The Heidel­berg Catsle

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Heidel­berg Castle History

The Heidel­berg Castle – what a place stee­ped in history – situa­ted on a ter­race of the König­stuhl above the Neckar. Its begin­nings go back to the 13th cen­tury. Docu­ments 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, the loca­tion of which is already attri­bu­ted 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 in 1329. (1306 – 1353), 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.

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

Elec­tor Otthein­rich (1502 – 1559) had the Otthein­richs­bau built – an early renais­sance buil­ding with a magni­ficent front. The castle thus became a palace. In the fol­lo­wing years, the Fried­richs­bau, the Eng­lish Buil­ding and the Hortus Pala­ti­nus garden are built, among others. 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 bode well for Heidel­berg, the palace 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 for the time being there was no money for important 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 Orleans, a bro­ther of the Sun King, Louis XIV, who regis­te­red his 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 broke out 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 great deal of work in 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 con­duc­ted his offi­cial busi­ness from there. In 1764 all plans for a recon­struc­tion were finally des­troyed. A light­ning strike caused a fire and caused fur­ther con­si­dera­ble damage. What remai­ned of the former castle was a ruin left to itself, at best still used as a sup­plier of high-qua­lity buil­ding mate­ri­als.

The castle ruins became world-famous due to the roman­ti­cism that arose 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.

Loca­tion & Direc­tions

The Heidel­berg Castle towers above the Old Town and can be viewed in its full size espe­ci­ally from Karls­platz.

If you want to go up to the castle, there are several pos­si­bi­li­ties. You can drive to the castle by car or take the moun­tain rail­way at Korn­markt to start your way to the castle. If you are fit, there are several pos­si­bi­li­ties to get to the castle by foot. If you pass the car park P12 at Korn­markt on the left, you have two pos­si­bi­li­ties to start the ascent to the castle. Either, one climbs more than 300 stairs to the castle and gets strai­ght to the part of the castle where the visi­tor centre is loca­ted. Or one walks a steep path up to the castle and either gets strai­ght to the castle or to the castle garden that offers a fan­tastic view over Heidel­berg.

If you travel to Heidel­berg by public trans­port and would like to visit the castle, it is best to get off at the Heidel­berg-Alt­stadt sub­ur­ban train stop. From there it is only a few minu­tes to Korn­markt if you want to take the moun­tain rail­way. If you prefer to walk, you can take the first turn left into the street Frie­sen­berg when you arrive in the Haupt­straße.

If you come by bus, the bus stop Rat­haus-Berg­bahn is loca­ted direc­tly at the moun­tain rail­way, where you can get off.

Ascent castle stairs
Burgweg

Impres­si­ons

castle view Karlsplatz
Stückgarten
view of Heidelberg
view from Castle Garden
Old walls
blasted tower
Castle from below