Gräfenstein Castle

Merzalben, Germany

Gräfenstein Castle was built by the Saarbrücken counts, who had lost their fortress and were in need of a new one. Evidence for the exact date of the castle's building does not exist although the earliest record dates to a 1237 deed of partition by the counts of Leiningen. But from the castle's design and materials it can be deduced that it was built sometime between 1150 and 1200. Another clue is in the date of the restoration of the stone fortress, which took place in 1168, and coincides with first construction work on Gräfenstein Castle. The central element of the site, with its bergfried and palas probably dates to the 12th century and thus goes back to the Hohenstaufen era. The upper part of the castle was built on a rock shelf 12 metres high. The building's highlight is the peculiar seven-sided tower.

Possession of Gräfenstein was first given to the younger counts of the von Leiningen family. The House of Leiningen was related to the von Saarbrücken counts. The castle was built primarily for protection. It lies on the intersection of the Diocese of Worms, Speyer and Metz. The boundaries of these places were contiguous with that of Gräfenstein's, so the castle's main function was to maintain a hold on the uncertain borders. So was the protection of the surrounding forests and villages.

In 1317 the castle went into the possession of the collateral Leiningen-Dagsburg line. By 1367 they had to sell 7/8 of the estate to Prince Elector, Rupert I of the Palatinate. Through marriage, Gräfenstein went in 1421 to the Counts of Leiningen-Hardenburg. They had the castle expanded, particularly the lower ward.

The castle was first destroyed in 1525 during the German Peasants' War. Rebuilding work began in 1535 and, in 1540, the castle was sold by its owner, Count Palatine Johann von Simmern to the Count Palatine, Rupert, who used it from then on as his new residence and also introduced the Reformation locally. Rupert had been born in 1506 in Zweibrücken and died at Gräfenstein Castle on 28 July 1544.

Thereafter the castle continued to change hands, until in 1570 it was transferred, together with its associated villages, to Badenian ownership (Margraviate of Baden-Baden and Baden-Durlach). In 1635, during the Thirty Years' War, the castle was razed by fire and became unusable for a long time. In 1771, when the rule of the Counts of Baden-Baden ended, ownership of the castle passed into the hands of the government of Baden-Durlach. They held the castle until the French Revolution. The castle had at this point reached the crest of its glory, and after that it fell into dereliction.

In spite of that the fortification is relatively well preserved. The first conservation measures on the ruins were carried out in 1909/10 and 1936/37. And from 1978 to 1986 the state of Rhineland-Palatinate had the ruins comprehensively restored at some cost.

Gräfenstein is the only castle in Germany with a heptagonal keep or bergfried. This may still be climbed today up a narrow spiral staircase. The shape of the tower is based on a combination of an octagon and a triangle. Whilst on a pentagonal tower, a triangular point is added to the rectangular main body on the side facing the enemy, in the case of Gräfenstein two shoulders of the octagon have been extended into a point. Another feature is the fact that the bergfried at Gräfenstein is not oriented in the direction of an attack, because the castle stands on a conical hill with steep drops on all sides. This underscores the symbolism of military architecture, which was at on an equal footing with funcionality in the High Middle Ages. The ground-level entrance was not added until more recent times.



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K52, Merzalben, Germany
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Founded: 1237
Category: Castles and fortifications in Germany
Historical period: Hohenstaufen Dynasty (Germany)


4.7/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Just Me (7 months ago)
Used to hike to this ruin quite often while stationed in Muenchweiler in the late 70's. One of my favorites!!
Danielle Cummings (11 months ago)
This is probably one of my favorite ruins so far, and we’ve seen about 30. First of all, it’s free, unmonitored (so 24/7 access), has a large and relatively close dedicated parking lot, and has 30-60 minutes worth of exploring. E came here today as a party of 2 Adults and 3 kids (ages 5,3,.5; I wore the baby and the other two walked). The lot has tons of space, a lot of which was shaded, and two picnic tables. There is a sign over the path to the castle that you can’t miss. The trail is zig zag but fast (took the 3yo 10ish minutes to walk), but definitely not stroller friendly due to rocks, roots, and steps). There may be a stroller friendly path that we saw leaving the castle but I don’t know where it ends up. The castle itself has awesome history being from the 1200s and is just impressive to look at. It has amazing views from several locations, but particularly from the tower. The tower is actually tucked away in a place that makes it easy to miss, so keep your eye out for a dark stairwell going up and use your flashlight because the first two flights are very dark. There aren’t any picnic tables within the castle but there are plenty of rocks that served the purpose at the base of the castle. We saw many dogs and bicyclists on this warm July Monday afternoon. There was a small amount of litter but nothing crazy. There is a map on a sign and online explaining what each of the rooms was, which I recommend using. I might actually come back to this one!
Steven Dover (2 years ago)
Nice ruins that are fully accessible, offering great views over the surroundings
dr. dominik eberl (2 years ago)
Very nice historic place. Also nice for an Evening Walk.
Mike Flatten (2 years ago)
Awesome castle...beautiful views...short steep hike. Well worth the trip!
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