Hohenfreyberg Castle Ruins

Pfronten, Germany

Hohenfreyberg Castle, together with Eisenberg Castle directly opposite, are situated on a twin-topped, rocky ridge in front of the Tannheim Mountains. The castle was one of the last great castles of the German Middle Ages. Its lord base dit consciously on the – actually anachronistic – design of a high mediaeval hill castle whilst, in other places, the first castles had been abandoned or converted into schloss-like country houses.

Construction on the fortress was started in 1418 by Frederick of Freyberg zu Eisenberg, the eldest son of the eponymous lord of Eisenberg Castle. The work lasted until 1432, the funding coming from the income of the little barony that surrounded it, which the lord had bequeathed in advance of his death.

The walls of the inner bailey with its bergfried-like main tower and large sections of the walls of the outer bailey go back to this first construction phase. The first castle gave the impression of a high mediaeval hilltop castle about 200 years older with an impressive bergfried and two palases. At a time when the nobility were waning and the bourgeois classes were in the ascendancy, Frederick of Freyberg clearly wanted to create a symbol of unbroken aristocratic power. He certainly was certainly influenced by the size and appearance of his ancestral castle which was only five minutes walk away.

The construction and huge maintenance costs forced his sons, George and Frederick of Freyberg-Eisenberg zu Hohenfreyberg and their cousin, George of Freyberg-Eisenberg zu Eisenberg, who also owned estates of the Barony of Hohenfreyberg, to sell the castle in 1484 to Archduke Sigmund of Austria; they also lacked a male heir. The successor to the Archduke, later Emperor Maximilian I, enfeoffed Hohenfreyberg in 1499 to Augsburg merchant, Georg Gossembrot, the Pfleger of the nearby Tyrolean castle of Ehrenberg. He invested heavily in the fortress: the site was fortified militarily and modernised.

The modernization of the fortifications by the castle's vassal lords paid off in 1525 during the German Peasants' War. The Austrian Pfleger was able to ward the rebels off successfully after he had requested reinforcements and soldiers from Innsbruck.

In 1646, towards the end of the Thirty Years' War, the Austrian outposts of Hohenfreyberg, Eisenberg and Falkenstein were set on fire on the orders of the Tyrolean state government. The fortresses were not to fall intact into the hands of the approaching Protestants. However, the attackers changed their line of advance, so their destruction was needless. Since that time, all three castles have remained uninhabited ruins.

After the Battle of Austerlitz, Austria had to cede its Allgäu possessions to Bavaria. The Kingdom of Bavaria sold Hohenfreyberg in 1841 back to the Lords of Freyberg, to whom the castle still belongs today. An extensive renovation started in 1995.

The castle was built mainly in three large construction phases. The original castle (1418-32) was somewhat smaller than the surviving ruins. It consisted of two angled residential buildings in the courtyard, a bergfried-like main tower in the east and a chapel tower. This inner bailey was surrounded by a short enceinte. The crenellated wall of the outer bailey was much lower than today. On the plateau of this outer ward were almost certainly a number of wooden domestic and residential buildings. The original gate of the outer ward was slightly wider, but situated on the same spot as the present entrance. Originally the castle track led around the north and east sides of the castle and met the one coming from the gate in the outer bailey. The gate of the inner ward was originally in the south wall. The outer wall guarded the main entrance in the manner of a gateway zwinger.

In 1456 the two gateways were reinforced. On the west side of the inner bailey a low artillery hut was built, from which an attacking enemy could be fired upon with light firearms. The main gate was expanded into a massive gateway structure.

Between 1486 and 1502 the castle was fundamentally remodelled and strengthened. At the southwest corner of the outer ward the mighty artillery roundel was built. The height of the enceinte was increased and designed with embrasures for arquebuses. The large battery tower guarded the new approach way, which was now on the southern side. The gateway to the inner bailey was moved to the west side and was given a new gate tower. This required the demolition of the northern half of the great west residence or palas, whose rubble was distributed to a depty of a metre in the inner courtyard. As a consequence even the smaller palas had to be remodelled. To the north and east the mighty zwinger systems were built with a semi-circular flanking tower in the far northeast.

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Pfronten, Germany
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Founded: 1418-1432
Category: Castles and fortifications in Germany
Historical period: Habsburg Dynasty (Germany)

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