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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Address

K52, Merzalben, Germany
See all sites in Merzalben

Details

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

Rating

4.7/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

dr. dominik eberl (5 months ago)
Very nice historic place. Also nice for an Evening Walk.
Mike Flatten (5 months ago)
Awesome castle...beautiful views...short steep hike. Well worth the trip!
Brad Worley (7 months ago)
Great castle to visit with really nice views. Free entry but it's good hike up to it. If you choose to climb to the top of the tower I recommend using a flashlight (your phone will work). The stairs are narrow and there are places with little light. The castle is in great shape. From the opposite side of the parking lot there is also a trail leading to another lookout with views of this castle.
Full Metal Digger (11 months ago)
Great scenery and easy hiking
Daniel M (12 months ago)
Nice place. Worth to visit
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