Majestic in Ruins: Heidelberg Castle

Germany is a land filled with historical buildings and German castles and forts are among the most renowned in the world. Each week I publish a post about a German castle or fort and tell you – my readers – about its history, important things to see there and much more.


The Heidelberg Castle.

The Heidelberg Castle.

In my first post of 2015, I have chosen one of Germany’s most well-known and recognizable castles which takes its name from a city which is quite popular with Germans and foreigners alike: Heidelberg Castle. Located in the city of Heidelberg, in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg, this castle is a landmark. It dominates the skyline of the old city because of its position atop a hill towering over the Neckar valley. The castle was the primary residence of the Prince Electors of the Rhine, and is a great example of German Renaissance architecture. 

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Today, the castle is mostly preserved ruins. Photo courtesy J.-Heribert Pohl 2013.

Heidelberg Castle is first mentioned in historic records dating back to 1225. It has led a fairly up and down existence since then. In 1401, it was the site of the coronation of Emperor Rupert III of Germany. Back then the castle was too small for the Emperor and his attendants and they had to camp in a nearby monastery instead. Thus, the castle was expanded and its defenses strengthened. It was also the site where the “Antipope” John XXIII was briefly held captive, and also where Martin Luther stayed for a while during the Protestant Reformation while he visited Heidelberg to defend his theses. The castle survived later for centuries but was severely damaged and fell to the French in the War of the Grand Alliance in the late 17th century. As if that wasn’t enough, the building was again heavily damaged in 1764 by two back to back lightening strikes and a resulting fire. What was left afterwards, was just ruins.

The castle offers breathtaking views of the city of Heidelberg and the Neckar Valley from up top.

The castle offers breathtaking views of the city of Heidelberg and the Neckar Valley from up top.

Ever since its early days, Heidelberg Castle has been a tourist magnet. But tourism really took off in the 1800s when famous German and foreign intellectuals such as Mark Twain and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe visited the castle ruins and admired them. In the 1900s, there was a debate about restoring the castle ruins completely to their former glory. However, the conservationists triumphed this discussion over the restorationists. As a compromise, only the Friederichsbau building was restored and the rest of the ruins left intact.

The largest wine barrel in the world is in the Fassbau building.

The largest wine barrel in the world is in the Fassbau building.

Today, the castle is a big tourist attraction, attracting over a million tourists a year from around the world who come to admire it from afar. Guided tours are offered in German and English. Here’s the castle website with all the details about opening times and admission fees. Aside from the ruins and courtyards, the intact buildings Ruprechtsbau, Friederichsbau and Fassbau are worth exploring. The Fassbau building boasts the world’s largest wine barrel, and I tell you this thing is big ass! For those interested, there is also an Apothecary Museum in the castle. But, most of all, the castle offers stunning views of Heidelberg and the Neckar valley. While visiting, be sure to take in the city of Heidelberg itself.

The castle viewed from the other side of the Neckar River.

The castle viewed from the other side of the Neckar River.

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4 thoughts on “Majestic in Ruins: Heidelberg Castle

  1. The castles are one of my favorite things about living in Germany!! I live in Munich but often travel around the country by car, and I’m always shocked to just find myself driving by another castle unplanned.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I totally agree with you about castles being one of the best things about Germany. The south specially has many castles mainly because of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Check out the other posts about castles in the country and you’ll see how often I mention Ludwig :).

    Like

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