The Imperial Castle is the symbol of Nuremberg. Since the Middle Ages its silhouette has represented the power and importance of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and the outstanding role of the imperial city of Nuremberg.
Nuremberg, which was first mentioned in a document as a royal property in 1050, played an important part in the imperial and domestic policy of the Salian and Hohenstaufen kings and emperors. The castle and town were a favourite stopping place for rulers on their journeys through the realm, and court assemblies and Imperial Diets were held here. In order to provide an appropriate setting for these events, the Hohenstaufens built an extended castle complex on the rocky elevation over the remains of older buildings, which is still largely what we see today. To administer the imperial property and maintain order they installed a burgrave, who resided in the front area of the complex (the so-called Burgrave’s Castle). In 1191 the office of burgrave passed to the Counts of Zollern.
With its close connection to royalty and its location at the junction of important highways, Nuremberg soon developed to become an important transit trade and export centre and a financial marketplace. The Letter of Freedom granted by Emperor Friedrich II in 1219 strengthened the civic autonomy of the city, removing it almost entirely from the purview of the burgraves. By the end of the Hohenstaufen period in 1254, it had become an independent imperial city.
It finally emerged victorious from the bitter disputes with the Zollern burgraves, who had acquired extensive territories in Franconia and established seats of government first in the castle of Cadolzburg and later in Ansbach: in 1422 Emperor Sigismund transferred responsibility for the castle to the town, to the benefit of the king and the emperor. The people of Nuremberg were probably also involved when Ludwig VII of Bavaria-Ingolstadt attacked the Burgrave’s Castle in 1420 and burned it down. In 1427 the city acquired the remains of the Burgrave’s Castle from Burgrave Friedrich VI, who took over a new function as Elector of Brandenburg. From this time on the whole castle complex was in the hands of the city.
In the late Middle Ages Nuremberg ranked as the 'most distinguished, best located city of the realm'. The city was the scene of numerous Imperial Diets and in 1356 Emperor Charles IV’s 'Golden Bull' named Nuremberg as the place where every newly elected ruler had to hold his first Imperial Diet. Nuremberg thus became one of the centres of the empire – in addition to Frankfurt where the kings were elected and Aachen where they were crowned.
Most of the emperors paid numerous visits: Ludwig IV 'the Bavarian' stayed there 74 times, and Charles IV 52 times. At the same time, however, the castle became less important. The town hall completed in 1340 was used instead as a place of assembly and from Ludwig the Bavarian on, the emperors preferred the more comfortable accommodation of the patrician houses. In 1423, Sigismund gave the imperial regalia into the keeping of the city, a mark of particular trust. The Habsburgs Friedrich III and his son Maximilian I were the last emperors to reside for longer periods in the castle and city. Their successor Charles V also broke with the tradition of emperors holding their first Imperial Diet in Nuremberg and did not visit Nuremberg until 1522, after the Imperial Diet in Worms. Nuremberg’s acceptance of the Reformation in 1524 alienated the Protestant city from the Catholic emperors. In 1663, after the Thirty Years’ War, the Imperial Diet was relocated permanently to Regensburg.
After the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 and the incorporation of Nuremberg into the kingdom of Bavaria, there was revived interest in the castle as an important German historical building. King Ludwig I had it restored from 1833 by the architect Carl Alexander von Heideloff so that he could live there as sovereign. However, the romantic neo-Gothic interior begun by the architect was not to his taste and he stopped the building work in 1835. It was not until the reign of his son Maximilian II that a royal apartment was created, the work of August von Voit in the years 1851 to 1858.
After the end of the monarchy in 1918, the historistic redecoration of the Palas and Bower lost its appeal. In 1934, under Rudolf Esterer, the work of replacing the neo-Gothic with the supposed original interior was begun, also – with a view to future party conferences of the Nazi party NSDAP – with the idea of creating an 'apartment' for important guests of the Reich. The castle was not to be simply 'preserved as a monument, but was to resume its old place in the life of the nation' (Heinrich Kreisel). Esterer believed he could unite the past and present by replacing the neo-Gothic interior with 'timeless German artisanship'.
In 1945 practically the entire Imperial Castle lay in ruins, but important Romanesque and late Gothic sections survived virtually unscathed. Immediately after the war, Rudolf Esterer rebuilt the complex almost exactly as he had before the war on the principle of 'creative conservation'. The permanent exhibition in the castle was redesigned by the Bavarian Palace Department together with the Nuremberg museums in 2013. The new concept shows not only clear explanations of the elements and function of the castle in their historical context, but also presents information about the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and the role of Nuremberg in the late Middle Ages in a vivid and exciting form that will appeal to visitors of all ages.References:
From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.
The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.
At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.
The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.
The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.
Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).
The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.
At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».
The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.