We just love a good schloss (translation = castle or palace)!
Germany certainly has satisfied our hunger for good schlosses – between the fairy tale castles on Bavaria (i.e. Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles), Meissen’s hill-top marvel, the stunning palace in Dresden and the many, many fortresses and castles of the Rhine Gorge, we had almost had our fill of castles and palaces. Or so we thought until today, when we discovered Heidleberg Castle…
Heidelberg Castle is quite captivating; the entire edifice was built from red sandstone and its crumbling ruins stand in sharp contrast to the green background of the forest and parkland around it. Originally built in 1214 the castle was expanded in 1401; but then, in 1537, it was struck by lightening and the entire upper portion of the castle destroyed by fire. That damage was repaired and further fortifications added in the second half of the 16th century. During this time the grand Renaissance Wings of the palace were also built and ornate Baroque gardens commissioned. This was reportedly when the castle was truly at its finest.
With the advent of the Thirty Years War in 1618 the castle’s demise began. First the gardens were burnt and destroyed by the invading French army, then the Powder Tower blown apart, and finally, the towers and walls which had survived previous waves of destruction were blown up with mines. The gardens were, in their time, considered “an eighth wonder of the world“. Now, however, there is just forest and a bit of grassy parkland where once there were flowers, trees, fountains, ponds, promenades and marble statues. And of the magnificent Renaissance Wings there is just one facade left, the empty shell all that remains of what must have once been a fantastic section of the castle.
When peace finally returned to Heidelberg in the late 17th century, attempts were made at rebuilding the castle, but lack of funds and a series of disputes with the local religious elite convinced the ruler at the time to abandon all plans of restoring Heidelberg Castle to its former glory. Instead, in 1697, he moved the entire court and all its administrative bodies to Mannheim, about 20kms down the road. So disillusioned was the Elector of Heidelberg with the town and its castle that he reportedly said “Leave the castle to rot, so that grass may grow on her pavements and birds nest in her rafters“.
Some small attempts to repair parts of the castle were made in the 1700s, but when the castle was again struck by lightening in 1764, the ruins were completely abandoned. From that moment, Heidelberg’s fate as an eternal ruin was sealed. A century later, during the 1800s the ruins of the castle were idealised by the Romantic movement. Victor Hugo (the leading French Romantic and author of the “Hunchback of Notre Dame“), for example, visited Heidelberg Castle many times and was fascinated by its beauty.
As well visiting the ruins of Heidelberg Castle we also took a look at the Apothecary Museum that is now housed in one of the buildings. This little museum showed how the science of pharmacy has evolved over the centuries, from its beginnings in ancient apothecaries to modern mass-produced chemical drugs. They even has a mock 17th century pharmacy set up, with bottles of lotions and potions lined up neatly on shelves, and drawers full of dried herbs and mysterious powders. Downstairs they had an apothecaries workshop, complete with stills and other funky glassware. It was so cool! I found it particularly fascinating, from a professional perspective, to see the primitive equipment apothecaries had to use to perform their chemistry and dispensing.
One of the castle’s other claims to fame is that it’s home to the world’s largest wine barrel – so huge that it took 130 trunks of oak to make the thing. The Heidelberg Tun, as it’s called, was built in 1751 to house the wine paid as taxes by the wine growers of the region. It stands 7.0m high, is 8.5m wide, holds 220,000L of wine, and has a dance floor built on top of it. That’s one bog barrel!
After marvelling at the castle and its various attractions, we spent the afternoon wandering through its gardens and enjoying the views back down to Heidelberg (the views from Heidelberg Castle are amazing, perched as it is high above the town on Königsstuhl Mountain). The castle, its views and its surroundings really captivated us today – we will definitely have to add this schloss to our list of favourites!