Je suis amoureux des villes où je ne suis jamais allé et des gens que je n’ai jamais rencontrés.
I’m in love with cities I’ve never been to and people I’ve never met – John Green
When you think of France, the images of the Eiffel Tower, Louvre museum, the French Riviera, cheese, and wine float in mind. However, there are some other subtle identities of France as well, its countryside and chateaus! From Chateau de Thil (850AD)-the oldest to Chateau de Versailles-the grandest, there are about 40,000 chateaus in France. It would be blasphemous to not visit any chateau in our expedition, ‘Exploring l’Hexagone’. Staying true to the spirit of exploring the unexplored, today we will be visiting the Chateau du Haut Koeingsbourg which is ‘unceasing’.
Chateau du Haut Koenigsbourg is a medieval castle in Orschwiller commune of Bas-Rhin department of Alsace France. It can be reached via a free shuttle service from Selestat railway station. It is situated in the Vosges Mountains on the rocky spur, overlooking the upper Rhine plain thus handing it an advantageous position.
It boasts of 900 years of history, one that is marred with conflict, pillaging, rivalry, total destruction, and abandonment apart from changing the hands several times. The earliest mention of the chateau can be found in 1147AD with Duke Hohenstaufen as its owner. In the 13th century, ownership was transferred to the Dukes of Lorraine who handed it to the local knightly family of Rathsamhausen. It changed its hands again to the Lords of Hohenstein, who held the castle until the fifteenth century
Hohensteins allowed robber barons to use the castle as a hideout. To arrest their growing nuisance forces of nearby cities of Colmar, Strasbourg, and Basel set it ablaze in 1462. In 1479, the Counts of Thierstein rebuilt it and made it suitable for the artillery of those times. It was the golden period of the castle. After the death of Thierstein in 1517, it came under the possession of Maximilian I, the Habsburg emperor.
In 30 years of religious war, the Swedish protestant forces besieged the castle. After 52 days of siege, the Swedish troops looted and burnt it in 1633. It remained in a ruined state for 270+ years till Kaiser Wilhelm II decided to restore it in 1900. The very aim of the restoration was to reinstate the grandeur of the middle ages and to forge a bond between German and Alsatians. Bodo Ebhrdt was appointed as the architect as he was famous for the restoration of medieval castles. The restoration that began in 1900, lasted for 8 till its inauguration in 1908.
Today, located at an altitude of 757m, spanning 270m by 40m with 354 steps, and 47 doors, it stands tall inviting the visitors to take in and experience its ‘unceasing’ fortitude spanning 9 centuries.
Let’s enter through the Great door that has a coat of arms of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Don’t forget to observe how the Castle follows the shape of the rocky outcrop.
Now we are at the Lower Courtyard. To your left is the inn where the traders visiting the castle would have a sip and chit chat at the end of the day at castle selling their wares.
A little ahead is the mill with its two huge grinding stones next to it and the forge. The castle walls also shelter the living quarters.
Walk through the tower to enter the inner courtyard.
Take a flight of steps to reach the first draw bridge and the “Porte des Lions’, a robust iron gate with Lion figures on it.
Pass by a well, the only water source for the castle that is 60m deep.
Now you are in the inner courtyard that has a sheltered water storage tank. Don’t forget to spot the sculpture of Bodo Ebhrdt engraved on one of the pillars.
To your left are a spacious kitchen and a hexagonal spiral stairway leading to Lord’s grand apartments on the Nothern side of the castle.
You are led to an array of private chambers once occupied by the noble and his family.
The fireplace with its mural is a fine work of art.
The high ceiling of the dining hall which is aesthetically decorated is sure to mesmerize you. When I was there, for a moment I felt I was invited by the Emperor for a feast 🙂 😉
Retiring chambers and anti-chambers of Empress and Kaiser have unique thermal heating stoves to keep the winter chill at bay for long hours. I marvelled at the technical innovativeness of the Germans and the fine craftsmanship of the ceramic tiles used.
And look who is guarding the private chambers…
We now come to the 2nd draw bridge. The draw bridges once again reminded me of the very purpose and vulnerability of the castle from a military perspective.
A garden awaits as one crosses the draw bridge. I visited the castle the day after Christmas. The winter has shed all the green cover of the tall trees leaving them bare and meditative, contemplating the spring.
At the end of the garden, there are steps to climb up the Grand bastion on the western side.
It is the artillery platform, a defensive structure flanked by 2 towers. I found the giant canons and well-equipped weaponry, the weapons of mass destruction of those times, intimidating and I was uneasy in their company. I did not want to have any pictures of the giant canons in my gallery. But decided to have at least one as a reminder that weapons cant fetch peace. Here is the smallest canon at the castle.
Climb the staircase and enjoy a panoramic view. When I visited, it was a cloudy and rainy day. The view however was exceptional.
That’s all about this ‘unceasing’ symbol of Alsatian heritage which witnessed the European history as it was making!
Click here for posts so far in the “Exploring l’Hexagone” series