Ehrenbreitstein Fortress was built as the backbone of the regional fortification system, Festung Koblenz, by Prussia between 1817 and 1832 and guarded the middle Rhine region, an area that had been invaded by French troops repeatedly before. The fortress was never attacked.
Early fortifications at the site can be dated back to about 1000 BC. At about AD 1000 Ehrenbert erected a castle. The Archbishops of Trier expanded it with a supporting castle Burg Helferstein and guarded the Holy Tunic in it from 1657 to 1794. Successive Archbishops used the castle's strategic importance to barter between contending powers; thus in 1672 at the outset of war between France and Germany the Archbishop refused requests both from the envoys of Louis XIV and from Brandenburg's Ambassador, Christoph Caspar von Blumenthal, to permit the passage of troops across the Rhine. However, in 1794, French revolutionary troops conquered Koblenz; in the following years they besieged Ehrenbreitstein three times without success. But a one-year siege, starting in 1798, brought starvation to the defenders of Ehrenbreitstein who finally handed over the fortress to French troops in 1799. By the treaty of Lunéville, the French were forced to withdraw from the right bank of the Rhine. Hence, they dismantled Ehrenbreitstein in 1801 to prevent the enemy from taking hold of a fully functional fortress just a few meters away from French territory on the left bank of the Rhine.
According to the Final Act of the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the Rhineland became a Prussian province. The fortification of the Koblenz area became a Prussian military priority, because of its proximity to France and the fact that Koblenz was a bottleneck for all means of transportation (ships, railways, land transportation because of bridges). Hence, the Prussians built a system of fortification around Koblenz, the so-called Fortress Koblenz, from 1817 until 1834. Yet, the name Fortress Koblenz should not be interpreted as if the whole city of Koblenz was a fortress. It should be rather viewed as a buzz word, referring to the ring of fortification around Koblenz, of which the Festung Ehrenbreitstein was a part. Fortress Koblenz was said to have been the largest military fortress in Europe except for Gibraltar. However, it is a common misconception, that the 'Festung Ehrenbreitstein' alone was the largest fortress in Europe. Ehrenbreitstein could be defended by up to 1200 soldiers. Unchallenged, it remained in service until 1890.
In 1822 the English translation of the castle's name, The Broad-Stone of Honour, was used as the title of Kenelm Henry Digby's exhaustive work on chivalry.
In 1897, a Monument to Emperor Wilhelm I was erected right below the Festung, but on the west side of the Rhine, known as the Deutsches Eck (German Corner). Both fortress and monument were considered as symbols for the 'Guard at the Rhine', as in the song 'Die Wacht am Rhein'.
During World War I the fortress was used as military headquarters. After World War I, the American General Henry Tureman Allen, convinced of its historical value as a premier 19th-century fortress, prevented its intended destruction. It was occupied by the US Army as their headquarters during the occupation of the Rhineland, and after January 1923 it was occupied by the French Army. During World War II, it served as a place of safekeeping for archives and cultural objects but also harbored three flak guns.
After World War II, it was used first by the French Army before it was handed over to the State of Rhineland-Palatinate. It now has multiple uses including a youth hostel, restaurant, museum and archive. In 2011, Festung Ehrenbreitstein will be part of the National Garden Show in Koblenz and is thus currently under renovation.References:
Het Steen is a medieval fortress in the old city centre of Antwerp. Built after the Viking incursions in the early Middle Ages as the first stone fortress of Antwerp, Het Steen is Antwerp's oldest building and used to be its oldest urban centre.
Previously known as Antwerpen Burcht (fortress), Het Steen gained its current name in around 1520, after significant rebuilding under Charles V. The fortress made it possible to control the access to the Scheldt, the river on whose bank it stands. It was used as a prison between 1303 and 1827. The largest part of the fortress, including dozens of historic houses and the oldest church of the city, was demolished in the 19th century when the quays were straightened to stop the silting up of the Scheldt. The remaining building, heavily changed, contains a shipping museum, with some old canal barges displayed on the quay outside.
In 1890 Het Steen became the museum of archeology and in 1952 an annex was added to house the museum of Antwerp maritime history, which in 2011 moved to the nearby Museum Aan de Stroom. Here you’ll also find a war memorial to the Canadian soldiers in WWII.
There are some beautiful plaques on the back side of the Steen Castle at Antwerp. Canadian visitors will especially want to see the plaques thanking the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry for their part in the liberation of Antwerp, in 1944.
At the entrance to Het Steen is a bas-relief of Semini, above the archway, around 2nd century. Semini is the Scandinavian God of youth and fertility (with symbolic phallus). A historical plaque near Het Steen explains that women of the town appealed to Semini when they desired children; the god was reviled by later religious clergy. Inhabitants of Antwerp previously referred to themselves as 'children of Semini'.
At the entrance bridge to the castle is a statue of a giant and two humans. It depicts the giant Lange Wapper who used to terrorise the inhabitants of the city in medieval times.