Bavaria, a state of Germany. With an area of 27,241 square miles (70,554 km2), it is Germany's largest state; its population is about 11,770,000. Major cities include Munich, Nuremberg, Augsburg, and Regensburg. Other noted places are Bayreuth, known for its annual music festival devoted to the music of Wagner, and Oberammergau, site of a famous passion play.
The earliest known inhabitants of Bavaria were the Celts. Sometime in the second century B.C., they established a kingdom called Noricum south of the Danube river. About 16 B.C., the Romans made Noricum a province of their empire. Germanic peoples called Bavarians overran Noricum in the fifth century A.D., and gradually absorbed the region's Celtic population. The Bavarians also settled north of the Danube, and the area both north and south of the river became known as Bavaria.
In 555 Bavaria was conquered by the Franks and became an autonomous duchy within the Frankish kingdom. In 788 the duke of Bavaria attempted to assert a greater degree of independence, but Charlemagne, the Frankish ruler, invaded Bavaria, abolished the duchy, and established direct Frankish rule over the region. During the eighth century, the Bavarians were converted to Christianity.
In the ninth century, the empire established by Charlemagne broke up, and in 911 Bavaria emerged once again as an autonomous duchy, one of five that constituted Germany in the early Middle Ages. Bavaria with the four other German duchies became part of the Holy Roman Empire when it was formed in 962.
In 1180 Bavaria came under the control of the Wittelsbach family, which ruled for more than 700 years. In 1805 Napoleon made Bavaria a kingdom. It became a part of the German Empire in 1871, but the Bavarians were allowed a certain degree of sovereignty; they were, for example, allowed to retain their monarchy. Under Ludwig II, who reigned 1864–86, various public buildings—and such extravagances as palaces and medieval-styled castles—were built. Bavaria became a republic in 1918. The next year, it became a part of the German Republic.
During the 1920's, Munich was the center of the Nazi movement. During 1933–45, Bavaria was a Gau (region) of the Third Reich. After World War II, Bavaria was included in the United States occupation zone, and in 1949 it became a part of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). Since 1957, the conservative Christian Social Union has held a dominant majority in the Bavarian legislature.