Cottbus emerged at the intersection of two important trade routes: the "Salzweg - Niederstrecke" (Lower Salt Road), which connected Central Germany with Silesia (Magdeburg with Wrocław), and another route leading from Frankfurt/Oder to Dresden.
The first official mention dates back to a document written in 1156. However, the settlement history for today's city territory can be traced back to nearly 3,000 years ago. In the third and fourth century AD, Germanic settlers occupied the old city centre. In the eighth century, the Lusici, a West Slavonic tribe belonging to the Sorbian people, first settled in this region. Presumably during the tenth century, the Sorbs/Wends built a mediaeval Slavonic fortified settlement - a gord - on a sand island on the west bank of the River Spree. Today, this is the site of the Schloss- or Gerichtsberg (castle or tribunal hill). Protected by the Slavonic stronghold, the Wends established a settlement around the fort, which, in the eleventh and twelfth century, developed into an early township (suburbium). In the course of the conquest and colonisation of the East by the Germans, this fortress was assigned to be ruled by an imperial burgrave. The planned construction of the city in the thirteenth century attracted increasing numbers of German settlers. Since that time, Wends and Germans live side by side in this city.
Between 1199 and 1445, the "Lords of Cottbus", a Franconian aristocratic family, ruled the city. Their heraldic charge, a crab, became a permanent feature of the early city seals and the later city coat of arms. In 1405 and 1406, John III of Cottbus gave the clothier's and linen weaver's guilds their privileges.
The wool markets, confirmed since 1501, and the favourable location at the crossroads of two trade routes further extended the marketing opportunities. Soon, cloth made in Cottbus was in high demand throughout Bohemia, Saxony and Brandenburg. Since 1445, with the exception of the period between 1807 and 1815, Cottbus has been under the rule of the Margraves and Electors of Brandenburg. The privilege to hold the "Biermeile", the mediaeval right to serve beer limited to one mile, granted in 1501, and the annual hosting of two wool markets is indicative of the significance of Cottbus in that period.
Over the course of the city's history, plague epidemics and devastating fires as well as the decades of occupation following the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War wreaked destruction, poverty and hardship in the city.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the settlement of French Huguenots in Cottbus brought with it a renewed economic boom. They introduced new, hitherto unknown trades such as silk farming, the cultivation of tobacco and hosiery knitting and revitalised the trades and commerce. Fabrics made in Cottbus now were known in Denmark, Sweden, Alsatia and in America. The stipulations resulting from the Congress of Vienna in 1815 established Cottbus and the entire region of Lower Lusatia as belonging to Prussia.
In the nineteenth century, the city's development experienced a significant boom due to increasing industrialisation (textile industry and lignite coal mining) and the introduction of local self-government. Cottbus further evolved to become the centre of Lower Lusatia, an industrial city with modern infrastructure, buildings for cultural and social purposes, yet also a garden city with many efforts towards creating green spaces.
A district capital in GDR times, Cottbus became the most important supplier of coal and energy in the years following 1957. Yet the city's economic structure was determined also by the textile and furniture industries and the production of comestibles. In 1976, the city was granted the status of major city.
In the course of the German Unification in October 1990, privatisation of the economy introduced a period of profound structural change in the city and the surrounding region. A centre of service provision, science and administration, Cottbus today fulfils the function of an Oberzentrum, a regional metropolis, in the South of Brandenburg.
To find out more about the city's history, please visit also the Homepage of the Historischer Heimatverein Cottbus (Cottbus Historical Association).