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During the twentieth century, the city's numerous cultural, historical and archaeological resources acted as multiple incentives for the institution of museums dedicated to the collecting and preservation of such cultural assets in Regensburg. For this reason, the city of Regensburg decided in 1931 to transform the former Minorite monastery into a museum of cultural history.
During the course of several decades further historical points of reference were added one after the other, starting with the Reichstagsmuseum (Museum of Imperial Diets, today document Reichstag), then the Städtische Galerie im Leeren Beutel (Municipal Art Gallery), the document Neupfarrplatz, the document Schnupftabakfabrik (Snuff Factory) as well as the document Legionslagermauer (Legionary Camp Wall). The administration of this group of museums is situated in the former Minorite (Friars Minor/Franciscan) monastery and the museum located therein is called the "Historisches Museum" (Historical Museum).
The initial collections of the Historisches Museum mostly comprised the historical treasures listed in the inventory of the Altes Rathaus (old town hall). To these were added cultural and archaeological objects once in the collection of the Historischer Verein für Oberpfalz und Regensburg (historical association for the region of Upper Palatinate and Regensburg), which was founded in 1830. The city received these pieces in 1933 as a donation.
By now, the museum owns comprehensive collectibles with a reference to the cultural life led during diverse eras in the city's history. Part of these holdings is the pre- and protohistoric material from the Oberpfalz (Upper Palatinate), various discoveries dating back to Roman times, mediaeval stone sculptures, and objects of daily life and trade of mediaeval Regensburg. Further collectibles include sacred art of the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries as well as collections with a focus on furniture history and of artisanal handicraft of the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries.
The institution’s foremost mission is to contextualise and analyse its holdings from and about Regensburg as well as from the region of Ostbayern (Eastern Bavaria) in accordance with professional and scientific standards. Any further addition to the collections is always accompanied by an expert and scholarly debate, which favours the regional connection with the city among the selection criteria.
The holdings of the Historisches Museum are organised into diverse thematic fields that are openly accessible for the public by means of permanent exhibitions. The collections in the deposit instead are reserved for the research projects of academic institutions. The archaeological collections of the Historisches Museum in their entirety form, after those of the Archäologische Staatssammlung Munich (Archaeological State Collections), the most substantial in Bavaria and they are continually expanded by the activities of the municipal Amt für Archiv- und Denkmalpflege (Department for the Preservation of Archives and Monuments) and by the Bayerisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege (Bavarian State Office for Historic Preservation).
In the Historisches Museum, two important categories of collectibles from the fields of archaeology and from art and cultural history are on display. Each of these is divided into several sections.
As far as archaeology is concerned, for example, the group of prehistoric finds is grouped together under the title of "The Prehistoric Upper Palatinate" and it uses the substantial archaeological material available to trace the regional development from the Palaeolithic Age to the end of the Celtic settlements. Some of the collections are of European importance, for example as regards the equipment of the chieftain’s tomb at Hagenau, which contains one of the richest Bronze Age grave furnishings of weapons.
The section "Roman Regensburg" gives a very detailed survey by means of one of the largest permanent exhibitions with a special focus on the Roman period in Germany. It uses its remarkable resources, dating to the first five early-Christian centuries, on the most important military base, called "Castra Regina", in today's Bavaria. In this context, the emphasis rests on the highly developed culture on the border of the Roman Empire.
No less striking is the mediaeval department with collections that range from objetcs attesting to political and economic activities and to the everyday life in the city all the way to the works of art produced in Regensburg and in the region.
The collections of art and cultural history cover the period between the high Middle Ages to the beginning of the twentieth century. Within this group, Gothic style painting and the work of the followers of the so-called "Donauschule" (Danube School) – there the oeuvre of Albrecht Altdorfer (d. 1538) needs to be mentioned in particular – constitute the highlights of the collection. The collectibles are complemented by prints and drawings, by sculptures and statuary, by models and by artisanal objects. Moreover, a large holding of folk art as well as examples of everyday culture from eastern Bavaria is to be found here. The particular focus rests on the visual language of sacred folk art. The most valuable special collection in the museum is the collection of coins, which attempts to present the complete numismatic history of Regensburg.
Up to 1980, when the Städtische Galerie im Leeren Beutel was founded, the Historisches Museum also acted as a forum for contemporary art. Out of this engagement developed one of the most important art historical collections for eastern Bavarian art created during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. By planned acquisitions and by the absorption of the estates of Regensburg artists, which are being archived and indexed, the holdings are constantly expanded.