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Slate rock
Loreley rhine valley wp d schmidt 08 07.jpg
View from the left bank of the Rhine at St. Goar
Coordinates50°08′22″N 7°43′44″E / 50.13944°N 7.72889°E / 50.13944; 7.72889Coordinates: 50°08′22″N 7°43′44″E / 50.13944°N 7.72889°E / 50.13944; 7.72889

The Lorelei (/ˈlɒrəl/ (listen) LORR-ə-ly; German: [loːʁəˈlaɪ, ˈloːʁəlaɪ]), spelled Loreley in German, is a 132-metre-high (433 ft), steep slate rock on the right bank of the River Rhine in the Rhine Gorge (or Middle Rhine) at Sankt Goarshausen in Germany, part of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley UNESCO World Heritage Site.[1] The 1930s Loreley Amphitheatre is on top of the rock.


Aerial image of Katz Castle and the Lorelei
The Lorelei in 1900
View of the Rhine as seen from the Lorelei
Lorelei, siren of Germanic mythology, of great beauty and delicious song, who was placed on a rock on the Rhine and with her song seduced the navigators. Sculpture that stands on the banks of the river in the Rhineland.

The name comes from the old German words lureln, Rhine dialect for "murmuring", and the Celtic term ley "rock". The translation of the name would therefore be "murmur rock" or "murmuring rock". The heavy currents, and a small waterfall in the area (still visible in the early 19th century) created a murmuring sound, and this combined with the special echo the rock produces to act as a sort of amplifier, giving the rock its name.[2] The murmuring is hard to hear today owing to the urbanization of the area. Other theories attribute the name to the many boating accidents on the rock, by combining the German verb lauern ('to lurk, lie in wait') with the same "ley" ending, with the translation "lurking rock".

After the German spelling reform of 1901, in almost all German terms, the letter "y" was changed to the letter "i", but some proper nouns have kept their "y", such as Bayern, Speyer, Spay, Tholey, (Rheinberg-)Orsoy and including Loreley, which is thus the correct spelling in German.

Original folklore and modern myth[edit]

The rock and the murmur it creates have inspired various tales. An old legend envisioned dwarfs living in caves in the rock.

In 1801, German author Clemens Brentano composed his ballad Zu Bacharach am Rheine as part of a fragmentary continuation of his novel Godwi oder Das steinerne Bild der Mutter. It first told the story of an enchanting female associated with the rock. In the poem, the beautiful Lore Lay, betrayed by her sweetheart, is accused of bewitching men and causing their death. Rather than sentence her to death, the bishop consigns her to a nunnery. On the way thereto, accompanied by three knights, she comes to the Lorelei rock. She asks permission to climb it and view the Rhine once again. She does so, and, thinking that she sees her love in the Rhine, falls to her death; the rock ever afterward retaining an echo of her name. Brentano had taken inspiration from Ovid and the Echo myth.

In 1824, Heinrich Heine seized on and adapted Brentano's theme in one of his most famous poems, "Die Lorelei". It describes the eponymous female as a sort of siren who, sitting on the cliff above the Rhine and combing her golden hair, unwittingly distracted shipmen with her beauty and song, causing them to crash on the rocks. In 1837 Heine's lyrics were set to music by Friedrich Silcher in the art song "Lorelei"[3] that became well known in German-speaking lands. A setting by Franz Liszt was also favored and dozens of other musicians have set the poem to music.[4] During the Nazi regime and World War II, Heinrich Heine (born as a Jew) became discredited as author of the lyrics, in an effort to dismiss and hide Jewish contribution to German art.

The Lorelei character, although originally imagined by Brentano, passed into German popular culture in the form described in the Heine–Silcher song and is commonly but mistakenly believed to have originated in an old folk tale. The French writer Guillaume Apollinaire took up the theme again in his poem "La Loreley", from the collection Alcools which is later cited in Symphony No. 14 (3rd movement) of Dmitri Shostakovich. The character continues to be referenced in pop culture.


A barge carrying 2,400 tons of sulphuric acid capsized on 13 January 2011, near the Lorelei rock, blocking traffic on one of Europe's busiest waterways.[5]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "Upper Middle Rhine Valley". UNESCO World Heritage Centre.
  2. ^ Loreley - Ein Beitrag zur Namendeutung Archived 2006-06-15 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed June 16, 2006.
  3. ^ Note: A scan of the sheet music and lyrics (printed in 1859; note the spelling "Lorelei") are available on the commons in three images: File:Lorelei1.gif, File:Lorelei2.gif, File:Lorelei3.gif
  4. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Lorelei" . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  5. ^ Mara, Darren; Illmer, Andreas (13 January 2011). "Tanker carrying acid capsizes in Germany's Rhine River". Deutsche Welle.

External links[edit]