Thuringia (German Thüringen) lies in central Germany and is among the smaller of the country's sixteen Bundesländer (federal states), with an area of 16,200 sq. km. and 2.45 million inhabitants. The capital is Erfurt.
The most conspicuous geographical feature of Thuringia is the Thuringian Forest (Thüringer Wald), a mountain chain in the southwest. In the northwest Thuringia includes a small part of the Harz mountains. The eastern part of Thuringia is generally plain. The Saale river runs through these lowlands from south to north.
After the extinction of the reigning Ludowing line of counts in 1247 and the War of the Thuringian Succession (1247-64), the western half became independent under the name of Hesse, never to become a part of Thuringia again. Most of the remaining Thuringia came under the rule of the Wettin dynasty of nearby Meissen, the nucleus of the later duchy and kingdom of Saxony. With the division of the house of Wettin in 1485, Thuringia went to the senior Ernestine branch of the family, which subsequently subdivided the area into a number of smaller states. 'Thuringia' became merely a geographical concept.
In the Weimar Republic that followed World War I, these dynastic mini-states were dissolved. Thuringia re-emerged as an political entity in 1920, when the state of Thuringia was established by merging the hereditary territories; only the southernmost parts of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha voted to join Bavaria. The city of Erfurt, although enclosed by Thuringian territory, remained a part of Prussia. Weimar became the new capital of Thuringia.
The state of Thuringia, under Soviet occupation after 1946, was broken into three districts in 1952 under an East German administrative restructuring. It was restored on Germany's reunification in 1990.