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 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 one 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 and flat. There were more buildings than today, of course, 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. More 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 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 counts of Lobdeburg are probably the founders of Jena. 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. 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.
From Castle to Convention Centre - Castle Scharfenstein in the Eichsfeld
We can thank Pope Benedict XVI for most of the repairs of castle Scharfenstein near Leinefelde-Worbis (1), and the surprisingly comfortable road leading to it.
The castle sits on a promontory of a musselkalk plateau near the twin town of Leinefelde-Worbis in the Eichsfeld, a Catholic enclave in the overall Protestant county of Thuringia and a small part of southern Lower Saxony (2). And that is why the pope came here in 2011.
Castle Scharfenstein, view to the inner bailey with the great hall
Like so many castles in the former GDR, the Scharfenstein had first been used as state holiday site for families and later fell into decline; it was pretty much abandoned in the 1980ies. After the reunion, no one wanted to take the financial burden until the community of Leinefelde-Worbis bought the ruins in 2002. The visit of Pope Benedict gave a real boost to the renovation work, since it was planned for him to hold a public mass there. The event was later moved to nearby Etzelsbach Chapel, but the road, the newly renovated great hall and the rooms in the former stables and other outhouses remained.
View to the castle, with the keep in construction to the right
The castle probably dates to the second half of the 12th century; a Godehard of Scharfenstein is mentioned as witness in several chartes since 1161. The castle itself is first mentioned in 1209.
There must have been some feudal problems between the lords of Scharfenstein and the landgrave of Thuringia, because Landgrave Ludwig III conquered the castle in 1219 during a feud with the archbishop Siegfried II of Eppstein of Mainz; a feud which had been caused by the strife between the emperor Otto IV
and Friedrich II of Staufen.
The outer bailey seen from the outside
The castle then went to the family of Gleichenstein (sometimes also called 'of Gleichen') who must have been vassals to the landgraves of Thuringia. In 1287, Heinrich the Illustrious
pawned out the 'castrum Scharphenstein' to the archbishop of Mainz. His successor Albrecht II ('the Degenerate' - he of the ongoing money problems) sold the castle to Mainz together with some other possessions a few years later (1294). This was the beginning of the Eichsfeld, an enclave of the archbishopric of Mainz in Thuringia. The lords of Gleichenstein seem to have kept the castle as fief for some time.
Remains of the outer curtain walls in the foreground
The castle must have been much larger than today at the beginning of the 14th century. But it burned down in 1431, due to a lightning strike. At that time, the Scharfenstein was held by the Wintzingerode family who rebuilt the castle, but in smaller scale. The Wintzingerode - the family still exists today - had large possessions in the Eichsfeld (3).
The outer bailey with convention rooms and a chapel
Next time the castle comes into the focus of the local history was during the Reformation. The former Cistercian munk Heinrich Pfeiffer, a follower of Luther's reformation, found shelter on the Scharfenstein in 1521. But he joined the more radical and anti-nobility preacher Thomas Müntzer who led a peasants' army in revolt against not only the Catholic Church but against the nobility as well. Many castles in Thuringia fell prey to the peasants and went up in flames; Pfeiffer led his men to castle Scharfenstein and destroyed it (1525). So much for gratitude.
Interior of the chapel
The peasant revolt was put down and the leaders executed. Friedrich of Wintzingerode rebuilt the castle in 1532. Friedrich was a Protestant and at the time held the castle as pawn from the Catholic archbishop of Mainz. Who probably was not happy about that. The archbishop was looking around for money to redeem the pawn and kick that Protestant guy out. He succeeded in 1587, during the Counter-Reformation, and regained the Catholic foothold in the Thuringian Eichsfeld.
The gate house
The Eichsfeld came to Prussia in 1802, and the Scharfenstein was turned into a royal domain. But it was not one of the most important places; the crumbling granary and keep were demolished instead of reapaired in 1864. A few years later the castle - or what was left of it; basically the great hall - became the lodge of the district forester. It served in that function until 1956. (Not so different from the fate of another Eichsfeld castle, the Altenstein
The great hall in the inner bailey
The Wintzingerode still had some interest in the castle. In 1905, Baron Wilhelm Chlothar of Wintzingerode tried to rebuy the Scharfenstein from Prussia, but his offer was turned down. Well, maybe he counted himself lucky a few years later when most of the outbuildings of the castle were destroyed in a fire (1909). I wonder if the forester kept sending letters about the bad repair of his lodge to the revenue of Prussia like his colleage from the Altenstein did to the revenue of Hessia.
Another view of the yard, towards the gate house and the former granary
Today, excavation and restoration work is still going on. One feature-in-constuction is a modern tower with glass walls at the site of the former keep. One can discuss the addition of modern elements in a Mediaeval castle (instead of restoring the old buildings), but since the place is intended as convention centre, the modern elements may work. After all, the community has to get some money out of the expenses it put into the castle.
There is a restaurant at the site of the former granary, with a terrace that offers a good view.
Former wall of the granary, with the gate now leading to a terrace
1) There are two more castles called Scharfenstein, one in the Middle Rhine Valley and one in the Ore Mountains near Chemnitz in Saxony.
2) Which leads to the fun fact that Thuringia gets the Catholic holidays which Lower Saxony does not get; and twice a year all the Thuringian Eichsfeld comes to Göttingen for shopping..
3) They lost most of it during the GDR-expropriations, but got returned some of their land and the castle Bodenstein after the reunion.