Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz in German) is is reputed for its rugged landscapes, as well as its wines from the valleys of the Moselle and Rhine. Indeed, this state produces 2/3 of all German wines, and is the only state to have a wine minister.
Rhineland-Palatinate has a land area of 19,847 km², slightly smaller than Slovenia or Israel. It has a population of 4,053,000 inhabitants, and is divided into 3 administrative regions (Regierungsbezirke), divided into 24 districts (Kreise) and 12 urban districts (kreisfreie Städte). The 24 districts are further divided in 163 Verbandsgemeinden (administrative units unique to the Rhineland-Palatinate), themselves subdivided in nearly 2200 Ortsgemeinden.
In 2002, the Rhine Gorge (the 65km section of the river between Koblenz and Bingen) was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site for for its unique combination of geological, historical and cultural elements.
Famous people from Rhineland-Palatinate include (chronologically): the printing pioneer Johannes Gutenberg, the statesman and diplomat Prince Klemens von Metternich, the Nobel Prize physicist Max von Laue, the Nobel Prize chemist Hermann Staudinger, and the physicist Hans Geiger.
Settled by Celtic and Germanic tribes in ancient times, the region was conquered by the Romans and remained part of the empire for four centuries.
In 413, the city of Worms became the capital of a short-lived Burgundian kingdom, immortalised in the Medieval epic poem Niebelungenlied ("Song of the Nibelungs"), on which Richard Wagner based his longest and most famous opera, Der Ring des Nibelungen.
By the end of the 5th century, the Rhineland-Palatinate was annexed to the Frankish kingdom by Clovis (466-511). The name "Palatinate" comes from "palace" and is a reference to the Aachen residence of the other great Frankish monarch, Charlemagne (742-814).
From the late Middles Ages until the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, what is now Rhineland-Palatinate belonged to the a multitude of small states, including the County of Sayn (many historical subdivisions), the County of Sponheim, the County of Salm (numerous subdivisions), the Electoral Palatinate (many subdivisions), the Duchy of Palatinate-Zweibrücken, the Duchy of Nassau, the Duchy of Luxembourg, the Bishopric of Worms, the Bishopric of Speyer, the Bishopric of Mainz and the Prince-Archbishopric of Trier.
Three of the seven Prince-Electors (Kurfürsten in German, i.e. the members of the electoral college electing the Holy Roman Emperors), came from what is now Rhineland-Palatinate : the Archbishop of Mainz, the Archbishop of Trier and the Count Palatine of the Rhine. Adding the nearby Archbishopric of Cologne, the relatively small Rhineland region had a disproportionate power compared to its size within the Empire. This is probably explained by the facts that Rhineland was the core of the Frankish kingdom and of Charlemagne's Empire.