The Palatinate (German: Pfalz), historically also Rhenish Palatinate (Latin: palatinatum Renensis; German: Rheinpfalz), is a region in south-western Germany. It occupies more than a quarter of the German federal state (Bundesland) of Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz).
The western and northern part of the Palatinate is densely forested and mountainous. The highest point is the Donnersberg (687 m) near Kirchheimbolanden. The Palatinate forest (Pfälzerwald) covers more than a third of the region and is the largest coherent forest in Germany. The eastern part is lower, and is a well known wine region, the Palatinate wine region through which the German Wine Route (Deutsche Weinstrasse) passes. Most of the cities of the Palatinate (Ludwigshafen, Speyer, Landau, Frankenthal, Neustadt) lie in the plain rhine rift in the east of the region, near the Rhine, which forms the eastern border of the Palatinate. Traditionally, the Palatinate is divided into the regions of Anterior Palatinate (Vorderpfalz), West Palatinate (Westpfalz), North Palatinate (Nordpfalz), and South Palatinate (Südpfalz).
From the Middle Ages until the end of the 18th century, the Palatinate was divided into several big and small states. The most important of these were the Electoral Palatinate (Kurpfalz), the Duchy of Palatinate-Zweibrücken and the Bishopric of Speyer. The prince-elector (Kurfürst) of the Electoral Palatinate was one of the few nobles with the privilege of electing the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire.
After the period of French occupation (see French Revolutionary Wars, Napoleonic Wars and Mont-Tonnerre), a significant stretch of land on the left bank of the Rhine, which included greater parts of the former electoral Palatinate became part of the Kingdom of Bavaria in 1816. Although the territory was geographically separate from Bavaria, it was ruled together with proper Bavaria as a single state for the next 130 years.
After 1808 the administrative regions in Bavaria were named after their main rivers. Thus the region after its annexation to Bavaria was officially called the "Rheinkreis". In 1835 the romantic-minded King Ludwig I of Bavaria ordered the administrative regions to be named by historical allusions. So the region officially became the "Palatinate" (Pfalz). It should be noted here, that the historic Electoral Palatinate was centered on the right bank of the Rhine with Heidelberg and Mannheim as its capitals, while the new "Palatinate," that was established in 1815/16 was solely on the left bank of the Rhine, and included territories that had never been part of the historic Palatinate (e.g., the former bishopric of Speyer or Kirchheimbolanden, which had formerly belonged to Weilburg branch of Nassau). In order not to confuse the new Palatinate with the historic one (and with the Upper Palatinate), the name Rhenish Palatinate was common, but never official. The term Rhenish Bavaria (Rheinbayern) can also be found sometimes in older maps.
The French had introduced their system of administration and the Code Napoleon in the Palatinate. The Bavarian government preserved both after 1816, which gave the Palatinate a distinct legal status within the Bavarian kingdom. The royal family tried to symbolize the unity with Bavaria by erecting a royal palace in Edenkoben and by the restoration of Speyer Cathedral under direct supervision of King Ludwig I. himself. The town Ludwigshafen was named after the king. On the other hand the Palatinate's representatives to the common Bavarian Parliament always prided themselves of their origin from a more progressive region and tried to expand the liberalism, which the French had introduced in the Palatinate, to the whole kingdom. The German Historian Heiner Haan described the special status of the Palatinate within Bavaria as a relation of "Hauptstaat" (main state, i.e. Bavaria) and "Nebenstaat" (alongside state, i.e. the Palatinate).
During the revolution of 1848 a separatist movement tried to establish a "Palatinate Republic," which collapsed under a bloody Prussian military intervention.The union persisted after Bavaria became part of the German Empire in 1871, and after the Wittelsbach dynasty was deposed and Bavaria became a Free state in 1918.
After the First World War French troops occupied the Palatinate under the terms of the treaty of Versailles. The western districts St. Ingbert and Homburg were separated from the Palatinate and became part of the newly established Saarland, which according to peace treaty was governed by the League of Nations. In a clear breach of the treaty the French in 1923 encouraged a separatist movement for a Rhenish Republic in the remainder of the Rhenish Palatinate and the Prussian Rhineland.
The Bavarian government reacted sharply and even had the leading separatist Franz Josef Heinz assassinated at the Wittelsbacher Hof in Speyer in January 1924. In February 1924 members of the separatist movement were killed in a shooting in Pirmasens. Also in February 1924 a treaty between Bavaria in the inter-allied commission of the Rhineland (the supreme council of the Allied occupation forces) recognised and reassured the Palatinate being a part of Bavaria.
The union with Bavaria was finally dissolved following the reorganisation of German states after World War II during the occupation of Germany. Whereas proper Bavaria was part of the US occupation Zone, the Palatinate was occupied by French Forces. The French reorganised their occupation Zone by founding new states and in 1947, the Palatinate was combined with Rheinhessen (a part of Hesse), a part of the Prussian Province of Nassau, and the southern part of the Prussian Rhine Province to form the German federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate.