We begin our journey in Koblenz where the Mozelle (also Mozell) River flows into the Rhine, two of Europe’s most important rivers. The city straddles both banks of these mighty rivers, and as a result, it has been an important defensive and economic center since circa 8 BC, when the Romans built a round tower. The remnant of this tower is the location of the Old Castle near a 14th century stone arch bridge
Old Castle began its existence as a residence in 1185. Trouble rose in 1276 when Koblenz citizens demanded independence. Archbishop Henry II built the castle as a defensive measure to force the citizens to forget their demand for independence. His efforts were unsuccessful because, beginning in 1281 the citizens prevented further work on the castle and the ramparts.
In retaliation, Henry II subdued the city in 1283, with armed force. The construction of the Old Castle was completed in 1307. Originally surrounded by a broad, water-filled moat and a fortification wall, only the castle house has survived, and today it houses the city archives.
Our onboard historian said the Mozelle still supplies water to the moat. Guided tours are available by appointment.
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Our journey continues to the town of Braubach, where the Marksburg Castle, dating from 1117 and one of the principal sites of the Rhine Gorge UNESCO World Heritage Site, stands high above the town. It’s arguably the best-preserved castle of the entire Middle Rhine Valley, and one of the best of all the German castles.
Like most countryside castles, Marksburg was a fortress built by the landowners to protect their harvest, hired hands, and local residents, who paid annual taxes for such protection from outlaw bands that raided farms and villages. It also protected key roads and rivers, extorting tolls from ships plying the river waters. Can we say Robber Barons here?
Over the centuries, Marksburg Castle has expanded from its original keep, which is still in the center of the complex. Most of the additions were for defense including artillery and the round towers of the outer wall. Its butter-churn tower (a narrow, later-built tower situated on top of the original) is one example in this area.
We skip ahead to the Napoleonic era when he abolished the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. He gave the Marksburg to his ally the Duke of Nassau, who used the castle as a prison and as a home for disabled soldiers. Neither our onboard historian nor my limited research indicated the castle housed prisoners and soldiers at the same time.
After a Prussian ownership beginning in 1866, the German Castle Association purchased the castle in 1900 for a symbolic price of 1,000 Gold marks. The association had been founded a year earlier as a private initiative to preserve castles in Germany. The Marksburg has been the head office of this organization since 1931.
In March 1945, the castle was badly damaged by American artillery fired from the other side of the Rhine. However, it survived conquests, Napoleonic rule, and two world wars, so its construction is nearly all original.
According to our onboard historian, the Marksburg is the only fortress in the Middle Rhine to escape destruction and well-meaning restoration. I found contradictions to that statement in researching another castle. There is no contradiction that it has been inhabited continuously for more than 700 years, and contains many original furnishings. The chapel alone is worth the cobblestones and 137 worn steps on a rainy afternoon.
Next month, I’ll delve into a destructive family legend.