Heidelberg Castle is one of Germany’s oldest castles, perched on a green hill near Heidelberg. To see “Germany’s most legendary ruins,” more than a million tourists come to the ancient city in the northwestern state of Baden-Württemberg every year. Half-ruined stone buildings rise above the valley of the river Neckar like a vision from the past and have a special romantic charm. It’s no coincidence that Victor Hugo and Mark Twain wrote about Heidelberg Castle, and its silhouettes remained in the paintings of the famous British painter William Turner.
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Video: Heidelberg Castle
The castle on Königstuhl Mountain was built by order of Emperor Frederick II. Originally two fortifications were built on the slopes of the hill. The upper one appeared in the early XIII century, and the lower one, which has survived to this day, at the turn of the XIII-XIV centuries. For several centuries, Heidelberg Castle served as the main residence of the Electors of Palatinate, and was destroyed at the end of the XVII century.
Today, many travelers from Germany and other countries around the world come to see the legendary castle. By the number of visitors the ruins in the valley of Neckar is not inferior to Rome, the ancient monuments of Athens and the sights of Berlin.
The greatest interest of travelers is the Friedrich or Friedrichsbau wing, which was restored at the end of the XIX century. There is a restored first floor where the Imperial and Knight’s Halls are located. In the chapel of the XVIII century today weddings of the newlyweds in the Catholic rite. Many tourists stroll along the picturesque terraces of the ruined garden Hortus Palatinus, which used to be called the “eighth wonder of the world”. From here, one has an excellent view of Heidelberg, the river valley, and the Upper Rhine lowlands.
Heidelberg Castle is home to the largest wine barrel in the world, made by local craftsmen. Its size is impressive – the barrel can hold over 200 thousand liters of wine. In addition in the basements of the old castle is opened a museum of apothecary work.
History of Heidelberg Castle
The first mention of Heidelberg dates back to the end of XII century. There is no exact historical data when one of the best palaces of Germany was built, but researchers suggest that it happened in late XIII – early XIV centuries.
The rulers of Palatinate who lived in Heidelberg spent a lot of time and money rebuilding and decorating their residence. Thanks to their efforts, the castle on the mountain looked magnificent. During the reign of Louis V, the church reformer Martin Luther visited here and left the most enthusiastic descriptions of Heidelberg Castle.
At the end of the 17th century, French troops under King Louis XIV, wishing to seize control of the Palatinate, attacked Heidelberg several times. In 1693 they were victorious, turning the picturesque castle into ruins.
The following electors tried to restore the castle to its former glory, but at first they lacked the means to do so. In 1777 the castle lost its residency status as the court was moved to Munich. The fortifications at Heidelberg were finally abandoned, and times were not easy for the wealthy castle. Valuable sculptures and interiors were mercilessly destroyed.
The savior of the historical monument was Count Charles de Gremberg. He first came to Heidelberg in the early 19th century and stayed for more than half a century. The count voluntarily looked after the old castle, preventing it from being looted. It is thanks to his selfless work that we can see what is today the pride of Germany.
The restoration of the ruins began in the 1890s. The reconstruction took several years and was completed in 1900. After that, the ancient Heidelberg Castle was made accessible to tourists.
The territory of Heidelberg Castle is open daily from 10.00 to 18.00. Keep in mind that the last visitors are allowed in half an hour before closing time. There are guided tours of the castle every hour: on weekdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Adult ticket costs 7 €, reduced price 4 € and family ticket 12,5 €. An audio guide in several languages costs 5 €.
How to get there
Heidelberg Castle rises 80 m above the Neckar valley. From Heidelberg’s central bus station, travelers take bus number 33 to the “Bergbahn” station and then take the mountain railroad (funicular railroad) to the ruins of the castle to the “Schloss” station.
Heidelberg Castle and the largest wine barrel in the world
Heidelberg Castle was the main residence of the rulers of Kurpfalz until the end of the 17th century. It was built on the slope of the Königstuhl Mountain near the city of Heidelberg. The castle became one of the masterpieces of medieval architecture and a popular landmark of the city. Its cellar contains to this day the largest wine barrel on the planet.
Where is it
Heidelberg Castle is located in the eastern part of the city of Heidelberg, in the southwestern part of modern Germany.
Heidelberg Castle. Top view
A bit of history
The city of Heidelberg is mentioned as early as 1196. But the castle only in 1225. Then Ludwig I received it as a feudal plot.
It is noteworthy that in 1294 it says about one castle, and in 1303 already about two. They were divided into upper and lower. According to historians, the upper castle was built first. And what we call Heidelberg Castle, is the lower one. And it was built presumably in 1294 – 1303.
In the early 17th century, the Roman army captured the castle. The Swedes recaptured it in 1633. It should be said that during the battles, the castle was badly damaged.
One of the destroyed towers of Heidelberg Castle
From 1689 to 1693 the troops of Louis XIV attacked Heidelberg many times. In 1693, powerful charges were placed under the castle walls by the French, which nearly wiped it off the face of the earth.
They tried to rebuild the castle, but the work was slow. On June 24, 1764, a lightning strike set fire to the structures and effectively stopped the restoration process.
In 1777, Karl Theodor became the ruler of Bavaria. He moved his residence to the new Mannheim Palace. By this time Heidelberg Castle had been badly destroyed. The remains of the castle, after Karl left, began to be dismantled by the townspeople for their own needs.
Interesting fact – About the same way the famous Roman Colosseum was dismantled at the time of its oblivion.
Now Heidelberg Castle has been partially restored and is one of Germany’s state historical monuments.
Who saved Heidelberg Castle
The castle is in relatively good condition. It is worth thanking the French Count Charles de Gremberg for this. It was he who helped preserve the remains of the castle for posterity. He opposed the Baden government, which considered the castle to be “tasteless ruins”. Had it not been for the count, it is likely that the castle would have been finally destroyed.
After coming to Heidelberg in the early 19th century, the count stayed here and looked after the castle ruins voluntarily and uncompensated for the rest of his life. He was instrumental in creating the first guidebook to the castle, attracting tourists.
It is worth paying attention to such people who were devoted to their cause to the end of their lives. They include Edward Lidskalnins, creator of the amazing Coral Castle in Florida, and Jorge Celaron, who built the famous staircase in Rio de Janeiro until his death.
When discussing the restoration of the castle, at the end of the 19th century, it was decided that a complete reconstruction was impossible. But the remaining buildings were strengthened as much as possible. The work took place from 1897 to 1900 under the leadership of Carl Schaefer.
Not all is well preserved to this day
Features and attractions of the castle
The Ruprechtsbau is one of the oldest buildings in Heidelberg Castle. It was built during the time of Ruprecht III in the early 15th century.
For a long time it was thought that the history of Heidelberg Castle began with this building. But, during archaeological investigations at the end of the 19th century, fragments of Romanesque and early Gothic architecture were found. Thus, the construction of the castle dates back to the 13th century.
The building from the time of Ruler Ruprecht III.
Friedrichsbau is the first palace of the castle. On its first floor there is a small church, which is still well preserved. The upper floors of the building were used as a living area.
After the devastating fires of 1693 and 1764 this part of the castle was severely damaged, but not destroyed. Between 1890 and 1900 the Friedrichsbau was restored in medieval style. But its rooms were no longer used as dwellings, but functioned as a museum.
Garden of Eden
Frederick V married Elisabeth Stewart and had a “garden of Eden” laid out around the castle. It was called “Hortus Palatinus.”
The garden was thought to be a copy of the Garden of Eden from the Bible. There were beautiful fountains, beautiful walkways, and many trees, some of which were very rare for the local climate.
The preserved fountain of the Garden of Eden
Heidelberg Wine Barrel
A huge wooden barrel is kept in the basement of the castle. It is the largest wine barrel on the planet and one of the most interesting objects of the castle. Its volume is 219,000 liters (according to other sources 212,000 liters). But in the 18th century, when it was created, the volume was even larger. Over a couple of centuries, the barrel shrunk by about 2,700 liters. In fact, the Heidelberg cask was empty most of the time. That’s why its volume has shrunk.
This colossal cask was made in 1751 on the orders of Carl Theodore. In those days, building huge wine barrels was the fashion. Many German towns and villages competed in the production of such extraordinary vessels. To create the largest wine barrel, master craftsman Michael Werner used more than 130 trunks of oak.
Interestingly, the first large keg in Heidelberg appeared as early as 1591, provoking Duke Ludwig of neighboring Württemberg, to build an even larger keg in the Ludwigsburg Palace. The Ludwigsburg keg was the largest in the world. But Karl Theodor surpassed it with his Heidelberg cask. It was already Heidelberg’s fourth wine barrel.
Originally, the Heidelberg Barrel was used to store the wine that the vintners of the region paid as taxes to the Bavarian ruler. But after 10 years, the barrel began to leak. After several attempts at repair, it was decided not to fill it with wine. In fact, it became one of the castle’s landmarks.
On the other side of the Heidelberg Barrel there is a staircase that leads to the top of the barrel.
The legend of Heidelberg Barrel
There is a belief that when French soldiers occupied Heidelberg Castle, a giant barrel caught their attention. They tried to open the barrel and taste the wine. But no matter how hard they tried, they failed. It is said that the barrel still bears the marks of the attempts to open it. One little “but” spoils the whole story. The French captured the castle in 1689, and the barrel itself was not built until 1751.
Heidelberg Castle in tourism
Since the 19th century, both the city of Heidelberg and its castle have become popular tourist destinations in Germany. The heyday of tourism here is observed since 1840, when the railroad was built to the city.
Each year Heidelberg (population about 150,000 people) is visited by up to 1 million tourists. Most visitors are Japanese and Americans.
Inside Heidelberg Castle
In the ancient part of the castle from the time of King Ruprecht, you will see a Renaissance fireplace. There are also sculptures of angels.
The restored Friedrich’s house is of great interest. Its facade is decorated with many sculptures of former rulers.
Sculptures of rulers on the facade of the palace of Heidelberg Castle
In the castle you can hold a wedding event. To do this, you need to make prior arrangements with the administration. Every year more than 100 couples get married on the grounds of Heidelberg Castle. It is worth remembering that the ceremony takes place according to Catholic canons.
An interesting fact – Heidelberg Castle is very often called “the most legendary ruins” in Germany. At different times it was visited by Martin Luther, Mark Twain and Victor Hugo.
For more information on opening hours and admission fees, visit the official website of Heidelberg Castle.