to the arbitrariness of a Cologne archbishop. Rather, the factors that led to the formation of a settlement were so compelling that no sovereign could overlook them. The Attendorn valley is climatically, soil- and traffic-technically favoured over the adjacent areas and has already attracted people in prehistoric times. A stronger settlement has been documented since the early Middle Ages.

The town has evolved from a village-like settlement, situated at the intersection of two historical highways. During the reign of Charlemagne, an early parish was formed. Under the floor of the Gothic nave of St. John's Church are the foundations of a simple missionary church from this period. From here the Christianisation of the surrounding area took place. When Archbishop Anno of Cologne founded the Grafschaft monastery in 1072, he handed over the church and a farm in Attandarra to furnish the monastery. Attendorn later earned a distinguished canonical position as the principal town of a deanery.

Following the development of a market in Attendorn and the construction of fortifications, the town received its charter through the award of the Charter of Soest in 1222 under Engelbert I of Berg. Cologne thus created a position of power in southern Westphalia. The construction of the Schnellenberg castle (around 1200) and the acquisition of the Waldenburg (1248) also served to safeguard Cologne interests.

Rise and heyday Attendorn greatly owes its heyday in the 13th/14th centuries to the nine guilds, particularly the wool and linen weavers. The town’s political and religious position in its role as a border fortress against the neighbouring County of Mark and as the seat of one of the largest deaneries in the old Archdiocese of Cologne formed the basis for wealth and prosperity. In 1255 Attendorn became the only town in the Sauerland to join the League of Rhine Cities in conjunction with 60 major towns in the empire.

As a member of the German Hanseatic League the town became well-known, especially in the cloth trade. Attendorn merchants were regularly documented in the Baltic region and in the London steelyard the Attendorn merchants even had their own permanent representative. The connections to Lübeck were particularly intensive, where merchants from the Sauerland Hanseatic town settled and attained recognition and prosperity.

Attendorn was a mediate member of the German Hanseatic League and was represented at the large Hanseatic Days by the town of Soest. Attendorn itself represented the towns of Olpe, Drolshagen and Menden. Attendorn presumably remained a member of the Hanseatic League up to its dissolution, as documented by its regular participation in the Soest Hanseatic Conventions.

Attendorn was an archiepiscopal mint as early as around 1200. The coinages in the 13th and 14th centuries are particularly noteworthy. Medieval coins from Attendorn are documented from Brussels to Lubnice in Poland and the island of Gotland.

Prosperity led to significant foundations in the late Middle Ages. From the early 14th century until recently, there was a hospital with church and cemetery as a charitable institution outside the town walls. In 1391, the Archbishop of Cologne Friedrich III consecrated the cross chapel on the north side of the tower of the St. John’s Church, the construction of which was made possible by the von der Becke family. In 1420 Heinrich Weke founded the Ewig monastery, to which he attached a hospital for the poor in 1429. The numerous benefices which previously existed at the churches were established thanks to private initiatives. For a time, the city was so rich that it was able to even grant loans to the Archbishop of Cologne. It also supported the bishop during his dispute with Soest. In the so-called Soest Feud, Attendorners assisted in 1444/45 during the conquest of the castle and the estate of Bilstein.

Although prosperity declined at the end of the 15th century, the sciences flourished at the local high school which was founded in 1515 by the humanists Mulläus, Rivius and Daberkusius.


Four times, in 1464, 1597, 1598 and 1613, the plague beset the town. Almost simultaneously with the last plague, a great fire broke out, which recurred in 1623 In 1656 half of the town burned down. Further fires in 1710, 1737 and 1742 also ravaged large parts of the town. The last major fire (1783) destroyed 246 houses, the parish church with its tower and choir, the town hall, the monastery church and the Franciscan monastery.

Attendorn also suffered from wars, sackings and occupations, such as the Limburg War of Succession (1280), the Soest Feud (1444-1449), the Truchsess War (1583/84) and the Thirty Year’s War (1618-1648). At the time of Napoleon, the town reached its deepest economic depression, from which it did not recover until the middle of the 19th century. In the last world war, Attendorn suffered heavy destruction under bombing on 28 March 1945 and from an ammunition explosion on 15 June of the same year.

After 1945

A striking event in the course of recent history of the town is the merger of the municipalities Attendorn-Land and Helden (with the exception of the Heggen and Oberveischede areas) with the old town of Attendorn to form the new town of the same name, which took place on 1 July 1969 as a result of the law of reorganisation of the Olpe district.

In 1939 the area of today’s town of Attendorn had 12,100 inhabitants, but by 1950 it had grown to about 15,600 inhabitants, by 1961 to about 18,800 and by 1970 to about 23,000. The population has been maintained in the following years. Attendorn (inner city and villages) today has a population of around 25,000. In the course of the municipal reorganisation, the urban area increased eightfold to around 97 square kilometres.

The urban area comprises the Repetal valley, which is important for tourism, with Helden as the main location, and the Ihnetal valley with the main location Neu-Listernohl. Neu-Listernohl was completely rebuilt in the course of the construction of the Bigge reservoir to replace the lost Listernohl.


For the upcoming 800th anniversary of the city in 2022, the old, yet youthful Hanseatic city of Attendorn is spruced up with numerous construction measures in the inner city.

An overview of the measures is available on the homepage