A country landlocked by European giants, Luxembourg proudly retains a strong cultural identity and has a rich history stretching back to the Roman period. Although the country’s past is dominated by the empires and kingdoms of its bigger neighbors, since its post-WWII independence, the tiny nation has become one of the wealthiest countries in the world due to its financial industry and tax haven status.
Recorded civilization first emerged in modern-day Luxembourg around the 5th millennium BCE during the Neolithic period. However, the first tribes to settle in the area were the Celts, who inhabited most of Central and Western Europe around 600 BCE to the turn of the 1st millennium CE. The Treveri Celts, as they were known, ruled the land until the Roman occupation and were comparatively cooperative with their subsequent rulers. Little is known about the fortunes of the territory after the fall of the Roman Empire when it became part of the Frankish Kingdom.
In 963 AD, Luxembourg emerged on the European map with the construction of Luxembourg Castle engineered by the Count of Ardennes Siefried I. The population around the fort increased over the next few years, laying the first foundations of today’s Luxembourg City and the state of Luxembourg. In the coming decades, fortifications were continually strengthened by various dynasties, with the castle becoming one of the continent’s most iconic and imposing fortifications.
The country remained a self-governed state of the Holy Roman Empire until 1354, when it was granted its current duchy status. After the death of Elisabeth, Duchess of Luxembourg, in 1451, the country fell into the hands of the house of Burgundy, and later Bohemia and Habsburg. The Habsburg era saw a number of neighboring empires lay claim to the land, resulting in various wars and battles.
In 1598, the increasingly powerful Spanish Empire annexed the land and placed it under the control of Albert VII, Archduke of Austria, a descendant of the original rulers of Luxembourg. The duchy was once again invaded in 1684 by Louis XIV of France; however, as a result of the Treaty of Utrecht, Luxembourg merged with the Austrian Netherlands soon after in 1715. With the reemergence of the French Empire under the powerful rule of Napoleon, the country returned to the rule of its revolutionary neighbor and it wasn’t until 1815 that Luxembourg retained a certain degree of autonomy under Dutch rule.
During the 19th century, Luxembourg, which had declined greatly in size since its initial formation, was passed from Dutch to Belgian and back to Dutch hands, and eventually to German rule, causing serious economic issues which resulted in a mass immigration of the population to the United States. The duchy formally gained independence and neutrality in 1867 under Dutch sovereignty after the signing of the Second Treaty of London.
By the outbreak of WWI, Luxembourg was still an underdeveloped, primarily agrarian nation. Germany occupied the neutral country, causing much unrest particularly among the working classes. Independence returned in 1918, along with an elected head of state. A similar story unfolded during WWII, when Luxembourg was again taken by German forces. There was initially little resistance, and by 1942 the duchy was proclaimed German territory. One benefit of the annexation was the resurgence in Luxembourgish language, due to the prohibition of speaking French and the population’s refusal to speak German. The country was finally liberated by US forces at the end of the war, which cost Luxembourg more than 5,000 lives.
Post-war, Luxembourg ditched neutrality and enthusiastically threw itself on to the international scene, becoming a founding member of both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the United Nations. The duchy’s economy also bourgeoned in the years following due to pacts with Belgium and the Netherlands, and boasted one of the world’s highest gross national product per capita by the early 2000’s.
Although the small country’s culture has naturally been heavily influenced by its large neighboring countries and previous rulers, Luxembourg maintains many of its rural folk traditions, while producing some of the region’s finest artists. The capital, Luxembourg City, has twice been named European Capital of Culture and is a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its historical significance.