The Rhine Valley is known for its fairy-tale like qualities due, in part, to the large number of Medieval castles built on the adjacent hills. This area, recognized as the UNESCO World Heritage Upper Middle Rhine Valley, occurs on the western riverside between Bingen and Koblenz, on the eastern riverbank between Rüdesheim and Koblenz. More than 30 castles can be visited in the area, each with its unique architecture and history. A few of the attractions are below.
Stoltezenfels Castle originally was built as a border fortress by the archbishop of Trier, Arnold von Isenburg (1242 – 1259) and subsequently served as a toll castle until 1412. Eventually, the structure was used as the official residence of the Koblenz office for the Electorate of Trier. It remained a military installation until 1689, occupied by both Sweden (1632) and France (1634 and 1646) when it was destroyed in the Palatinate War of Succession by the French (1689). In 1823, the city of Koblenz gave the ruin to Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm IV, and reconstruction of the land began with a summer residence in the German Romantic style. The current structure was completed in 1836 and has been viewed as the image of Rhine romance since opening to the public that year. Spectacular views of the Rhine River are seen from the castle’s expansive terrace.
This medieval bastion, first erected by the Noble Freemen of Brubach in the 12th Century, is an impressive fortress constructed primarily in 14th Century. The castle is built atop a conical exposure of Devo, nian-aged Rheinish Schiefen, and includes a tower, several buildings, passages, and bastions situated above the small city of Braubach. The Romanesque castle complex, built in a triangular layout, is characteristic of architecture of the Staufer era. Subsquently, the counts of Katzenelnbogen built the Gothic part of Marksburg Castle, giving it its striking form. Marksburg Castle is the only hill castle along the Rhine that has never been destroyed because of the installation of extensive fortifications with artillery batteries and ramparts during the Middle Ages.
Spectacular views of the Rhine River can be seen from the end of the outer defenses of the castle. It has been occupied for more than 700 years, either as a private residence, as a home for disabled soldiers, or as a state prison. At the beginning of the 20th Century, Kaiser Wilhem II purchased the castle for the symbolic price of 1,000 Gold Marks and extensive restoration of the castle began. Today, Marksburg Castle acts as the offices of the German Castles Association (DBV), whose main task is the protection and preservation of castles and stately homes.
The Castellan’s Tower, or “Burgvogtsturm”, first was constructed around 1300 in addition to as a recessed gate and an outer bailey, a courtyard outside of the castle’s defenses, were constructed to reinforce the main castle. The inside of the Castellan’s Tower is wide enough to have accommodated mounted knights and artillery caissons, while the building also served as the old guard’s quarters. Steps are carved in bedrock and directly above the walk is the Great Battery. While hostilities abounded in the Rhine Valley and there were attempts to siege the castle, it was never conquered due, partly, to its location, defensive preparations, and sheer luck. The castle sustained the most damage as a result of an earthquake and, of course, Allied bombing during WWII.
Eltz Castle has remained in control of the Lords and Counts (Edlen Herren und Grafen) von und zu Eltz for more than 800 years, and continues to remain under private ownership. This classically romantic structure towering 70 m above the Eltz River, began construction in the late 9th and early 10th centuries when reinforced stone walls were built for the greater security of what were then basic castles. The zenith of construction lasted for nearly 200 years, from the 11th to the 13th centuries, at which time the first reference to the name Eltz is found in records. Burg Eltz originally was not conceived as a fortress but as a fortified residence and, in contrast to many other German castles, it remains in its original unchanged condition. The structure seen today is the result of the efforts of family members and construction efforts that stretch more than 500 years. All the architectural styles, from the Romanesque to the early Baroque, merge in Burg Eltz forming a symmetrical whole. The current owner, Dr. Karl Graf von und zu Eltz, known as Faust von Stromberg , lives in the area and is the 33rd generation of the House of Elze. An extensive history of the castle is available at their website.
This hilltop castle, first built in the late 12th Century on Devonian Rheinische Schiefer, displays an imposing great hall and striking circular keep, and is considered the jewel of the Moselle-Saar region. Additions to the structure continued, with disputes with the family Eltz about ownership, until the occupants fled during the French Revolution in 1789 and the property became part of the French national property. By 1818, the castle was returned to German ownership, but repairs were not undertaken until 1912. The castle is unique with its 24 m high, round donjon–the fortified main tower–being the first of its kind in the central Rhine district. This is topped by a conical roof, or Kegeldach. In addition, the castle contains two vaulted rooms, arched formed used to provide a space with a ceiling, with fireplaces.
The actual date when construction began on Cochem Castle is considered to be around 1000 AD, and the castle was first documented in regional records in 1051 when the former Queen of Poland gave the castle to her nephew palatine count Henry I. By 1151, King Konrad III put an end to a dispute concerning the succession, occupied the castle with troupes, and turned it into an imperial fiefdom. Thus, Cochem became an imperial castle during the Staufer dynasty.
The castle is located at an elevation of 100m above the Moselle Valley in the Stadt Cochem. The castle’s history is filled with political intrigue, because king Adolf of Nassau pawned the castle, the entire city of Cochem, and surrounding imperial property of nearly 50 villages in 1294 to pay for his coronation as German emperor. He defaulted on the loan with the result that the archbishops of Trier retained Cochem as a hereditary fiefdom until 1794.
The castle was burned and blown up (19 May 1689), and the city nearly destroyed by French troops, a similar pillage and burn strategy used throughout other Rhine valley castles. The castle remained in ruins for nearly 200 years when it was bought by a Berlin businessman. Reconstruction and renovation began shortly after the purchase, and the remains of the late Gothic buildings were incorporated into the main castle structure. Note the first break dancing sculpture in the middle of the dining hall table.
The new structure was rebuilt in the popular Neo-Gothic architectural style of the late 19th Century. This style followed the romantic ideals of the Victorian era in Germany at the time. The refurnished castle was used as a summer home for its owner until the city of Cochem purchased the property in 1978.
Atop the Siebengebirge mountains above Köningswinter are the ruins of a castle built between 1138 and 1167 by Archbishop Arnold I of Cologne. The Siebengebirge’s relief is the result of Devonian-aged volcanic core complexes from which trachyte (an extrusive alkali volcanic) was quarried, beginning with the Romans, and later used as the building stone for the Cologne Cathedral. The Drachensfels, or Dragon’s Rock, castle was conquered and destroyed by the Protestant Swedes during the Thirty Years’ War; it was never rebuilt. The hilltop and castle ruins became a tourist attraction during the Romantic Era following the end of the Napoleonic Wars.
Lower down the hill is a neogothic castle known as the Schloss Drachenburg. The building was started in 1882 by Baron Stephan von Sarter, a self-made millionaire broker and banker who wanted a fairy tale castle of his own, and construction was completed in 1884. The Baron encountered financial problems with his investments and those of others, and never returned to Germany to live in the Schloβ. It was turned into a school for boys in the early 20th Century, as a headquarters for the Nazi command during WWII. It was heavily damaged during Allied bombing. In the 1960s the property was purchased and renovated, opening to public viewing in 1973.