Marksburg Castle – the Only Hilltop Rhine Castle that’s Never Been Destroyed:
Paris & The Heart of Europe – Uniworld River Cruise – Day 13:
The castles along the Rhine are a very special sight and they usually bring on the greatest excitement whenever river boats arrive at this very scenic region of the Middle Rhine. We have cruised past these magnificent Rhine castles on a few occasions and were really pleased when we got to visit Marksburg castle on our Vienna to Paris river cruise.
From its position on top of a hill, Marksburg watches over the town of Braubach in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Marksburg Castle is almost 800 years old and on the wall of the Riders’ Stairway are the coat of arms of its many owners, all of whom were either very powerful or very rich noble families. The castle has been lived in for over 700 years and is the only Rhine hilltop castle that has never been destroyed.
Marksburg Castle can only be visited on a guided tour which worked out well for us as our very knowledgeable guide gave very interesting information on the castle and what life was like for its residents in the Middle Ages.
Entrance to Marksburg castle is through a large drawbridge gate, followed by a vaulted tunnel. The guided tour of the castle starts from the Fuchstor, the second of the four medieval gates to the castle.
At the Riders’ Stairway, we hear a little about the families who owned and lived in Marksburg castle. Horsemen used to ride their horses up this ramp, but we make our way up the uneven terrain on foot.
The Romanesque Great Hall, with its stately apartments is the oldest residential building. This section now houses the offices of the German Castles Association.
In front of the Great Hall are the Small Battery and Great Battery with cannons capable of covering the entire Rhine Valley. Marksburg only became a hill fortress when the last Count of Katzenelnbogen died in 1479 and the castle passed on to the Landgraves of Hesse through marriage.
The Herb Garden in the Upper Bailey is interesting. There are some 150 medieval plants, some used for medicinal purposes and herbs, and others are toxic and used by witches. Poisoning was a common way of knocking off your rivals during medieval times.
The tour then takes us to the wine cellar, the Gothic Great Hall with its huge kitchen and a fireplace large enough to grill a whole deer. The Great Banqueting Hall has an interesting feature. Set into a passageway in the wall is a medieval toilet, with no door. According to our guide, the ladies did not like missing out on dinner conversations and therefore the toilet is without door – we’ll have to take his word for this!
From the Banqueting Hall we go into a small chapel which was dedicated to St Mark in the 15th century and hence the name of the the castle.
One of my favourite rooms is the Rüstkammer (armoury), with its rare collection of armours from the various centuries. Here you have a magnificent display of what knights and legionnaires wore and the development of armours from the 600 BC to 1500 AD. Apparently only Paris and the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds have collections that match these.
The next major room we visit is the torture chamber. The different torture instruments make me feel uneasy – if you’re seen any movies set in medieval times, it’s not hard to imagine the pain inflicted by these instruments. There are a couple of interesting charts which document the types of punishment for different crimes. It was almost like a system for standardizing the punishment for crime.
We exit the castle through the same gate that we entered. The tour takes about 50 minutes and many would have liked a longer time to enjoy the exhibits. At least from the castle grounds you can enjoy spectacular views of the Rhine and the Rhine Valley.
Unfortunately this tour is not for anyone with mobility problems as there are many steps up and down in the castle and some of the grounds are quite uneven. However, our Marksburg photo gallery includes very comprehensive coverage of the rooms of the castle and will give you a good idea of what the castle looks like.
Getting to Marksburg Castle
We visited Marksburg on our Uniworld river cruise and were brought up to the car park by coach. From the car park there is a choice of walking up the road to the castle or up the steps. If you are reasonably fit, it’s not a difficult walk.
If you are visiting Marksburg on your own, you can walk up to the castle from the town centre of Braubach. The walk takes about 20 minutes each way.
Marksburg Express – Between Easter and the October 15th, a tourist train service goes at regular intervals through the Old Town of Braubach up to the castle.