Colditz Castle

Colditz, Germany

Colditz Castle is located on a hill spur over the river Zwickauer Mulde, a tributary of the River Elbe. In 1046, Henry III of the Holy Roman Empire gave the burghers of Colditz permission to build the first documented settlement at the site. During 1158, Emperor Frederick Barbarossa made Thimo I the Lord of Colditz, and major building works began. By 1200, the town around the market was established. During the Middle Ages, the castle was used as a lookout post for the German Emperors and was the hub of the Reich territories of the Pleissenland.

As a result of family dynastic politics, the town of Colditz was incorporated into the Margraviate of Meissen. During 1430, the Hussites attacked Colditz and set town and castle on fire. Around 1464, renovation and new building work on the castle were done by order of Prince Ernest, who died in Castle Colditz in 1486. During the reigns of Electors Frederick III the Wise and John the Gentle, Colditz was a royal residence of the electors of Saxony.

During 1504, the servant Clemens the baker accidentally set Colditz afire, and the town hall, church, castle and a large part of the town was burned. During 1506, reconstruction began and new buildings were erected around the rear castle courtyard. During 1523, the castle park was converted into one of the largest zoos in Europe. During 1524, rebuilding of the upper floors of the castle began. There is nothing more to be seen of the original castle, where the present rear of the castle is located.

The structure of the castle was changed during the long reign of the Elector Augustus of Saxony (1553–86), and the complex was reconstructed into a Renaissance style castle from 1577 to 1591, including the portions that were still in the Gothic architectural style.

In 1694, its then-current owner, King Augustus the Strong of Poland, began to expand it, resulting in a second courtyard and a total of 700 rooms.

During the 19th century, the church space was rebuilt in the neo-classic architectural style, but its condition was allowed to deteriorate. The castle was used by Frederick Augustus III, Elector of Saxony as a workhouse to feed the poor, the ill, and persons who had been arrested. It served this purpose from 1803 to 1829, when its workhouse function was assumed by an institution in Zwickau. During 1829, the castle became a mental hospital for the 'incurably insane' from Waldheim. During 1864, a new hospital building was erected in the Gothic Revival style, on the ground where the stables and working quarters had been previously located. It remained a mental institution until 1924.

When the Nazis gained power during 1933, they converted the castle into a political prison for communists, homosexuals, Jews and other people they considered undesirable. Starting 1939, allied prisoners were housed there. After the outbreak of World War II, the castle was converted into a high security prisoner-of-war camp for officers who had become security or escape risks or who were regarded as particularly dangerous. Since the castle is situated on a rocky outcrop above the River Mulde, the Germans believed it to be an ideal site for a high security prison.



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Founded: c. 1158
Category: Castles and fortifications in Germany
Historical period: Hohenstaufen Dynasty (Germany)

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4.4/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Fred Dreiling (12 months ago)
Stunning, both visually and exhibit curation. Usefully in both English and German. Strongly recommend a tour, you may book in advance but at quieter times, secure a private tour. Without the tour, the chapel, tunnels and glider will be missed.
Dilek I (12 months ago)
Totally affordable museum. I wish we could see more rooms inside the castle. The escape museum is really good. I recommend.
Carlos Uploads (13 months ago)
Great to see this historical place. Is a bit of a mission to get to. It doesn’t appear that there is much appetite to offer tours from major cities like Dresden or Leipzig. So we made our own way there, by getting the train from Leipzig (it’s more direct than from Dresden) to Grimma (R110). We then got the bus (619) from Grimma station to Colditz. I would highly recommend checking bus and train times home as we got off the bus to find a train back to Leipzig mid afternoon. We made it by 4 mins and found out it was the last train until the next morning back to Leipzig. Maybe we could have got a bus, but we felt that we got lucky to not get stranded. Colditz, itself is a significant piece of war history. However, for the size of the castle the museum itself is quite small. There is not loads to see considering the journey you make and what you do see seems quite limited. With lots of references to the nicer side of the prison. Larger rooms on display for more important prisoners. References to the games they played like volleyball, football and the Olympics in Colditz. Overall, really pleased to go but I guess I was expecting it to be bigger. For example the chapel and the French tunnel can only be seen if you take the guided tour.
p b (13 months ago)
We were there mainly to see the exhibition of the castle as an Officer's Prison during WWII. Growing up I had only heard of the British experience here. It was interesting to learn that officers from many countries were imprisoned and that the French and Dutch had a much better escape rate than the British. The only escapee killed was a mistake, as he was hit by a ricochet on his seventh or eighth escape.
Mark Walland (14 months ago)
Really enjoyed the guided tour, got to see the places you wouldn't see going around by yourself.
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