Marksburg Castle – Medieval Life Perfectly Preserved

Our visit began at the dock in Braubach and as we disembarked from the Lif, we couldn’t help but look up at Marksburg Castle over and over again. It looked really spectacular, and that is probably because of its completeness relative to so many of the other ruins we had seen along the way.

While a climb to the Castle from the town of Braubach is possible, it was not plausible given the time constraints of our visit, so as with most of our day trips, we made our way to a number of Viking owned-and-operated coaches for the journey to the castle carpark.

As we “bussed” our way through town, we could see an assortment of medieval architecture that was still intact, including portions of the town wall, and lots of half-timbered buildings that lined the streets.

Walking up from the castle’s parking lot, we came to the first of four gates, the drawbridge gate. In the 17th century it was reinforced by an 81-foot tunnel passage, with mighty barrel vaults and a sharp bend for defensive purposes. It also has a short moat as an additional deterent.

Emerging from the tunnel, we embarked on a zig-zag climb up to a large platform area that had been erected to hold seven cannons.

As this point, our Viking tour groups mingled about outside the gift shop and tavern as we had a short wait before our guided walk-throughs would begin. In the picture below, you can see many of our fellow passengers clustered in front of the entrance to the Great Battery.

This was our first opportunity to admire the view from high above the town, and the picture below looks northeast across the town of Braubach and up the Rhine Valley toward Koblenz.

Below, Mary is pictured standing on a short flight of steps leading to the gift shop, while in the picture to her right, Program Director Leonard is taking everything in, and probably mulling over his “to do” list for the rest of the day.

Following a relatively short wait, we got the signal that it was our turn. Our group mounted a short staircase hewn into the rocks leading into the Inner Bailey, where, surprise, surprise, there were more roughly-hewn stairs. I’m sensing a pattern here.

The tower directly ahead of our group housed the castellan’s apartment – the castellan being an appointed official and governor of the castle and its surrounding territory.

Sad to say, the roof of this building and others, as well as the castle’s keep, sustained shell-fire damage during World War II after having survived almost unscathed for centuries. The damages took until 1961 to be repaired, and it wasn’t until 1980 that all the roofs had been fixed and restored by the German Castles Association.

While one might normally think that cannons were the primary source of defense for a fortress like this, they also had a few other somewhat unique tactics ready to employ. Check out this massive rounded boulder (easily three feet in diameter) one of several that could be rolled down the stairs at any attackers that might have made it this far. Inspiration for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” perhaps?

Also, as Mary and I have seen with other castles we’ve visited, there were a number of strategic cut-outs in the walls that allowed for weapons to be aimed at anyone trying to mount an attack from below. I swear I didn’t have the lady in this picture in the cross-hairs of any medieval spear or crossbow.

Next we came to the riders’ staircase below the large battery. In the picture below, the door in the back corner is the entrance to the blacksmith’s workshop. The crests on the wall above us are the coats-of-arms of the various owners of the castle through the centuries.

As you can see, these stairs were carved right out of the rock that the castle sits on, and they were very awkward to climb, creating some challenges for some of our fellow passengers.

As the group moved forward, I lingered behind to sneak a picture of the blacksmith’s workshop.

Still ascending, we paused for a moment or two in the battery courtyard, and we were finally in the centre of the castle.

Behind our group in the picture above, and also where our guide was about to lead us, was the Great Battery with its cannons pointed towards the Rhine River.

You can see from the pictures below, that the vantage point afforded by this hill-top position really allowed the castle to be defended against all comers.

The large cannon that Mary is standing beside (below) is more than 500 years old, and it had a range of 3,280 feet (1,000 metres), which means it could send a cannonball across to the other side of the Rhine River. Even though the castle had an arsenal of cannons, none were ever fired in battle. They were only used to greet dignitaries and officials coming down the river to visit the castle.

Tucked into a narrow space between the wall and the castle were patches of herbs and other plants. It was suggested that some of the things grown here might have been used to make witches brews and magic potions – or perhaps they were just among the earliest cultivators of cannabis plants???The gardens are still maintained, minus any cannabis plants that is, although no doubt in Medieval times the area was larger, since going up and down the hill for spices and vegetables would have been a rather arduous journey.

Entering the main part of the castle (the Gothic Hall), the first thing we encountered was the 17th century wine cellar – directly adjacent to the kitchen. According to castle records, 5% alcohol was added to the wine – probably in an effort to improve the taste, as the quality of the water was not particularly good.

Below are pictures of the vaulted storage space for wine, along with all of the kegs and casks that filled the room.

The Wine Cellar led to an exceptionally large kitchen that was restored to its original size in 1974. It occupies much of the ground floor of the Gothic Hall and has a massive fireplace set into the thick outer wall. An entire Ox on a spit could be roasted over an open fire!

Upon request, this room can be hired for medieval-style meals and festivals. I can just imagine how much fun that would be.

From the kitchen we passed through a small room that might have been used as a pantry, and ducked (literally) through a small doorway into The Bower – a small private apartment intended for the Lady of the Castle. It served as a private withdrawing room and bedroom and its proximity to the kitchen allowed the wait staff to care for her every need.

The adjoining Knights Hall is huge, has a wooden pillar in the middle of it for extra support, and is lit by two windows that face the courtyard. Similar to the kitchen, there is another high medieval fire-place that in this case was used to heat the over-sized room.

You can tell how thick the walls of the castle are by the depth of the two recesses. You can also see replicas of musical instruments in the picture on the left.

And here is a close-up of the instruments.

The Knights Hall/dining room was the centre of the castle community. Musicians played, family members gathered for meals, and interestingly, this was also the location of the latrine. The door is between the two recesses, just behind the table.

Please don’t think I’m gross for including this, but since this is a medieval castle, flush toilets were obviously something not in vogue back in the day. The picture on the left is the interior of the toilet, and what you can’t see is the door, which in fact locked from the outside. Our guide assured us this was not done to punish people, but rather to ensure that no enemy could crawl through the outside opening, and attack the occupants of the castle (I wouldn’t want to be the person crawling through the opening).

The outcropping in the picture on the right is the toilet seen from the outside. The “poop” etc would drop through the open bottom and fall to the ground. All the castle occupants had to do was wait for a rain to wash it away. The waiting period must have been kinda nasty though….I’m just saying.

Beyond the Knights Hall is the Chapel with ceiling murals made in 1903 based on original drawings and paintings. The Chapel would only have been used by the noble family for daily prayers and services. In one of the niches, you can see a statue which is a copy of a 15th century Virgin Mary.

A narrow staircase built into the wall passing the castle chaplain’s study took us to the next floor and into the most modern building, the Rhine Wing, erected in 1706. It housed a display of tools for flax and linen, as well as household items from pre-industrial times

The highlight of this part of the castle was the Armoury which is home to the “Gimbel Collection“, a display of twelve life-sized figurines from 1880 which demonstrates the changes made to armour and weaponry from ancient to early modern times.

The armour on display consists of extremely detailed replicas as well as original pieces. Artifacts from excavation work carried out in and around the castle grounds – coins, glass, arrow heads, dice – were on display in a glass cabinet but I couldn’t get a good picture without a lot of glare. Darn it!

Exiting this part of the castle, we were in the middle of the courtyard where we were greeted by the narrow keep that had been damaged in World War II – not so much a residential tower but mainly used as a watchtower and a status symbol. The lower part was built in 1239, the top part was added in 1468.

Due to the extremely narrow and steep uneven stairway in its centre it is simply not accessible for visitors to climb the tower – there is no emergency exit whatsoever and people can’t pass each other on the stairs at all.

This led us to the final stop on our tour- the former stables, where the German Castle Association has mounted a Torture Exhibition. This is the oldest part of the castle, the basement, and the items on display date to the middle ages and early modern days. Some pretty grizzly looking stuff but I bet just the threat of it was enough to keep most people in line.

Saying good buy to our guide at the stables, we had just a few minutes to shop for souvenirs before heading back down to the parking lot – a couple of postcards and a book for me, a pin and some licorice for Mary, and we were on our way.

After a much easier climb down to the castle parking lot, we were back on the bus and on our way to Koblenz, a mere eleven kilometres away. In no time at all we were delivered right to the ship.

In a rare departure for us, Mary and I decided to skip dinner on board, play hooky from Leonard’s Port Talk, and pass on the evening’s activities.

Instead we opted for a walk into Koblenz, focusing on the area within a reasonable distance from our ship. We considered taking an aerial cable car up to Ehrenbreitstein fortress but we had been warned that an event was taking place that evening.

While we could have certainly gone for the ride, we wouldn’t be able to explore the fortress once we got there, and besides, since we live in the shadow of Grouse Mountain, cable-cars aren’t exactly an unknown entity for us.

Instead, we armed ourselves with a walking map of the city and began to explore.

Just a few hundred yards away from the ship, but hidden from view by a dense grouping of trees, there is an enormous, I mean HUGE equestrian statue of William I. the first German Emperor.

It was erected in 1897 in appreciation for his role in the unification of Germany in the late 1800’s, but all but the pedestal base was destroyed in World War II. Following German reunification in 1990, and after a series of lengthy and controversial debates, a replica of the original was built. It is the major tourist attraction in Koblenz and a popular meeting spot for residents. You can see people sitting about half-way up which gives you a sense of the size of this monument.

It stands at a point of land called Deutsches Eck, which is the headland where the Mosel River joins the Rhine. You can see the headland, the two rivers and the statue in the aerial picture below.

It was quite cool as we started out on our walk and there were even a few “spits” of rain as we wandered, so we didn’t linger in any one spot for two long.

Although we were armed with a map, we pretty much undertook what my mom and dad used to call a “follow-your-nose” route, and while we only had a few hours of daylight to work with (and no tour guide), we did see a few interesting things.

We set out along the bank of the Mosel River toward the centre of the city and took note of the water and shipping offices located directly opposite us.

The first historical building of note we came upon was the St. Castor Basilica, the oldest church in Koblenz, with foundations dating back more than 1200 years. Like so much of Germany, it was badly damaged in the Second World War, but it is has been repaired and restored to its pre-war appearance.

I don’t know what the picture below is, or what the murals mean, but they were pretty interesting to look at, and walking through the passageway, we emerged in the Am Plan – a central market full of restaurants, cafes, and on this night, a bunch of young people kicking around a soccer ball. It is “the” meeting place for local residents and it seems it has been that way for centuries since its earliest use was as a marketplace and a tournament site.

My pictures of the Am Plan turned out really poorly, so I took to the Internet and the Koblenz Touriste website to download the picture below to give you a sense of what we had stumbled upon. It was full of life for sure.

Exiting at the far end of the market square, we passed the Church of Our Lady which from the middle ages to the French Revolution, was the main parish church in Koblenz. It has been rebuilt, repaired and refurbished throughout it’s history which dates back to the 5th century, and today it serves Koblenz’ Catholic community.

After almost two weeks of historical architecture and centuries-old buildings, imagine our surprise when we turned a corner and came upon the Zentralplatz square and its modern cultural centre and forum.

Open since September 2012, it is a mix of shopping, culture, tourism and urban space design, and features a three-story shopping mall, with a massive food court.

We reversed our steps and headed back into the old town, and began to look for a place to eat. One of the key points of interest on the map was the Jesuitenplatz, and it was on the way to where a number of “eating spots” seemed to be located.

The square takes its name from the former Jesuit college dating back to the 17th century and which has been home to the Koblenz City Hall since 1895. The statue at its centre is a memorial to Koblenz physiologist and anatomist, Johannes Müller, erected in 1899.

Our last landmark before dinner was a stop at “the History Column” – a statue gifted to the town in 1992 for its 2000th anniversary. It took a full eight years to complete, and its ten tiers cover the history of Koblenz from Roman times until the present.

It was a fascinating piece to look at, and here is what the artist Jurgen Webber had to say about his creation (taken from a signpost adjacent to the statue).

This is a philosophical interpretation and I have arranged this structure in episodes, one on top of the other, sometimes divided by layers of destruction. History for me is not a progressive, “improving” development but is always a new beginning which often emanates from the demolished past on which it is based, while in the process becoming something different“.

We walked a bit further and since both of us were in the mood for some Italian food, we settled on “La Mamma” – a Pizzeria with some well-deserved positive reviews on Trip Advisor.

The pizza was great, and we had really enjoyed our evening away from the ship and the “go go go” pace we had been on. Don’t get me wrong, everything about the cruise was excellent, “top shelf” in fact, but I think we needed a little “David and Mary time”, and that is exactly what we treated ourselves to, on this evening. Plus, we got to see a bit of Koblenz which we otherwise would have missed, so all in all, a worthwhile break from routine.

Now we had Cologne to look forward to, and that was bound to be another highlight of the tour.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Barbara Higgs says:

    What an amazing castle Marksburg is. I love the castles that are intact and museums of past times. I was also interested about your foray into town on your own because it seems to me that in fact there has been much more to see than you have had time for. And of course sometimes there was no choice because the ship was moving on. Good choice.


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