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|Burg Berwartstein (German)|
Berwartstein as seen from the tower "little france"
|Architectural style||medieval castle|
|Town or city||Erlenbach bei Dahn, Rhineland-Palatinate|
|Construction started||before 1152|
|Demolished||Hit by lightning in 1591|
Berwartstein Castle is a castle in the Wasgau, the southern part of the Palatinate Forest in the state Rhineland-Palatinate in southwestern Germany. It belongs to the category of rock castles that were part of the Palatinate defences during the Middle Ages. This castle is noted in the publication Works of Preservation of Monuments of Rheinland-Pfalz, which was assembled and edited under contract by the Ministry of Education and Culture. This publication states that the three main representatives of the so called rock castles are located at Drachenfels (English: "Dragon Rock"), Altdahn and Berwartstein where stairs, passages and rooms are carved out of the rock to form a complete living system which was essential to the defence of the castle. Although the Berwartstein appears somewhat complete when compared to the ruins of neighbouring castles, its structure is only a restoration of the original rock castle structure. It is the only castle in the Palatinate that was reconstructed after its demolition and inhabited.
- 1 History
- 2 Original castle entrance
- 3 Well
- 4 The Knight's Hall
- 5 Underground passageways
- 6 Outpost Little France
- 7 References
- 8 External links
- 9 Gallery
There is only speculation about the early of the castle and its name. The name "Berwartstein Castle" is mentioned for the first time in a document dating from 1152, when the castle was given by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa to Bishop Günther of Speyer.
Occupied by robber barons
During the 13th century, feudal tenants, who carried the name "von Berwartstein" inhabited the castle, which they used as a base for raiding in the manner of robber barons. The imperial cities of Strasbourg and Hagenau joined forces against the von Berwartsteins. Following several weeks of futile attacks against the castle the forces succeeded in taking it in 1314, with the help of a traitor. A large amount of booty and about 30 prisoners were taken to Strasbourg. The knights of Berwartstein were permitted to buy the prisoners back for a large ransom. The knights of Berwartstein were forced to sell their castle to the brothers Ort and Ulrich von Weingarten. Four years later the castle became the property of the Weissenburg Monastery.
Property of the Weissenburg Monastery
The Weissenburg Monastery placed the castle in stewardship and established a feudal system therein. This system allowed for the dismissal of vassals that became too presumptuous. Thus the monastery remained in possession of the castle for quite some time. This could have continued indefinitely had the last steward of the castle (Erhard Wyler) not gone too far. When he began feuding with the knights of Drachenfels, the Elector of the Palatinate took the opportunity to bring the Berwartstein Castle under his control.
Hans von Trotha
Because of his dynastic ambitions, the Elector of the Palatinate wanted to get all of the Weissenburg-mandated territory under his control. To accomplish this, in 1480 he ordered the, knight Hans von Trotha, who was Marshal and Commander in Chief of the entire Palatinate forces, to proceed to Berwartstein. In this way he could enlarge the property at a cost to the Monastery of Weissenburg. For the quarrelsome knight this was a pleasure to fulfil, since this gave him a chance to take personal revenge on the Abbot of Weissenburg. Years before, Abbot Heinrich von Homburg had imposed a church fine on the knight's brother, Bishop Thilo.
As a starting point for this conquering expedition, this experienced warrior first renovated the castle to improve its appearance. He built strong ramparts and bastions as well as the tower called "Little France" (German: Klein Frankreich).
Abandonmnent (1591 - 1893)
After Hans von Trotha's death, the Berwartstein Castle was owned by his son Christoph; after his death the castle went to his son-in-law, Friedrich von Fleckenstein and remained to this family for three generations. During this time the castle was destroyed by fire in 1591, and, since there is no mention of any attacks, it is presumed that the castle was hit by lightning.
Even though the main sections of the castle were not destroyed by the fire, it stood empty and unused for many years to come. In the Peace of Westphalia (1648), Berwarstein took special mention, when it was granted to Baron Gerhard von Waldenburg, known as Schenkern, a favorite of Emperor Ferdinand III. Since he did not restore the castle, it sank into oblivion.
Captain Bagienski bought the castle in 1893. In 1922 the castle was purchased by Aksel Faber from Copenhagen, and thereby went into foreign ownership. Since he was seldom in Germany, he asked Alfons Wadlé to be his castle steward. Later he was able to purchase the castle.
The village of Erlenbach below the castle was completely destroyed during World War II, and the inhabitants sought shelter in the castle. After the war the roofs were gone as well as woodwork around windows, doors, staircases and other furnishings. Since the castle was in no way subsidized, Alfons Wadlé went about the renovation himself. At first he was only able to do the bare essentials to protect the castle from the elements.
Original castle entrance
Berwartstein has an opening on the southeast side of the cliff, commonly referred to as "the ascending entrance chimney". During the early years of the castle only rooms and casemates in the upper cliff were complete and the ascending entrance chimney served as the only entrance to the castle. To make it easier to ascend this opening, a portable wooden staircase or rope ladder was placed into the castle. In the event of attack, the staircase or ladder was pulled up into the castle. This enabled the entrance to be defended by just one man who was supplied with hot sap, hot oil or liquid to be poured down on any intruder attempting to ascend the chimney. This limited access to the castles inner rooms was probably the main reason it was never conquered during the Middle Ages. The slender almost vertical cliff on which the castle stands, rises up to a height of approximately 45 m.
The extremely deep well is one of their greatest accomplishments in this area. The well has a diameter of 2 metres (6 ft) and was chiselled down through the cliff to the bottom of the valley some 104 metres below. This was essential to the castle's life support system when under siege.
The Knight's Hall
The historic Knight's Hall has a cross-vaulted ceiling. An engraving on the supporting central pillar shows that it dates back to the 13th century. The south wall of the hall is also formed from rock and includes a hewn-out lift shaft which was used by the knights of Berwartstein to assist in setting the table and to get the food and beverages down from the kitchen up above.
Carved out of the cliff and accessible even today are corridors and passageways which used to be part of the large underground defence network. Although not accessible today, there once existed a tunnel from the castle to the village below. These tunnels were hewn out with hammer and chisel and partly dug through the soil.
Outpost Little France
Looking to the south and across from the castle on a protrusion of the Nestelberg one sees the tower named "Little France". This tower was built by the most well known knight and owner of Berwartstein, Hans von Trotha, and was mean to be an outpost of the castle. The tower was used as a very important lookout and defence post and attackers often find themselves in a crossfire between the tower and the castle. The valley below and between the tower and castle still carries the name "Corpse Field", a memory of the battles fought here. There is also evidence that there was an underground passage between the tower and castle which is no longer accessible today since it collapsed at its weaker points.
- Theo Wadle (Ed.): Burg Berwartstein. 13. Auflage, Wannweil 1980
Partial views of the buildings
Rock structures and underground passages
view on the rock wall of brownstone
Interiors and furnishings
View south on Castle Little France
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