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Exploring Wartburg Castle
A five-part walking tour
Come on in: the courtyard of Wartburg Castle
Anyone who weighs less than 60 kilogrammes can travel the final stretch up to Wartburg Castle on the back of a donkey. Nowadays it tends to be mainly children who get to enjoy this ride – in the old days the animals used to carry water up to Eisenach’s castle. Once you reach the top of the hill, you enter the inner courtyard of this historic and historical castle through a heavy old oak door. The ancient gate was renovated in preparation for the Luther decade celebrations. As you enter, remember that you’re walking in the footsteps of some famous individuals, chief among them Martin Luther, and later Goethe, Liszt and a number of politicians, including Helmut Kohl and Bill Clinton. Admission to the castle courtyard is free of charge, and you can enjoy the castle tavern, white doves and unmatched views across the Thuringian Forest.
A few more dates: Wartburg Castle was founded in 1067 by Ludwig the Leaper. These days, the palas (great hall), built for Ludwig II in around 1157, is the oldest part of the Wartburg. The castle has been extended several times since then, and was reconstructed in a historicist style in the 19th century. So don’t be surprised by the mix of styles – it gives the castle its special charm.
Wartburg Castle - truly facinating
Climbing even higher
The south tower provides a great view of everything that happens in the castle courtyard and across the surrounding hills. The student fraternity monument in Eisenach is also clearly visible from up here. The south tower is located at the opposite end of the courtyard from the entrance. If the little back door is open, you can also access the tower from the Path of Virtue, a 400 metre walking trail which runs along the outside of the castle wall on the right. At the start of this walk you can explore a medieval castle building site that shows how craftsmen used to work in the 12th century. It features replicas of a master stonemason’s workshop, a forge, a crane, scaffolding and lots of building tools from the period. This tour will definitely give you even more respect for the people who constructed the main building almost 900 years ago.
The musical heart
The Festsaal concert hall at Wartburg Castle ©Florian Trykowski, Thuringia Tourism Board
The Festsaal on the second floor of the main building is regarded as one of Thuringia’s most beautiful concert halls. For its renovation in the 19th century they even consulted composer Franz Liszt on the acoustics. That turned out to be well worthwhile, as you can hear during the regular concerts that still take place here. They include several performances a year of a concert version of the opera Tannhäuser, for which Richard Wagner received inspiration at the castle.
Wartburg Castle also regularly hosts events for the MDR Summer of Music festival. And the ornate hall so impressed King Ludwig II of Bavaria – he of the fairytale castles – that he had it replicated at Neuschwanstein. The original hall still enchants visitors from around the world, especially during concert evenings.
The main building of Wartburg Castle, the palas or great hall, is considered the best-preserved late-Romanesque secular structure north of the Alps. It contains 40,000 tonnes of light-coloured Rhaetic sandstone – great to look at, but actually much too delicate for the German climate, so it had to be sealed to protect it. On your tour, watch out for all the stone eagles – a deliberate provocation by one of the Ludwigs, who was married to a sister of Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa. The eagle was an imperial symbol.
The treasures of Wartburg Castle: Luther’s writings, Cranach’s works and other precious items
More than 800 pamphlets by Luther and his contemporaries make up the core of the impressive library at Wartburg Castle. Since the end of the 19th century, it has been collecting Luther’s writings and works about him, as well as books on the history of Thuringia. The newly opened museum library next to the Luther Room has some of them on display to visitors. And there are yet more treasures: the Wartburg Castle art collection with its exhibits spanning eight centuries was created at the instigation of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe nearly 200 years ago. Today it includes famous paintings from the workshop of Lucas Cranach, precious tapestries, sculptures by Tilman Riemenschneider, Renaissance craft objects and historical furniture.
This is the very spot: the Luther Room at Wartburg Castle
The Luther Room ©Florian Trykowski, Wartburg-Stiftung Eisenach/Thüringer Tourismus GmbH
This plain, wood-panelled room is where Martin Luther translated the New Testament from Greek and Latin into German in just eleven weeks. And it is also the birthplace of German as a written language, which didn’t really exist before Luther ‘invented’ it. The modest room has a very special feel to it. On 4 May 1521, Luther began his protective custody at Wartburg Castle, intended to save him from being seized by the emperor. Anyone who may be disappointed that the Luther Room hasn’t retained all that many original features should consider that, in the end, this is not what matters. Surely it is the atmosphere of a place that really leaves its mark on us, the knowledge that something important has happened in this very spot. And a lot more has happened at Wartburg Castle than in most other places. That gives the castle an exceptional quality, which is greatly appreciated by half a million visitors a year.
More information on Wartburg Castle
Header picture ©D. Ketz, Regionalverbund Thüringer Wald e.V.