Monthly Archives: September 2018

Remarkable Marksburg

Perched high atop a steep hill overlooking the town of Braubach, Marksburg was constructed around 1231 with expansion to its current size in 1283. As the only hilltop castle on the Middle Rhine River which was never destroyed, it’s the best surviving example of a medieval castle in the area. You may recall in my last post I said nearby Pfaltzgrafenstein Castle was never destroyed, which is true, but it’s on the river rather than on a hilltop.

While Marksburg was never destroyed, it did suffer damage from US artillery fire in March 1945, and the castle was painstakingly repaired by the German Castles Association following WWII. Today, it’s the most visited of the Middle Rhine castles, albeit by guided tour only. We were grateful our Viking River Cruise included an excursion to this remarkable fortress.

IMG_2950

Town of Braubach, Germany

As our bus climbed the hill to the castle, I tried to get photos and realized the best views were actually from the river but the drive through the amber autumn foliage was gorgeous, nevertheless.

IMG_2953

Driving up to the hilltop castle, Marksburg

IMG_2944

View of Marksburg from the bus

Following our ascent by bus, we trudged another 150 yards uphill on foot which, for some of us, was challenging right after lunch.

Four gates prevented intruders from breaching the castle. The first is a drawbridge gate followed by a tunnel. The gatekeeper’s room, connected to the tunnel, has been converted to an antique bookshop.

IMG_2954

The tunnel at Drawbridge Gate

IMG_3054

Antique bookstore in the old gatekeeper’s room

Once inside the first gate, we had time to enjoy the view, visit the restroom or gift shop, or simply catch our breath before the tour commenced.

IMG_2973

Catching our breath and enjoying the view

IMG_2974

The tour began at the second gateway, Fox Gate, where we followed our guide who possessed a large skeleton key to allow us through the third medieval gateway, Arrow Slit Gate. I understand the fourth gateway in Stewards Tower was altered sometime in the past. To my knowledge, we didn’t see it or, maybe I simply missed it.

IMG_2981

Our guide with the key to the kingdom

Arrow Slit Gate features a machicolation, a projection from which defenders threw rocks on the intruders below. I’ve circled the machicolation on the photo. Fortunately for us, no one seemed to be on rock-throwing duty that day.

IMG_2978 2

The Rider’s Stairway continued the upward ascent on stairs carved into the bedrock. I was beginning to understand why the cruise line described this excursion as physically demanding.

IMG_3053

Rider’s Stairway

At the top of Rider’s Stairway, our guide told us about the various owners of the castle who were all represented by their coats of arms.

IMG_2985

Coats of arms of Marksburg owners

The small blacksmith’s workshop gave us an idea of how a medieval forge and anvil would have looked.

IMG_2982

Blacksmith’s workshop

The Romanesque Palas is the oldest part of the castle. It houses offices and the general manager’s apartment and is not open to the public.

IMG_2988

Romanesque Palas

The Great Battery houses cannons overlooking the Rhine River. From this vantage point, the castle controlled access from the river. This building dates from 1589 and 1711.

IMG_2989

The Great Battery

Finally, at the top, we paused once more for a look at the view which was quite spectacular.

IMG_2995

View from Marksburg

Before entering the castle, our guide told us about the garden which contained around 150 mostly medicinal plants that would have grown here in medieval times. Poisonous nightshade and hemlock were also grown —maybe to battle enemies inside the castle?

IMG_3003

Castle garden

When we heard how the contents of the castle toilet ran down the wall in the photo below, I realized castle life wasn’t all that romantic.

IMG_3005

Castle toilet

Still imagining the odors from the toilet when we entered the wine cellar, I decided I’d have needed more wine to cope with life in the Middle Ages.

IMG_3010

Wine cellar in Marksburg

Moving on to the kitchen, we heard servants would have worked in this space and served the noble family in the hall upstairs.

IMG_3011

Kitchen

IMG_3016

Kitchen

Like the toilet, this sink also obviously emptied along the outside castle wall.

IMG_3020

The paneled bedchamber contained a canopied bed, a cradle, and a sitting area. The canopy provided both privacy and warmth for the lord and his lady.

IMG_3022

Bedchamber

And we got to see the toilet from the inside, too.

IMG_3029

Toilet

A combination of living and dining room, most of the noble family’s activities took place in the Great Hall. Musical instruments and a chess set in this area indicated some of the available entertainment options.

IMG_3035

The Great Hall

The exquisitely painted 14th-century chapel was used by the noble family for daily devotions and services.

IMG_3038

The chapel

After our visit to the chapel, we took a narrow stairway to the next floor where we saw the Gimbel Collection, consisting of both original and replicas of armor and weaponry from ancient to early modern times.

IMG_3041

IMG_3043

The Gimbel Collection

IMG_3044

Work in process in the Gimbel Collection

Our final stop inside the castle was in the former stable which today houses a gruesome exhibit on torture and punishment in the Middle Ages.

IMG_3047

Torture and punishment exhibit

As I pondered the sights we’d seen at Marksburg on our return bus ride to the Viking Kara, we passed by the Electoral Palace at Koblenz, built in the late 18th century. I concluded castle life in the Middle Ages with its privation, hardship, and disagreeable odors was not all that romantic. I think I’d prefer to live in a palace.

IMG_2932

Electoral Palace, Koblenz

 

Based on events from November 2017.

Categories: cruise, Europe, Germany, History, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Castles on the Rhine

The Upper Middle Rhine Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located on the 65 km (40mi) stretch of river between Bingen and Koblenz, Germany, boasts more than 40 castles. If you, like me, are fascinated by these romantic fortresses, be sure to book one of the day river cruises because the best views are from the river. We, fortunately, cruised through the region on our Viking River Cruise of the Rhine River while we enjoyed an outstanding narration by our cruise director, Ria.

The morning of November 2 was quite chilly but luckily, the sky was cloudless. We’d brought plenty of warm clothing so we bundled up and claimed a spot on the upper deck where the cruise line provided chairs with blankets and hot drinks (alcohol included) to ensure our comfort. Many passengers preferred to stay inside where it was warm but I was intent on getting the best photos possible without window glare.

IMG_2834

Dressed for the weather

IMG_2869

We didn’t have to fight for a seat

IMG_2840

Jim enjoying the view and a hot drink

The Rhine has been a major waterway used to transport goods between southern and northern Europe since Roman times. As such, opportunities to make money abounded whether by transporting goods, robbing those who transported goods or protecting those who transported goods. As a result, numerous castles sprang up along the river. Some were home to robber knights who preyed on merchant ships and others provided protection for and exacted tolls from those using the waterway.

I purchased a booklet entitled, The Castles of the Rhine, from which I garnered some of the details below in addition to the information Ria shared. I tried to show how the castles looked from the river rather than close up with a telephoto lens and the photos below are in the order we saw the castles.

Originally called Vogtsberg, Rheinstein Castle was built in the early 1300’s but an earlier fortress likely preceded its presence on this site. Its purpose was to provide protection from robber knights attacking from nearby Reichenstein Castle. Today it is restored and open to the public.

IMG_2751

Rheinstein Castle

Constructed in the early 11th century, Reichenstein Castle was home to generations of robber knights. Rudolf von Habsburg,  who was elected king in 1273, besieged the castle in 1282, finally forcing its surrender through starvation. The castle was burned down and later rebuilt in spite of Rudolf’s orders to the contrary. Today, guests can explore this history and more with a visit to the castle and its museum and even book a stay at the hotel and dine at the onsite restaurant.

IMG_2758

Reichenstein Castle

Nearby Sooneck Castle, constructed in the 11th century and named for Soon Forest, was also a robber knight castle which Rudolf besieged along with Reichenstein in 1282 and, although rebuilding was likewise forbidden, it was rebuilt in 1349. Today, it is also open to the public.

IMG_2765

Sooneck Castle

Some of the castles like Furstenberg are ruins but the surrounding vineyard is still under cultivation.

IMG_2771

Furstenberg Castle ruin

Stahleck Castle was built around 1100. In 1194, it was the location of the secret Stahleck Marriage of Agnes and Henry the Elder of Brunswick whose families were feuding. Legend has it when the couple produced a grandchild, the family reconciled. The castle was destroyed by the French in 1689 and restored in the early 20th century. Today it houses a youth hostel.

IMG_2775

Stahleck Castle

Built on the river specifically to collect shipping tolls in the early 14th century, Pfalzgrafenstein Castle has never been destroyed which is quite a distinction. The water level in the river was abnormally low when we visited but the castle normally appears to float on the water.   The appearance led the French poet, Victor Hugo, to memorialize the castle when he described it as, “A ship of stone, eternally afloat upon the Rhine…” The castle is open for tours.

IMG_2800

Pfalzgrafenstein Castle

Gutenfels Castle was constructed beginning in 1200. I thought this castle was especially picturesque with the vineyard on the hillside and the town of Sankt Goar on the bank of the Rhine below. Today the castle is private property.

IMG_2803

Gutenfels Castle

Documentation of Schonburg Castle goes back to the 12th century but its roots may go back as far as the Roman occupation in the 3rd century. According to the castle’s website, this was one of the few castles where all sons inherited rather than following the system of primogeniture. Consequently, in the 14th century 24 families and up to 250 people lived there at the same time but, interestingly, by 1719, the line of succession completely died out. Today, this castle also features a hotel and restaurant.

IMG_2809

Schonberg Castle

As we passed the Loreley, a 433 ft (132 m) high slate rock, our cruise director, Ria, explained this section of the Upper Middle Rhine is particularly treacherous because it’s deep, narrow, and curvy with strong currents which have resulted in numerous accidents and shipwrecks through the years.

IMG_2831

Loreley

The currents combined with an echo produced by the rock create a murmur which inspired a German folk-tale about a siren named Lorelei. When jilted by her lover, Lorelei threw herself into the Rhine and her spirit has since lured fishermen to destruction when they heard her singing as she sat above them on the rock combing her long blond locks. A poem about Lorelei by Heinrich Heine in 1824 has been set to music by over 25 composers. You can read a translation of the poem below.

Lorelei
By Heinrich Heine
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

I know not if there is a reason
Why I am so sad at heart.
A legend of bygone ages
Haunts me and will not depart.

The air is cool under nightfall.
The calm Rhine courses its way.
The peak of the mountain is sparkling
With evening’s final ray.

The fairest of maidens is sitting
So marvelous up there,
Her golden jewels are shining,
She’s combing her golden hair.

She combs with a comb also golden,
And sings a song as well
Whose melody binds a wondrous
And overpowering spell.

In his little boat, the boatman
Is seized with a savage woe,
He’d rather look up at the mountain
Than down at the rocks below.

I think that the waves will devour
The boatman and boat as one;
And this by her song’s sheer power
Fair Lorelei has done.

IMG_2843

Sculpture of Lorelei on the Rhine

Built by Count Wilhelm II around 1371, Napolean ordered Katz Castle blown up in 1806. It was restored in 1896 and today is privately owned and not open to visitors.

IMG_2850

Katz Castle

IMG_2854

Jim and I with another view of Katz Castle

Once the largest castle on the Rhine, Rheinfels Castle was constructed in 1245. The French blew up the castle in 1797 and, although it has been a ruin ever since, it is open to the public with a hotel, restaurant, and museum on site.

IMG_2857

Rheinfels Castle

Maus Castle (Mouse Castle), built in 1356, is located north of Katz Castle (Cat Castle).

IMG_2860

Maus Castle

We were fortunate to view Marksburg Castle from the river and then later tour the castle. This is how I know, without a doubt, the best views are from the river which you’ll understand when you read my next post. I’ll save details for later.

IMG_2899

Marksburg Castle

Stolzenfels Castle, built in 1248, was taken by the Swedish in 1632, occupied by the French in 1634-36, and burned by the French in 1688. The City of Koblenz gifted the ruin to King Friedrich Wilhelm IV in 1823, who had it restored and used it as a summer residence. It’s open and offers tours to the public.

IMG_2911

Stolzenfels Castle

Honestly, by the time we arrived in Koblenz, our early enthusiasm was beginning to wane due to a surfeit of castles on the Rhine. Thankfully, we had the opportunity to recharge while we enjoyed another delicious lunch on the Viking Kara before our afternoon tour of Marksburg Castle. Join me next time on our tour.

 

Based on events from November 2017.

 

References:

The Castles of the Rhine, Gunter Seifert, 2017.

 

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, Germany, History, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

%d bloggers like this: