One of the most fascinating castles in Europe is located on a hillside in Germany and has a remarkable history.
Let’s take a closer look at the top 10 interesting Heidelberg Castle facts!
1. The castle is located in a town with the same name
Heidelberg Castle is a ruined castle that is situated on a hillside overlooking Heidelberg, a university town in the German state of Baden-Württemberg on the river Neckar.
This is in the southwest of the country, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) to the north of the Black Forest, another popular tourist destination in Germany.
This hillside is referred to as the “Königstuhl hillside” and its location makes the massive castle a dominant landmark in the town.
2. The castle was first mentioned in the year 1214
The castle has an extended construction history. It was first officially mentioned as “castrum” (castle in Latin) in the year 1214, which means the original structure was built before that. It was built as the residence of the “Count Palatine,” an official who was attached to the Imperial Palace.
Therefore, the region around the town was referred to as the “Electorate of the Palatinate” and that’s the reason a castle was constructed here.
3. It was turned into two castles at the start of the 14th century
The last time that Heidelberg Castle was described as a single castle was in the year 1294. When it was mentioned next in 1303 it was described as a double castle, consisting of both an upper and lower building.
This doesn’t mean, however, that the castle back then was as enormous as it appears today. When Rupert of the Palatine became the King of Germany in 1401, he considered the castle way too small to accommodate him and his court.
It was, however, expanded during this period in the early 15th century, and in the following decades, it became a powerful fortified stronghold.
4. Much of the castle was destroyed by wars and lightning
One of the most remarkable Heidelberg Castle facts is that it was destroyed several times over the course of its history. A severe calamity happened in 1537 when the upper castle was destroyed by a lightning bolt and subsequent fire.
This was just 9 years after the main gate was built, something that emphasizes the fact that the castle was continuously being expanded.
Some of the most important changes were made during the early 17th century by Frederick V, also known as the “Winter King.” After all, he had to impress his new bride, the daughter of the English King named Elizabeth Stuart.
5. The castle once had the Eight Wonder of the World next to it
And Frederik V didn’t mess about, that’s for sure!
He commissioned the construction of the “Hortus Palatinus” in 1614. This became one of the most amazing Renaissance gardens ever constructed and it became famous all across Europe in the 17th century.
This garden became so famous that it was referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” at the time as it stunned everybody who laid eyes on it.
A war broke out, however, in 1619 between Frederik V and Emperor Ferdinand II over the kingdom of Bohemia. He was defeated at the Battle of White Mountain and had to flee to The Hague and leave his magnificent project behind.
The gardens were used as an artillery site and mostly destroyed during the Thirty Years War that ensued. It was never rebuilt because of a lack of money as a result of a war that lasted 3 decades.
6. Heidelberg Castle was once guarded by a court dwarf
The French further destroyed the castle in the late 17th century until the Treaty of Ryswick was signed in 1697, which brought an end to the Nine Years’ War between France and the Grand Alliance.
Charles III Philip, Elector Palatine, was in charge of the castle during this period and even had plans to renovate it following its destruction by the French, but it appeared to be too expensive so he shelved the project.
He did store large quantities of wine at the castle, though, so somebody needed to watch it. That’s why he installed the local town fool referred to as “Perkeo of Heidelberg” to watch over it.
One of the most hilarious Heidelberg Castle facts is that Perkeo, the famous jester and court dwarf, eventually became the unofficial mascot of the town of Heidelberg
7. The castle became a popular spot for Romantic Artists
By 1720, the court, which was still established at Heidelberg Castle, moved to the city of Mannheim because of a religious conflict. This means that the castle essentially became completely abandoned and the ruin started to deteriorate even further.
At the beginning of the 19th century, and probably even a bit earlier, the castle was rediscovered during the Romantic movement and deemed to be the perfect subject for paintings and poetry.
One of the most famous Romantic Artists called J. M. W. Turner spent many vacations here between 1817 and 1844 and frequently included the idyllic and Romantic ruin in his paintings.
8. One man probably saved the castle from destruction
One of the most fascinating Heidelberg Castle facts is that it would probably have been completely demolished if not for the efforts of one man, who wasn’t even a local of the area!
A French count and artist named Charles de Graimberg (1774-1864) had to flee France during the French Revolution. After living in England and other parts of Europe for a while, he eventually settled in Heidelberg.
He stayed here for the remainder of his life and actively fought for the preservation of the castle, even though the local government often contemplated demolishing it.
9. Only 1 building has been restored at the end of the 19th century
While the castle remains a ruin for the most part, perhaps you noticed that one of the buildings looks relatively fine. This building is referred to as the “Friedrich Building” and even though it suffered severe fire damage, it wasn’t destroyed by lightning and wars.
This building was eventually the only one that was renovated, something that happened between 1897 and 1900 at the cost of 525,000 marks, a huge amount at the time!
Around this time, the decision was also made to simply preserve the other ruins of the castle, including those of the Renaissance garden, in their current condition.
10. Tourism boomed when Heidelberg became accessible by train
One has to admit that a ruin also has a certain charm. Famous American Author Mark Twain perfectly formulated this sentiment in his 1880 travel book “A Tramp Abroad” after visiting Heidelberg in the 19th century:
A ruin must be rightly situated, to be effective. This one could not have been better placed. It stands upon a commanding elevation, it is buried in green woods, there is no level ground about it, but, on the contrary, there are wooded terraces upon terraces, and one looks down through shining leaves into profound chasms and abysses where twilight reigns and the sun cannot intrude. Nature knows how to garnish a ruin to get the best effect.Mark Tain describing Heidelberg Castle.
Twain was one of the many tourists who benefitted from the expansion of the railway network, which saw Heidelberg connected to the rest of the area in 1840.
The number of visitors to Heidelberg has been growing steadily and many foreigners visiting the castle are Americans and Japanese. Millions of people visit the area every year, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in Germany!