Wartburg Castle or Schloss Wartburg as it is locally known is located in Eisenach, Germany. Apart from being famous as the place where Martin Luther, excommunicated and under the papal ban, translated the New Testament, it is also very captivating. Location-wise, it faces competition only from the fantastical Neuschwanstein Castle. Perched high on a craggy hill, this huge medieval castle dominates the surrounding Thuringian landscape and it is bang in the center of Germany.

Wartburg Castle looms over the town of Eisenach

Martin Luther, Goethe, and a saint

Many famous historical names are associated with Wartburg Castle. St Elizabeth of Hungary, wife of one of the Thuringian rulers, was canonized here. She was a Hungarian princess Elisabeth, who was married off to Thuringia at the age of 14. Although she died at the age of 24 in Marburg, she was much loved by her people and was known for her charitable works. She became Saint Elisabeth as a benefactress of the poor and can be seen immortalized in its mosaics. Then there was Martin Luther and the most famous episode in his life. Luther took refuge in Wartburg Castle to escape from the persecuting imperial forces who had excommunicated him. He spent his time there disguised as a country squire and painstakingly translated the New Testament Greek into German – an act that helped to create a modern German language as well as making the Bible accessible to the common folks. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was drawn to this interesting castle and wanted to establish an art museum there. In 1999, Wartburg Castle was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage as a symbol of the past and present of Germany and an important location in the history of European Christianity.

The small walk up to the Wartburg Castle

Wartburg Castle legends and highlights

The origin of the Wartburg Castle is shrouded in romantic folklore. According to the legend, an influential prince named Louis the Leaper founded the castle in the 11th century. He ignored the fact that he was not the owner of the land and took earth from his property up to Wartburg and spread it on the ground – just like that. Medieval lawsuits followed and in court hearings, his faithful accompanying knights – whose word was trust – committed perjury by sticking their swords into the earth and swearing that their weapons were in land belonging to Louis. Romantic tales do not end here and in the following centuries, the legendary minstrels’ battle (a duel between some of the famous in Europe) is supposed to have taken place here. Whatever might be the truth, it has been proven that this hulking three-storey palace which was commissioned by Ludwig II about 1157, is considered the best preserved late Romanesque secular building north of the Alps. Ludwig II was married to the sister of Frederick Barbarossa, and this imperial connection might have inspired him to build a castle made from 40,000 tons of light-colored Räthsandstein. He decorated his castle lavishly and adorned the capitals with stone eagles, the imperial symbolic animal. The interiors of Wartburg are as magnificent and the most eye-catching of them all is the banqueting hall on the second floor of the Romanesque Palas. It is one of the most beautiful concert halls in Thuringia in the 19th century and is equipped with excellent acoustics.

The magnificent inner courtyard

What to see at Schloss Wartburg

Apart from this, Wartburg is a lovely combination of half-timbered buildings, a gorgeous bower, a drawbridge, beautiful golden mosaics, magnificent frescoes, ornate decorations of the Festival Hall, and wonderful views. Here are some of the highlights of Schloss Wartburg:

  1. The Drawbridge – This proves that this castle was once built as a defensive stronghold. Made from oak and supported by two stone pillars, the drawbridge works on a winch mechanism. A fire in 1774 destroyed the original one and it was replaced by a replica in the 19th century. It is the first sight that you will see once you start entering the castle.
  2. Vorburg – ´´Vor´´ means before in German and ´´burg´´ means castle. It relates to a small courtyard that lies beyond the drawbridge. The day we visited Wartburg, Vorburg was charmingly empty except for a host of snowy white fan-tailed pigeons that cooed merrily from the surrounding buildings. In the olden days, this area was used as a practice ground for troops and also housed the kitchens and the stables. In the following years, several new buildings were added to the Vorburg and these included the Ritterhaus (knight’s house) and the Elizabeth Hallway. This area has free admission.
  3. The Palas – A German word for ´´palace´´, the Palas can be explored only with an entry ticket (and a guided tour). Needless to say, this three-storey building is the highlight of Wartburg Castle. Originally built in the late Romanesque style between 1157 and 1170, it was the main seat of the landgraves of Thuringia and was used for important ceremonies. This part includes the Knight’s Hall on the ground floor. A large ceremonial room, it was meant for entertaining guests and is covered with decorated wooden panels, flags, and chandeliers. Elizabeth´s Bower is another highlight of this area. Dedicated to Saint Elizabeth of Hungary who lived here in the early 13th century, this room is a sight to behold. Created in the early 20th century by the artist Hermann Schaaff, Elizabeth´s Room is decorated with mosaics (made of glass, gold, and silver tesserae) depicting scenes from the life of the saint.
  4. Luther Room – For those following the Luther Route, this small, nondescript room may be the highlight of Wartburg Castle. However, this room is not famous for what it is but for what it symbolizes. This is where Martin Luther lived and worked during his stay at the castle from 1521.
  5. The South Tower and the Museum – Built in the early 14th century, it’s one of the oldest still-standing parts of the castle. Although used as a dungeon and a prison, it often sheltered members of a religious group who were escaping the persecution of the Catholic Church. The South Tower can be visited for a fee. The Wartburg Castle Museum is reputed to have an excellent collection of artefacts but I did not visit it owing to lack of time.

    The Drawbridge

Wartburg Castle Travel Guide

Wartburg Castle is located just outside the town of Eisenach in the German state of Thuringia. It is easily reachable by car or by public transport from the center of town. You can also walk up to the castle grounds on various routes, most of about 2 to 3 kilometers in length. The interiors of this impressive medieval castle complex can only visited by a guided tour. Regular tours are in German and there is one English tour per day at 1.30 pm.  The castle is open for visitors from November to March – 9.30 am – 3.30 pm, April to October – 9 am – 5 pm. An adult ticket costs €12 and a child ticket is €5. The ticket office is in the courtyard. The car park is available right below the castle and one has to walk up from there. Mini shuttle bus services are available for people with mobility issues. There is a cafe inside the castle as well as public facilities like barrier-free toilets. It is possible to stay at the  Romantik Hotel auf der Wartburg, a historic (and upscale) inn and wedding venue next to the castle. It has 37 rooms and suites, indoor and outdoor restaurants, and free Wi-Fi.

Details of the Knight’s Hall

The Knight´s Hall

Elizabeth´s Bower

St Elizabeth

Painted wood panels

views from Wartburg Castle

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