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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


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