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Monday, 21 January 2013

Chateau of the day: Burg Eltz

Burg Eltz

My Opinion

Burg Eltz in Germany brings forth two very vivid imaginings when I see it, first memory is of the Disney film, Sleeping Beauty, when the Prince goes to slay Maleficent, and the castle in that scene - the archetypal fortress and castle. The second imagining is of the House of Stark from Game of Thrones, for me it is exactly how I had imagined Winterfell for some reason. Burg Eltz is a magnificent building, and has always been high on my list of favourite German castles, its strong fortifications have ensured that it has never been successfully captured or destroyed and it remains today in the hands of the very family group who built it all those years ago. There is nothing not to like about this castle.

Welcome to Burg Eltz

Burg Eltz is a medieval castle nestled in the hills above the Moselle River between Koblenz and Trier, Germany. It is still owned by a branch of the same family that lived there in the 12th century, 33 generations ago.

The Rübenach and Rodendorf families' homes in the castle are open to the public, while the Kempenich branch of the family uses the other third of the castle. The Palace of Bürresheim (Schloss Bürresheim), the Castle of Eltz and the Castle of Lissingen are the only castles on the left bank of the Rhine in Rhineland-Palatinate which have never been destroyed.

Castle with the visible river tributary below

The castle is surrounded on three sides by the Elzbach River, a tributary on the north side of the Moselle. It is situated on a 70 m rock spur, on an important Roman trade route between rich farmlands and their markets.
Plan of the castle with the three family Houses of the castle


The castle is a so-called Ganerbenburg, or castle belonging to a community of joint heirs. This is a castle divided into several parts, which belong to different families or different branches of a family; this usually occurs when multiple owners of one or more territories jointly build a castle to house themselves. Only a very rich medieval European lord could afford to build a castle on his land; many of them only owned one village, or even only a part of a village. This was an insufficient base to afford a castle. Such lords lived in a knight's house, which was a simple house, scarcely bigger than those of his tenants.

The fairytale castle
 In some parts of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, inheritance law required that the estate be divided between all successors. These successors, each of whose individual inheritance was too small to build a castle of his own, could build a castle together, where each owned one separate part for housing and all of them together shared the defensive fortification. In the case of Burg Eltz the family comprised three branches and the existing castle was enhanced with three separate complexes of buildings.

The main part of the castle consists of the family portions. At up to eight stories, these eight towers reach heights of between 30 and 40 meters. They are fortified with strong exterior walls; to the yard they present a partial framework. About 100 members of the owners' families lived in the over 100 rooms of the castle.
The Main fortified Gate
Platteltz, a Romanesque keep, is the oldest part of the castle. In 1472 the Rübenach house, built in the Late Gothic style, was completed. Remarkable are the Rübenach Lower Hall, a living room, and the Rübenach bedchamber with its opulently decorated walls.Between 1490 and 1540 the Rodendorf house was constructed, also in Late Gothic style. It contains the vaulted "banner-room".

The Kempenich houses were finished about 1530. Every room of this part of the castle could be heated; in contrast, other castles might only have one or two heated rooms. From 1965 to 1992, an engraving of Burg Eltz was used on the German 500 Deutsche Mark note.

Interior of the castle


During the French occupation of the Rhine from 1794 to 1815 Graf Hugo Philipp zu Eltz was treated as an emigrant. His property on the left hand side of the Rhine and near Trier was confiscated. He was called "citizen count Eltz" and his property was assumed by the French commander of Koblenz. It was later discovered that Graf Hugo Philipp had not emigrated but remained hidden in Mainz and so, in 1797, he once again regained the property and revenues from the Eltz estate in the part of the Holy Roman Empire that had been occupied by France. In 1815, through the purchase of the Rübenach house and lands of the Freiherren (Barons) von Eltz-Rübenach, Graf Hugo Philipp became the sole owner of the castle. The Eltz-Rodendorf line had died out in 1786 and the Eltz-Kempenich line had already inherited its property.

 The courtyard of the castle


During the romantic period with its resurgent interest in all things medieval Graf Karl zu Eltz busied himself with the restoration of his family castle. The work went on from 1845 to 1888. It cost the very substantial sum of DM184,000, which in today’s money is about DM 20 million. During the restoration Graf Karl zu Eltz displayed consideration and caution and showed great feeling and skill when dealing with the existing architecture. In contrast to many historical buildings "adapted" to the frequently poor taste of the 19th century, Eltz castle underwent no major building changes. The work carried out was more in the nature of renovation and restoration which, even today, meets with the approval of specialists.
Castle in winter 
Inner courtyard details

The present day

Eltz castle has remained in the procession of the same family for over 800 years. The present owner of the castle, Dr. Karl Graf von und zu Eltz, known as Faust von Stromberg , lives in Eltville/Rhine. The family has had its main German residence there since the beginning of the 19th century.

Burg Eltz

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