A Virtual Tour through Mediaeval Erfurt
I had been to Erfurt, the capital of the county of Thuringia, back at the time of analog cameras, and only for a few hours. But it takes more than a few hours to explore all the interesting historical sites, so I always wanted to go back, especially since Erfurt plays such an important role in German Mediaeval history.
Cathedral (left) and St.Severus Church (right)
We'll start with the most iconic view of Erfurt, the two churches and the stairs on the cathedral hill: St.Mary's Cathedral and St. Severus Church. The cathedral is the kernel of the town. The first church on the site was built by St.Boniface in 742. Erfurt belonged to the diocese of Mainz and later the diocese of Paderborn during most of its history, but today the cathedral is the centre of the diocese of Erfurt, which administers mostly the Thuringian Eichsfeld - the rest of the county is predominantly Protestant.
The present building is early Gothic; a three naved hall church (which means all three naves have the same height) without a transept. The choir was added in the 14th century by enlarging the hill by those huge stone arcs called cavates
which you can see in the first photo. Until the 19th century, litte houses snuggled inside those large caverns.
Cathedral, the crypt
The crypt, which should rather be called a lower church, was added together with the choir. It is usually not open to the public, but sometimes they'll leave the door open for a bit after an event. I was lucky to catch such a moment, since I have a soft spot for crypts. Crypt and cloister are today used by the University of Erfurt.
The main portal of the cathedral
The portal with the parable of the ten virgins was also added about 1330. The parable tells about ten virgins waiting to escort a bridegroom to the celebration. Five of them brought extra oil for their lamps and so when the bridegroom came, they could follow him. The stupid virgins had to run to the market to buy oil, missed the bridegroom and were excluded from the party. The parable means that one should always be prepared for the Day of Judgement. The motive is quite popular for church portals.
View to the cathedral square
The stairs are a popular place to sit and look down at the cathedral square. Halfway down the hill is a kiosk with a garden, which sells original Thuringian bratwurst
and dark beer. Very yummy and just the thing for a little break. The weather produced some spectacular clouds, but there was very little rain.
The Inn to the High Lily at the cathedral square
A particularly pretty house at the cathedral square is the 'Inn to the High Lily' (Gasthaus zur Hohen Lilie). It is first mentioned in a document from 1341, thus making it one of the eldest inns mentioned by name in Europe. The present building dates to the 15th century. Martin Luther stayed there in disguise, as well as King Gustav Adolf II of Sweden and other famous people. I had a lunch snack in the garden restaurant.
Renaissance houses at the Fishmarket
Erfurt lies at the crossing between the Via regia
which ran all the way from Santiago de Compostela via Mainz and Frankfurt /Rhine to Kraków, and the trade route from Nuremberg to the Hanseatic towns in the north, so it is not surprising that the town has several markets. The Renaissance houses at the Fishmarket are particularly nice.
Merchant's hose To the Great Paradise and Donkey
This building is somewhat older, a fine example of a half-timbered first floor atop a ground floor and cellar made of stone. It was once the house of a wealthy merchant. Unfortunately, I could not find out where the odd name 'To the Great Paradise and Donkey' comes from.
Woad Storage Hall
From the 13th to 16th century, the production of blue dyes made from woad was one of the foundations of Erfurt's wealth. The woad hall was built in mid-16th century for storage and working of woad. Towards the end of that century, the imported indigo developed into a competition with which the Erfurt woad could not compete in the long run.
The Old Synagogue
The Old Synagogue dates to the 11th century, was rebuilt in 1270 and is thus one of the oldest synagogues in Europe. The synagogue had been abandoned after the progrome from 1349 and put to various other uses. It was converted into a ballroom and bowling alley in the 19th century and therefore survived Hitler's demolition program. The original use of the building was recovered in 1992.
Old synagogue, the Gothic wall
I admit I was pissed that photographing inside the synagogue is not allowed - it is a museum, after all, and not everyone interested in Jewish history can afford to travel to Erfurt. I would have liked to share some more photos with you than just the above and one of the entrance side of the synagogue with its Gothic windows.
But I managed to snatch a shot of the mikveh
, which was verboten als well *grin*. The 13th century Jewish ritual bath, which makes use of the fresh water of the Gera river, was discovered in 2007 under a former cemetary. It is one of the eldest in Germany, though the mikveh in Speyer
is even older.
The Merchant's Bridge is the second iconic site in Erfurt. It started with a timber bridge across the Gera river in the 1250ies which was rebuilt in stone in 1325. The bridge is 125 metres long and 20 metres wide, supported by six stone arcs. It had been additionally expanded by timber constructions to allow for three-storeyed houses.
On the Merchants' Bridge
Originally, there were 60 small houses on the bridge, today there are still 32 (some houses have been 'merged'). There are little stores and boutiques on the ground floors, selling handcrafted pottery and carvings, spices, very good ice cream (Goldhelm
) and other items. People still live in the upper floors, making the Merchants' Bridge a unique remnant of Mediaeval town architecture and a big tourist attraction.
St.Egidius Church with entrance gate to the Merchants' Bridge,
and the Red Tower
Originally, the Merchant's Bridge was closed by gates. Above the remaining gate sits a little church which dates to the 12th century, though the oriel at the outside is late Gothic. Its separate belfry - an unusual feature in Germany - is known as the Red Tower.
St.Augustine Monastery, the cloister
The Augustine Monastery was founded in 1276. The whole complex of buildings, including a library and a woad storage hall, were finished in 1516. After the Reformation and secularisation (1559), the buildings served various purposes; some of them suffered from neglect. A few of the buildings have recently been replaced with modern ones which fit surprisingly well, but most have been repaired and reconstructed. Since 2004, the former monastery serves as religious community centre. The church and some other parts can be visited during guided tours.
St. Augustine Monastery, refectory
The Augustine Monastery is famous because Martin Luther stayed there as monk 1505 - 1511; he then moved to Wittenberg (where he had his 95 theses nailed to the church portal in 1517). Little did he suspect he would change the religious landscape of Germany and Europe when he first studied the Bible and other writings in his cell.
The Collegium Maius was the old university of Erfurt, the third eldest in Germany after Heidelberg and Cologne. It was officially acknowledged by the pope in 1392 and offered studies in four faculties: Theology, Philosophy, Law, and Medicine. The university was closed in 1816, and the building destroyed during WW2, but it was re-erected in the 1980ies. Since 1999, there is a university in Erfurt again (though it uses other buildings).
St. Michael's Church dates to the 12th century, but - as so often with old churches - it was rebuilt in Gothic style in the 15th century. It was used as church of the university since 1392. Martin Luther held sermons there 1522 and the church became the first stronghold of the preachers of the Reformation in Erfurt.
Dominican Church (Predigerkirche), interior
The Dominican Church, also known als Predigerkirche
(Preachers' Church) was once part of a 13th century Dominican monastery. It is another fine example of the early Gothic style and another hall church without a transept. Today it serves as the main Protestant church in Erfurt. It is less tourist infected than the cathedral, but I recommend a look inside; it's pretty in a somewhat austere way.
Ruins of the Franciscan Church (Barfüsserkirche)
Erfurt was littered with churches and monasteries in the Middle Ages. Not all of them survived the passage of time, but the more important ones were repaired after the damage of WW2. The 14th century Franciscan Church belonged to a monastery which already had been damaged during the Thirty Years War. The church was deliberately left a ruin after WW2, as memorial of the war.
Mill at the Gera river
The present mill dates to 1736, but there has been a mill at the site since the 13th century. It was in use as corn mill until 1982; the last remnant of a whole set of mills at the Gera river.
I hope you liked the little tour. There will be more detailed posts about some of the sites.
Some More Castles in Thuringia - An Overview
I spent a week visiting the towns of Erfurt, Jena, and Weimar. Two days I went hiking to some castles in the surroundings. Here are some first impressions (posts about the towns of Erfurt, Jena, and Weimar, and more detailed portraits of the castles will follow).
Castle Gleichen near Erfurt
Some ten miles west of Erfurt, three hills of almost identical conic shape rise in the Thuringinan Basin, and each of them has a castle on top: Burg Gleichen, Mühlburg and Wachsenburg. The castles itself are pretty different, though.
(BTW, Google Maps got the location of Castle Gleichen totally wrong. It is several miles away from the second castle, the Mühlburg.)
Castle Gleichen, the keep
Castle Gleichen is the largest of the three. It is first mentioned in a charte dating to 1088 and was used as residence by the counts of Gleichen until the 16th century. The remains range from Romanesque to Renaissance buildings.
Inner bailey with old hall (left) and the chancelry
The castle is connected with the legend of a Count of Gleichen who was happily married to a noble lady. But then he went to a crusade, was captured by the Turks and rescued by a beautiful sultana
whom he promised to marry. They went to the pope in Rome to get a dispens and then returned home. The first wife must have been a model of all female virtues, because she didn't throw a fit but instead welcomed the beautiful rival, and all three lived happily ever after.
Detail shot of the 16th century arcades
The top of the hill has been flattened during the various changes in the layout of the castle, therefore the inner bailey is unusually large. There once were more buildings than today, mostly made of timber.
The old hall, interior
It was a fine day for hiking, warm and dry, and often sunny, though some clouds made for pretty dramatic photos, like the one of the Mühlburg below.
Castle Mühlburg near Erfurt
The Mühlburg is smaller, but its history is equally interesting (albeit lacking legends about beautiful sultanas
). Most of the remains date to the mid-14th century. Significant traces of the fortifications remain; the trenches are still visible in parts, and the Mühlburg had a zwinger.
Remains of some buildings
Since the castle is close to the village of Mühlberg, it is a fine destination for a little family afternoon out, especially on a Sunday. There is a booth selling beverages and ice cream, and yes, Köstritzer
dark beer and chocolate ice cream do
go together. I earned myself both, lol.
The Wachsenburg, which today houses a hotel, has been altered most, so I wasn't that interested in going there as well. It took me a day to cover the other two, after all. Luckily I got a ride back to Erfurt.
Castle Lobedburg near Jena
Castle Lobdeburg near Jena ist not a large castle, but it must have been impressive once due to its compact structures along the steep slope; the remains still are. The interior of the middle bailey is closed off because of the danger of falling stones, and the lower bailey is under repair. I managed to sneak through a gap in the fence to take some photos, though.
Lobdeburg, the lower bailey
The Lobdeburg dates to the 12th century. The castle was inhabited until the end of the 16th century, afterwards it was used as quarry until the Lobdeburg Society started to take care of the ruins about hundred years ago.
Remains of the middle bailey
The walk around the ruins is a bit of an adventure path right now. I was glad for my trusty walking staff. But I got some good looks on the fine Romanesque windows and other features.
The Fuchsturm (Fox Tower) near Jena
The Fox Tower is the only remaining part of another castle near Jena. There was a chain of three castles on the Hausberg ridge in the 12th century; Castle Kirchberg was the most important of them. They were destroyed in 1304 and never restored except for the Fox Tower.