Rheinfels Castle construction was started in 1245 by Count Diether V of Katzenelnbogen. After expansions, it was the largest fortress in the Middle Rhein Valley between Koblenz and Mainz. It was slighted by French Revolutionary Army troops in 1797.
The main entrance to the castle complex is a tall square clock or gate tower (~1300 AD) opposite the hotel. A connecting path joins the clock tower to the remains of the living quarters of the Earls of Hessen-Darmstadt (the so-called Darmstadt Building). The Darmstadt building was designed in Tudor style with pointed gables. The connecting path was the site of the former moat of the main castle buildings; part of which is now the large cellar or basement. This large cellar was arched over in 1587-89 in two visible phases. It is the largest self-supporting vaulted cellar in Europe and has a length of 24 metres, a width and height of approximately 16 metres and can accommodate up to 400 people.
The walls are up to 4 metres thick. Previously a 200,000 litres wine barrel was constructed for storage. The cellar was renovated in 1997 and restored to its original condition and now serves as a meeting place for concerts, theater performances, and other shows.
The castle museum is located in the former castle chapel which is the only finished room of the original castle. It is accessed through an internal gate and up the path. The museum contains a model reconstruction of the castle before its destruction giving one a sense of how big the castle used to be. The medieval castle courtyard is found beyond the castle museum building (slightly uphill). This was the center of the medieval castle which contained a bakery, pharmacy, garden, brewery, well, and livestock—which would have allowed it to withstand an extended siege. Remnants of the original 13th-century plaster which was painted white can still be found on some walls.
While much of the castle is a ruin, some of the outer buildings are now a hotel and restaurant.References:
The Abbey of Saint-Etienne, also known as Abbaye aux Hommes ('Men"s Abbey'), is a former monastery dedicated to Saint Stephen (Saint Étienne). It is considered, along with the neighbouring Abbaye aux Dames ('Ladies" Abbey'), to be one of the most notable Romanesque buildings in Normandy. Like all the major abbeys in Normandy, it was Benedictine.
Lanfranc, before being an Archbishop of Canterbury, was abbot of Saint-Etienne. Built in Caen stone during the 11th century, the two semi-completed churches stood for many decades in competition. An important feature added to both churches in about 1120 was the ribbed vault, used for the first time in France. The two abbey churches are considered forerunners of the Gothic architecture. The original Romanesque apse was replaced in 1166 by an early Gothic chevet, complete with rosette windows and flying buttresses. Nine towers and spires were added in the 13th century. The interior vaulting shows a similar progression, beginning with early sexpartite vaulting (using circular ribs) in the nave and progressing to quadipartite vaults (using pointed ribs) in the sanctuary.
The two monasteries were finally donated by William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda of Flanders, as penalty for their marriage against the Pope"s ruling. William was buried here; Matilda was buried in the Abbaye aux Dames. Unfortunately William"s original tombstone of black marble, the same kind as Matilda"s in the Abbaye aux Dames, was destroyed by the Calvinist iconoclasts in the 16th century and his bones scattered.
As a consequence of the Wars of Religion, the high lantern tower in the middle of the church collapsed and was never rebuilt. The Benedictine abbey was suppressed during the French Revolution and the abbey church became a parish church. From 1804 to 1961, the abbey buildings accommodated a prestigious high school, the Lycée Malherbe. During the Normandy Landings in 1944, inhabitants of Caen found refuge in the church; on the rooftop there was a red cross, made with blood on a sheet, to show that it was a hospital (to avoid bombings).