Saturday, July 20, 2019

Visiting Schloss Heidelberg

Today, I'll take you to something very close to (my) home – the imposing ruin of the Renaissance Schloss in Heidelberg, Germany. 

Castle front (c) CD.
One of the most visited tourist sites in Europe – and for many overseas groups the only stop-over in Germany – it is typically overrun in the summer. But if you visit out of the main seasons, like we did last December, you'll find it a little less busy, allowing you to explore and take iconic photos at your leisure.


It feels strange, to visit a castle ruin in the town you were born a good few decades ago. I can't remember the last time I went inside, but it must have been in my early 20s, way back in the early 1990s. Not much has changed 'up there', I think, and the site is still as impressive as always.

We took the funicular train up rather than walk. It was raining, and we didn't fancy sliding on the steep cobbled pavement. Rustic – yes. Safe in the rain – nope, not for us! The funiculars are efficient and run regularly, and they're well worth taking if you're a little unsafe on foot.


Once at the top, we got our tickets. It was hubby's first visit inside the castle, so we joined a guided tour, as that's the only way you can get through the existing rooms. (The rain sadly stopped us from wandering along the extensive gardens afterwards.)

The tour guide clearly knew his history, and a few specialist bits and pieces, but he didn't go too deep into it all. I'd call it 'history light'. Still, a handy little guide, and not to be missed.

So, here's a bit of an expanded history lesson, just for you...

The first official charter of Heidelberg (then called 'Heidelberch') dates back to 1196, however, the area was inhabited throughout the ages. There is evidence, for example, that Celts and other tribes lived in the area long before. And, of course, the Romans travelled through in their attempt to conquer all Germania...

In the 6th century, Heidelberg was annexed into the Kingdom of the Franks, and the subsequent Christianisation saw the building of many important monasteries in the area. 



In 1155, Frederick Barbarossa appointed his half-brother Conrad von Hohenstaufen as Count Palatinate, however, there is no proof that he stayed in an early castle on that particular hill. There may have been a structure dating back to the 11th century, but it could have been located a little further up. The town itself didn't exist back then.

By 1214, a castle had been established on a rocky outcrop on the hillside, but by 1303, two castles are noted in records – not far from each other. The main castle, on the JettenbĂŒhl, was reinforced in the 15th century by King Ruprecht, and more modifications followed.


But it was during the Thirty Years' War that the castle at Heidelberg's fate changed – for the worse. It changed hands several times between General Tilly and the forces of the Holy Roman Empire, and their enemies. 

In the late 1680s, King Louis XIV of France took it upon himself to claim Heidelberg and its Palatinate lands on behalf of his sister-in-law, Elisabeth Charlotte, nicknamed Lieselotte. This ultimately led to the sacking of the town and the destruction of the castle. The towers were blown up to prevent any further defensive action. Subsequent Counts Palatinate eventually moved their seat to nearby Mannheim, as rebuilding Heidelberg Castle would prove too expensive.


After that time, it was no longer seen as a worthy residence, and fell into decline, with stones from walls being used to build other residences.

Over the centuries, Heidelberg has always attracted many illustrious visitors: Martin Luther published a thesis here; Goethe stayed here in 1779; British landscape artist William Turner created several paintings of Heidelberg and the area; French author Victor Hugo adored it; and Mark Twain stayed there for a summer...

And I lived in the area, including a couple of years in Heidelberg, for my first 28 years. 😇


So if you're planning a visit to Germany, don't miss out Heidelberg, just 45 minutes south of Frankfurt, where you'll find this incredible gem of a castle and town. Try to avoid the height of summer, but autumn is particularly beautiful with the changing colours of the forests along the Neckar valley. Or, you might just want to visit the pretty Christmas market in December...


I'm leaving you with the words of Victor Hugo...

"Ici Ă  Heidelberg, dans cette ville, dans cette vallĂ©e, dans ces dĂ©combres, la vie d’homme pensif est charmante… il ne faut pas passer Ă  Heidelberg, il faut y sĂ©journer, il faudrait y vivre!” 
(Victor Hugo, 'Heidelberg')


All images (c) Cathie Dunn, 2018. All rights reserved.