Castles in the High Rhine valley

Laufen Castle

Laufen Castle is a castle in the municipality of Laufen-Uhwiesen in the Swiss canton of Zurich. It is a Swiss heritage site of national significance overlooking the Rhine Falls. The first documented reference to the castle dates to the year 858 when it was the home of the Barons of Laufen. It passed through several owners until the Old Zürich War (1439-1450) when the castle was acquired by the Fulach family, ...
Founded: 9th century AD | Location: Laufen-Uhwiesen, Switzerland

Wörth Castle

The Wörth water castle is built on a small island in the Rhine river at the municipality of Neuhausen am Rheinfall, opposite of the Laufen Castle in the canton of Zürich. Wörth was first mentioned in the 13th century, serving up to the middle of the 19th century as a major transhipment point on the east-west trade route, that led from Lake Constance and Basel, and was interrupted by the Rheinfall waterfalls. Th ...
Founded: 1348 | Location: Neuhausen am Rheinfall, Switzerland

Munot Castle

The Munot is a circular 16th century fortification in the center of the Swiss city of Schaffhausen. It is surrounded by vineyards and serves as the city"s symbol. The earliest presence of a castle on a round hill above the river goes back to 1379, but not much is known about the earlier fort. The castle seen today dates in the 16th century at the height of the city’s commercial power, built in a relatively ...
Founded: 1564-1589 | Location: Schaffhausen, Switzerland

Hohenklingen Castle

The history of Hohenklingen castle is closely linked to the small town Stein am Rhein and the monastery St. Georgen. Around 1200, Walter von Klingen erected a residential tower on the site of the present castle. Around 1460, the battlements against firearms were installed.  In 1499, at the time of the Swabian war, and from 1618 to 1648 during the Thirty Years" War, the castle played an important role and was en ...
Founded: c. 1200 | Location: Stein am Rhein, Switzerland

Küssaburg Castle Ruins

Küssaburg is a ruined hilltop castle located in Bechtersbohl, a village in the municipality of Küssaberg. The name may be derived from the Roman personal name, Cossinius, or from the German Kissen (Alemannic Chüssi) which means 'cushion', after the shape of the mountain on which it stands. The hill castle is one of the most important historic buildings on the High Rhine and a landmark of the coun ...
Founded: 1125-1141 | Location: Bechtersbohl, Germany

Herblingen Castle

Herblingen Castle in Stetten was probably built at the beginning of the 13th century by the Lords of Herblingen. In 1281 Konrad von Herblingen rebuilt the chapel, which may have been existed already in the 11th century. Herblingen family died out in the 15th century and after then castle owners changed many times. The bank director Johann Wilhelm Gestefeld from Vienna acquired the castle in 1733 and converted it into ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Stetten, Switzerland

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Porta Nigra

The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.

The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.

In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.

In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.

After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.

In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.

In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.