As a place of settlement Hanau was first mentioned in 1143. Then it was the site of a castle which used the waters of the River Kinzig as a defense. The castle belonged to a noble family, calling themselves as “of Hanau” since the 13th century. Starting from this castle a village developed and became a town in 1303. Due to this development was the fact, that the main church of this town stood outside its walls in the village of Kinzdorf. The villagers moving into the town, Kinzdorf became an abandoned village leaving only the church. Only in the 15th century the status of the Hanau parish church was transferred to the church of Mary Magdalene within the walls of Hanau.
Shortly after the first town walls were built in the beginning of the 14th century the town outgrow this limit. Outside the wall, along the street heading for Frankfurt am Main a settlement developed (the “Vorstadt”) which was properly included in the fortifications of Hanau only when during the first half of the 16th century Hanau received totally new fortifications in Renaissance-style. These new Fortifications included three elements: The mediaeval castle, the mediaeval town of Hanau and the “Vorstadt”.
At the end of the 16th century, Count Philipp Ludwig II attracted Protestant refugees from the Netherlands and France to found their own settlement south of Hanau. This was of high economic interest for him because these Walloons brought high-class trade, their knowledge of jewellery and other production of luxury items and therefore taxes to his county. Out of this tradition goldsmiths are still educated in Hanau. And in Hanau opened the first workshop to produce Faience within Germany. These new citizens were granted privileges and they formed their own community, church and administration for the “new town of Hanau” (Neustadt Hanau) totally separate from the existing community. It took more than 200 years to amalgamate both. The new town – larger than the old one – was protected by a (then) very modern fortification in Baroque-style which proved a big asset only a few years later in the Thirty Years’ War.
The town survived a siege in 1637 with only minor damage. The new citizens formed the mayor economic and political power within the County of Hanau and in 1642 played a leading role in the succession of Count Fredrik Casimir of Hanau Lichtenberg into the county of Hanau-Münzenberg of which the town of Hanau was capital. In 1736 Johann Reinhard III of Hanau-Lichtenberg, the last of the Counts of Hanau, died. Those parts of his county belonging to the county of Hanau-Münzenberg, which included Hanau, were inherited by the Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel. Due to dynastic troubles within this family the county of Hanau-Münzenberg was created a separate state from the Landgraviate until 1786. So Hanau stayed capital for another 50 years. Even after that it became – after Kassel – the town second in importance within Hesse-Kassel.