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First Impressions


Mainz is situated at the meeting point of the rivers Rhine and Main, and in the Middle Ages was among the wealthiest cities in the Rhine valley. In a period when road networks were poor and in some areas non-existent, rivers provided safer and easier links between cities; the Rhine was a primary trade route through Europe.

Mainz became the seat of the archbishop, who played a key religious and political role in the region. A prosperous court grew up around the archbishopric, attracting merchants and craftsmen to the city. The goldsmiths' guild was of particular importance, with wealthy local cloth merchants their principal clients.

Johann Gutenberg was born in Mainz around 1399. Little is known of Gutenberg's father but he was a tradesman or merchant, possibly involved in the cloth trade, and his son grew up surrounded by both craft and commerce. However, the potentially life-threatening political disputes at court drove the family away from the city. After working in other local towns and cities, Johann Gutenberg returned to Mainz in 1448 to experiment with his new printing business, a venture that was to have such an impact on many aspects of life and thinking.

Discover more about early printing in Mainz.