For other places named Westphalia, see Westphalia (disambiguation).
Coat of arms of Westphalia which is being used by the Westphalia-Lippe Regional Association
Westphalia within the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia bordering on Northern Rhineland in the west and Lippe in the northeast

Westphalia or Westfalia (/wɛstˈfliə/; German: Westfalen pronounced [vɛstˈfaːlən], Westphalian: Wäästfaln, Westfaoln) is a region in northwestern Germany, centered on the cities of Dortmund, Bielefeld, Münster and the town of Arnsberg. It is one of the three historic parts of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Westphalia is roughly the region in between the rivers Rhine and Weser, located both north and south of the Ruhr River. Although today “Westphalia” is almost exclusively referred to as the Westphalian (non-Rhenish) part of North Rhine-Westphalia, the term was applied to several different entities in history. Modern Westphalia consists of the Governmental Districts of Arnsberg and Münster and the Governmental District of Detmold with exception of the District of Lippe. The region has 20,208 km2 (7,802 sq mi) in land area, and 7.8 million inhabitants. The term “Westphalia” contrasts with the much less used term “Eastphalia”, which roughly covers the southeastern part of the present-day state of Lower Saxony, eastern Saxony-Anhalt and northern Thuringia.

Westphalia's north is a part of the North German Plain. Its south has hills and mountains. Historically it was a Province of Prussia and was ruled by its Kings who were also the German Emperors until the abolition of monarchy in 1918. In 1946 it joined the newly created state of North Rhine-Westphalia together with the north of the former Prussian Rhine Province and with Lippe which used to be a separate Principality within Germany.

A linguistic definition of Westphalia (see Westphalian language) excludes Siegen-Wittgenstein but includes Lippe, the County of Bentheim, the Osnabrück Land and the southern territories of the Oldenburg Münsterland and the Emsland.

Westphalia is known for the 1648 Peace of Westphalia which ended the Thirty Years' War, as the two treaties were signed in Münster and Osnabrück. The region is also home to the headquarters of Westfalia-Werke, the contractor that built the Volkswagen Westfalia Campers.


The Sauerland mountainous region

Being a part of the North German Plain, most of Westphalia's north is flat. In the south the central German uplands emerge.

Westphalia is divided into the following landscapes.

Flat to hilly (1,634 ft/498 m and less): East Westphalia, Münsterland, eastern Ruhr Metropolitan Region, Tecklenburg Land, Westphalian Hellweg

Hilly to mountainous (up to 2,766 ft/843 m): Westphalian part of the Sauerland, Siegerland, Wittgenstein

The Langenberg (2,766 ft/843 m) and the Kahler Asten (2,762 ft/842 m) in the Sauerland's part of the Rothaar Mountains are Westphalia's and also North Rhine-Westphalia's highest mountains.

Most important rivers are the Ems, the Lippe, the Ruhr and the Weser.

The biggest cities of Westphalia like Dortmund (580,500 inhabitants) are located in its part of the Ruhr Metropolitan Region which is Germany's biggest urban agglomeration. Also noteworthy are Bielefeld (329,800 inhabitants) in East Westphalia and Münster (302,200 inhabitants) in the Münsterland.


Coat of arms

The traditional symbol of Westphalia is a white steed on a red field (the Westfalenpferd or Sachsenross), representing the Saxons. This image has been used in the coats of arms of Prussian Westphalia and is being used in the modern state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The white steed is also the traditional symbol of neighboring Lower Saxony.

Coat of arms of Westphalia being used by the Westphalia-Lippe Regional Association. Coat of arms of North Rhine-Westphalia with the Rhine River symbolizing the Rhineland, the Westphalian Steed symbolizing Westphalia and the Lippish Rose symbolizing Lippe. The historic coat of arms of Prussian Westphalia. Coat of arms of the northern neighboring state of Lower Saxony


The colors of Westphalia are white and red. The flag of the Westphalia-Lippe Regional Association uses these colors with the Westphalian coat of arms in its center. The flag of North Rhine-Westphalia is a combination of the Rhineland's colors green/white and the Westphalian white/red. The northern neighboring state of Lower Saxony uses the German colors with a centered Saxon Steed in its flag.

Flag of Westphalia being used by the Westphalia-Lippe Regional Association. Civil flag of North Rhine-Westphalia State service flag of North Rhine-Westphalia The historic flag of Prussian Westphalia. Flag of the northern neighboring state of Lower Saxony


Composed in Iserlohn in 1886 by Emil Rittershaus, the "Westfalenlied" is an unofficial anthem of Westphalia.


Dialects in North Rhine-Westphalia: Franconian dialects in red, West Low German dialects in blue.

Although the state of North Rhine-Westphalia is in existence since 1946, many of its citizens see themselves either as "Rhinelanders" in the one or as "Westphalians" and/or "Lippers" in the other part of the state. There are distinct cultural and lingual differences especially between the Northern Rhineland (where Franconian dialects are spoken) and Westphalia and Lippe (where West Low German dialects are spoken).

Between 1815 and 1817 Prussia had received the territory of today's Westphalia as a result of the Congress of Vienna. The territory was named Province of Westphalia. From that time on a Westphalian identity had started to develop.

The Osnabrück Land with Osnabrück in its center had already been a part of Westphalia within the ancient Duchy of Saxony. Nevertheless, as a further result of the Congress of Vienna, the Osnabrück Land became a territory of the Kingdom of Hanover. That is when the identification with Westphalia started to decrease. From then on people of this region started to rather see their region as a part of the Kingdom of Hanover and its successors, the Prussian Province of Hanover and Lower Saxony. Nevertheless, some people still see the region as a part of Westphalia for mainly cultural and lingual reasons.

Lippe with its capital Detmold had retained its status as a sovereign state within Germany until 1947 when it joined North Rhine-Westphalia which had already been founded in 1946. That is why Lippe is seen as the third part of North Rhine-Westphalia besides the Northern Rhineland and Westphalia. Lippe and Westphalia share a similar culture and dialect though. Additionally Lippe is organized in the same regional association as Westphalia, namely the Westphalia-Lippe Regional Association. Some people see Lippe as a part of Westphalia for these reasons.

Typical Westphalian houses in Melle near Osnabrück
Westphalian (German) ladies peasant costume – illustration by Percy Anderson for Costume Fanciful, Historical and Theatrical, 1906


Westphalia is one of the regions that were part of all incarnations of the German state since the Early Middle Ages: the Holy Roman Empire, the Confederation of the Rhine, the German Confederation, the North German Confederation, the German Empire, the Weimar Republic and National Socialist Germany. After World War II it was a part of the British occupation zone which merged with the American zone to become the Bizone in 1947 and again merged with the French zone to become the Trizone in 1948. The current Federal Republic of Germany was founded on these territories making Westphalia a part of West Germany. It is a part of united Germany since 1990.

Roman incursion

Around 1 A.D. there were numerous incursions through Westphalia and perhaps even some permanent Roman or Romanized settlements. The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest took place near Osnabrück (as mentioned, it is disputed whether this is in Westphalia) and some of the tribes who fought at this battle came from the area of Westphalia.


Charlemagne is thought to have spent considerable time in Paderborn and nearby parts. His Saxon Wars also partly took place in what is thought of as Westphalia today. Popular legends link his adversary Widukind to places near Detmold, Bielefeld, Lemgo, Osnabrück and other places in Westphalia. Widukind was buried in Enger, which is also a subject of a legend.

Middle Ages

Westphalia within Saxony circa 1000 CE
  Other parts of Saxony
  Rest of the German Kingdom

Along with Eastphalia, Angria and Nordalbingia, Westphalia (Westfalahi) was originally a district of the Duchy of Saxony. At the time, large portions of its territory in the north lay in what today is Lower Saxony. Following the deposition of the Saxon duke Henry the Lion in 1180 and the subsequent belittlement of the duchy, Westphalia was elevated to a duchy in its own right by Emperor Barbarossa. The Duchy of Westphalia comprised only a small area south of the Lippe River.

Modern Westphalia was part of the Lower Rhenish–Westphalian Circle of the Holy Roman Empire, which comprised territories of Lower Lorraine, Frisia and parts of the former Duchy of Saxony.

Early modern era

Ratification of the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 in Münster by Gerard Terborch (1617–1681)

As a result of the Protestant Reformation, there was no dominant religion in Westphalia. Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism were on a relatively equal footing. Lutheranism was strong in the eastern and northern parts with numerous free churches. Münster and especially Paderborn were thought of to be Catholic. Osnabrück was divided almost equally between Catholicism and Protestantism.

Parts of Westphalia came under Brandenburg-Prussian control during the 17th and 18th centuries, but most of it remained divided by duchies and other areas of feudal power. The Peace of Westphalia of 1648, signed in Münster and Osnabrück, ended the Thirty Years' War. The concept of nation-state sovereignty resulting from the treaty became known as "Westphalian sovereignty".


Prussian Westphalia edged in red, the Kingdom of Westphalia edged in green with the territorial overlap of former Minden-Ravensberg, pasted over today's borders with North Rhine-Westphalia in dark grey.

After the defeat of the Prussian Army by the French at the Battle of Jena–Auerstedt, the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807 made the easternmost portion of today's Westphalia part of the French client Kingdom of Westphalia until 1813. While this state shared its name with the historical region, it only contained a relatively small part of Westphalia, rather consisting of mostly Hessian and Eastphalian regions.

After the Congress of Vienna, Prussia received a large amount of territories in the Westphalian region and created the Province of Westphalia in 1815. The northernmost portions of the former kingdom, including the city of Osnabrück, had become part of the states of Hanover and Oldenburg.

Modern Westphalia

The present state of North Rhine-Westphalia was created by the British after World War II from the former Prussian Province of Westphalia, the northern half of the former Prussian Rhine Province, and the former Free State of Lippe. North Rhine-Westphalia is subdivided into five governmental districts (Regierungsbezirke), so Westphalia today consists of the Regierungsbezirke of Arnsberg, Münster and of Detmold with the District of Lippe as an exception. Inhabitants of the region call themselves Westphalians and call their home area Westphalia even though there is no administrative division by that name.

Candide: The protagonist of Voltaire's novella of the same name, resides in Westphalia in the beginning of the story.

Monty Python's Flying Circus – Series 4, Episode 3 – includes a sketch[1] that discusses a questionable map showing a Basingstoke in Westphalia (as opposed to the better-known Basingstoke in south-central England).

See also


  1. MPFC episode 42: The Light Entertainment War (transcript)
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Coordinates: 52°N 8°E / 52°N 8°E / 52; 8

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