The history of Heidel­berg Castle

The Heidel­berg Castle – what a place full of history – situa­ted on a ter­race of the König­stuhl above the Neckar. Its begin­nings go back into the 13th cen­tury. Cer­ti­fi­ca­tes men­tion a castle which pro­bably already exis­ted under the bishops of Worms. Around 1303 there are already two cast­les, an upper castle on the Gais­berg and a second castle, whose loca­tion is already assi­gned to that of today’s castle.

The deve­lop­ment of the castle com­plex into a medi­eval ances­tral seat cer­tainly began with the award of the elec­to­ral dignity to Rudolf II. (1306 – 1353) in 1329, the first Pala­tine elec­tor. Already Ruprecht I. (1309 – 1390), who also foun­ded the Uni­ver­sity of Heidel­berg, orde­red various enlar­ge­ments of the resi­den­tial buil­dings and a con­si­dera­ble streng­t­he­ning of the for­ti­fi­ca­ti­ons.

The fol­lo­wing elec­to­ral prin­ces visi­bly expan­ded the castle as a fort­ress with rep­re­sen­ta­tive cha­rac­ter. Towers, walls and ram­parts were sup­po­sed to pro­tect against attacks. The Ruprecht Buil­ding, the Library Buil­ding, the Ludwig Buil­ding and the Glass Hall were used pri­ma­rily for rep­re­sen­ta­tion and for the demons­tra­tion of power.

Elec­tor Otthein­rich (1502 – 1559) had the Otthein­richs­bau built – an early Renais­sance buil­ding with a magni­ficent magni­ficent facade. The castle thus became a palace. In the fol­lo­wing years, buil­dings such as the Fried­richs­bau, the Eng­lish Buil­ding and the garden Hortus Pala­ti­nus are built. This park, laid out in three ter­races, with its exotic plants, aberra­ti­ons, grot­tos and plea­sure houses, was con­si­de­red the “Eighth wonder of the world”, but was never fully com­ple­ted.

The poli­ti­cal ent­an­gle­ments and the Bohemian deba­cle of Elec­tor Fre­de­rick V. (1596 – 1632) and the resul­ting Thirty Years’ War did not mean anything good for Heidel­berg, the castle and its rulers. Dest­ruc­tion and plun­de­ring of the town and sur­roun­ding vil­la­ges, a con­si­der­a­bly dama­ged castle and the loss of the elec­to­ral dignity were the result of his failed policy. In 1649 the son of Fre­de­rick V., Charles I. Ludwig, moved into Heidel­berg as the new ruler. In the Peace of West­pha­lia of 1648, the Elec­to­ral Pala­ti­nate was gran­ted a new elec­to­ral dignity again, but with con­si­der­a­bly fewer pri­vi­le­ges. The Elec­tor began to repair his resi­dence, but at that time there was not enough money for major new buil­dings.

Again poli­ti­cal ent­an­gle­ments led to great dis­as­ter. In 1671, Elec­tor Karl I Ludwig mar­ried his daugh­ter Lise­lotte of the Pala­ti­nate to Philip of Orléans, a bro­ther of the Sun King, Louis XIV, who regis­te­red a claim to the inheri­tance in 1685, when Elec­tor Karl II, who had been in power in Heidel­berg for some time, died child­less. The War of Pala­ti­nate Suc­ces­sion began and French troops twice occu­pied Heidel­berg and the castle. While some houses and parts of the castle were still spared during the dest­ruc­tion on 6 March 1689, French sol­di­ers did a good job on 13 June 1693. 27000 pounds of powder brought down towers, and for­ti­fi­ca­tion walls during the action “Heidel­berg Delta”.

The Heidel­berg Castle never fully reco­ve­red from the dest­ruc­tion in the War of Suc­ces­sion. In the mean­time Mann­heim had been appoin­ted the elec­to­ral resi­dence city and the elec­tor Carl Theo­dor led his offi­cial busi­ness from there. In 1764 all plans for a recon­struc­tion were com­ple­tely des­troyed. A light­ning strike star­ted a fire and caused fur­ther con­si­dera­ble damage. What remai­ned of the former castle was a ruin left to itself, pos­si­bly still used as a sup­plier of high-qua­lity buil­ding mate­ri­als.

The castle ruins became world-famous due to the Roman­ti­cism that emer­ged at the begin­ning of the 19th cen­tury. After the uni­ver­sity was re-foun­ded in 1803, Heidel­berg expe­ri­en­ced a second heyday and attrac­ted stu­dents and young artists from all over Ger­many. They descri­bed the des­troyed castle as a symbol of German history and immor­ta­li­zed the buil­ding in their pain­tings, roman­tic sto­ries or verses. The most famous names from this period are Carl Phil­ipp Fohr, Karl Rott­mann and Ernst Fries, Achim von Arnim, Cle­mens Bren­tano, Fried­rich Höl­der­lin and Joseph von Eichen­dorff. Even Johann Wolf­gang von Goethe raved about the ruins, the city and the land­s­cape in his dia­ries, notes and sket­ches.

Of all people, a French­man, the emi­gra­ted Count Charles de Gaim­berg (1774 – 1864), became the saviour of the castle ruins. He was the first to make an effort to pre­serve the ruins. Gaim­berg docu­men­ted the castle in nume­rous detailed drawings and his art collec­tion later formed the basis of the Kur­pfäl­zi­sches Museum.


Sight­see­ing in Heidel­berg

Old Bridge, Phi­lo­so­phers’ Path, Church of the Holy Spirit, Old Uni­ver­sity
Sight­see­ing in Heidel­berg
On this page, we have com­pi­led a small selec­tion of Heidelberg’s many attrac­tions for you. You will find infor­ma­tion about the most important attrac­tions behind the menu items in the left navi­ga­tion bar. Howe­ver, the muse­ums, buil­dings or monu­ments listed below are also worth a visit.

The small but nice museum is loca­ted in the middle of the Old Town of Heidel­berg. It is a remin­der of the life and work of Fried­rich-Ebert, the first pre­si­dent of the Weimar Repu­blic. Tip: If you want to get an impres­sion of the life and work of the people in Heidel­berg at the end of the 19th cen­tury, a visit to Friedrich-Ebert’s birth­place is highly recom­men­ded.

Unique phar­maceu­ti­cal collec­tions from the history of phar­macy can be admi­red in the German Phar­macy Museum. Besi­des count­less old medi­ci­nes and reme­dies, there are also ves­sels, glas­ses, books, old manu­scripts, pre­scrip­tion devices and labo­ra­to­ries as well as com­plete phar­macy fur­ni­ture, some of them from the 17th cen­tury. With the ent­rance ticket to the Heidel­berg Castle Courty­ard you can also visit the German Phar­macy Museum.


The Kur­pfäl­zi­sches Museum is con­si­de­red the trea­sure chest of Heidel­berg. Its collec­tions of art and cul­tu­ral history from past cen­tu­ries go back to the French emi­grat Charles de Graim­berg, who was also very com­mit­ted to the pre­ser­va­tion of the castle ruins. From much ear­lier times there are, among other things, archaeo­lo­gi­cal finds from the Romans and Celts on the city’s history to admire.

If you walk along the main street from the town hall towards the east, you will come across the Karls­tor at the end of the street, which was built from 1775 to 1781 in the style of a Roman vic­tory gate. The buil­ding is richly deco­ra­ted and car­ries the por­traits of Elec­tor Karl Theo­dor and his wife as well as four Pala­tine lions. Tip: On the way to Karls­tor you will come across beau­ti­ful baro­que house faca­des over and over again.

The Korn­markt is a small square loca­ted direc­tly on the south-eas­tern town hall facade. In the middle is a sculp­ture of the Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus from a time when the new Elec­tor Phil­ipp Wil­helm wanted to make the Pro­tes­tant Pala­ti­nate Catho­lic again in 1685. From the square there is an inte­res­ting view of the castle which is situa­ted above the houses. This can be reached via a foot­path or via the moun­tain rail­way – both star­ting near the Korn­markt.