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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The small blacksmith’s workshop gave us an idea of how a medieval forge and anvil would have looked.
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.
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.
Finally, at the top, we paused once more for a look at the view which was quite spectacular.
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?
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.
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.
Moving on to the kitchen, we heard servants would have worked in this space and served the noble family in the hall upstairs.
Like the toilet, this sink also obviously emptied along the outside castle wall.
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.
And we got to see the toilet from the inside, too.
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.
The exquisitely painted 14th-century chapel was used by the noble family for daily devotions and services.
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.
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.
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.
Based on events from November 2017.