Heidelberg Castle history
Very little is known about the construction of Heidelberg Castle. All that certain is that the construction on Heidelberg Castle began in early 14th century. However, because each successive heir to the throne invariably chose to alter the design plans of the preceding monarch, the project was never really completed.
A battle worn site
Heidelberg – and its castle in particular – have had a long and troublesome history. This is why we only can see a part of the Heidelberg Castle’s former glory today. The construction was halted in the 17th century with the outbreak of the Thirty Years War and in the coming centuries, the castle would be subject to destruction rather than construction.
Heidelberg Castle was under its first attack in 1622, when the Holy Roman Empire commander General Tilly captured it. Eleven years later, Swedes siege the castle and open fired on it, in which General Tilly handed the castle over and later retook it 1635. In 1688, French troops marched into Heidelberg and took the castle without a fight. When the French withdrew one year later, they had a tactic of destroying the enemy fortifications before leaving, in hope to prevent future attacks.
Thus, Heidelberg Castle was set on fire and the front of the largest tower, also known as “Fat Tower”, was blown up.
Immediately as the French left, the walls and towers were rebuilt. When the French attack again two years later, they failed to take the castle. The French then changed their tactics and destroyed parts of the town of Heidelberg instead, to cut of the supply line for the castle. This in turn forced a surrender of the castle in 1693.
This time the French finished off the work the started earlier and blew up the remaining walls and towers. To put things simple; the castle had some rough times. And it didn’t stop there.
Wrath from above
After the peace treaty was signed in 1697, peace was finally brought to the town and its castle. As Heidelberg Castle was so damaged, plans were to pull down the castle and reuse the parts for a new palace in the valley.
When difficulties with this plan became apparent, Heidelberg Castle was instead patched up. When the elector of Palatine at the time, Karl Theodor, wished to his court into the castle, disaster struck again. On Jun 23rd 1764, the day before Karl Theodor would move into Heidelberg Castle, lightning struck the court building. Not once, but twice, which once again set the castle on fire. Karl Theodor saw this as a sign from above and quickly changed his moving-in plans.
Left in shatters
In 1777, Karl Theodor became ruler of Bavaria in addition to the Palatinate and removed his court from Mannheim to Munich. Thus, Heidelberg Castle receded even further from his thoughts.
During this time, the castle became misused as a source of building materials and even as early as 1767, the south wall was quarried for stone to build Schwetzingen Castle – the summer residence of Karl Theodor. Heidelberg Castle was also looted on material by the townsfolk who used it for their houses. This was stopped in 1800 by the French Count Charles de Graimbergwho made any effort he could to preserve the Heidelberg Castle.
In the late 19th century, there was a debate whether or not to completely restore the whole Heidelberg Castle. In the end, this was considered not possible. It was however decided that it would be possible to preserve the castle in its current condition. Only the Friedrich Building, whose interiors were fire damaged but not ruined, would be restored.
Why visit Heidelberg Castle ?
Heidelberg Castle is without a doubt the number one landmark of Heidelberg. Many say that there is something special about this particular castle – and in fact there is! Due to the castle’s troublesome history, parts of the castle lie in ruins.
However, other parts stand as shining as ever due to the 19th century renovations. This mixture of buildings and ruins truly makes this castle one of a kind and one of the most charming castles around.
The castle garden
One must-go place when visiting Heidelberg Castle is its garden. Visitors can spend hours in the garden and still find hidden beauties. In the garden lies several big grottos on the upper terrace, little benches with their history and several beautiful statues and fountains.
The most prominent statue is Father Rhine, symbolizing the most important river of Germany. The statue rests on a stone bed, surround by water. He is not that hard to recognize; there is not too many white statues of a half naked man with a long beard around.
Standing on the terrace will provide a great view of Heidelberg. From here, visitors can see all the roofs of old Heidelberg city, the maze of its little cobbled streets, the churches and the Neckar River with the Old Bridge.
Another charming place is the wine cellar. When entering the cellar, visitors get greeted by the cellar master and court jester Perkeo. He works 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He is also made of bronze and rather small, but nonetheless welcoming.
The cellar also house one of the biggest wine kegs in the world –The Great Vat. It has a capacity of 220,000 liters, or 58,000 gallons, and was long the largest wine barrel in the world. The Great Vat was installed in 1751 with a direct connection by pump to the main banqueting hall. There were never any reports of wine shortage on the Heidelberg Castle banquet.
One last mention goes to the triumphal arch known as Elisabeth’s Gate, located near the entrance. Tradition says the gate was built in a single night by Prince Elector Friedrich V in 1615 as a birthday present for his English princess, Elisabeth Stuart.
The charming little gate was severely weather warn and was partly restored in 1949. The unique pillars are noteworthy with their leaf work and artistic flowered capitols. I recommend you pay it a visit.
Today, the Heidelberg Castle is among the most important Renaissance structures north of the Alps and the castle is visited by many tourists each year – not only because of the beautiful structures and statues, but also a due to the beauty of destruction and its rich history.
Heidelberg Castle location
Heidelberg Castle is located in Heidelberg, Germany. The castle is situated on the mountain slope in the eastern parts of the city. For the exact location of Heidelberg Castle, check out the location map to the right.