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An excursion to the Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg

Watching it appear through the morning mists is a magical experience. This 270-metre long fortress roosting nearly 800 metres high is neither a mirage nor a ‘Grande Illusion’, in reference to the name of the film that Jean Renoir shot here in 1937. The rocky promontory upon which the castle is built overlooks all of the routes that cross through Alsace: wine, wheat and salt.

 

 

Built by the Hohenstaufens in the 12th century, the Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg was occupied by rogue knights that had made it their headquarters before being retrieved by the Habsburgs in the 15th century. After several centuries of neglect, looting and fires, in 1899 the (then German) city of Sélestat offered it to Kaiser Wilhelm II, a great collector of castles. Wilhelm II asked the German architect Bodo Ebhardt, specialised in medieval fortifications, to restore his ‘new’ château. The work was completed in 1908. Ten years after its inauguration, the castle became French once more.

Visiting the château du Haut-Koenigsbourg

After the gate and the portcullis area, you’ll reach the outer courtyard where you will find all of the buildings required to ensure the castle’s autonomy in case of a siege: the inn (restaurant, shop and bookshop), stables, forge and mill. A flight of steps lined with defensive loopholes leads to the Lions Gate and the drawbridge linking the living quarters with the rest of the castle. A fortified well 62 metres deep was dug out of the rocky crag upon which the living quarters are set. On the ground floor of this magnificent medieval reconstruction the vast cellar is to the west, the kitchens to the north.  In the inner courtyard, a polygonal stairway leads upstairs. On the south side are two balconies decorated with representations of the Nine Worthies.

Sitting rooms and bedrooms are set along the north and south sides. To the west are the great rooms: the Kaiser’s Room, followed by the Lord’s Residence and, finally, the armoury. In the Kaiser’s Room, one of the wall paintings by Leo Schnug, an expert in perspectives, represents the castle under siege in 1462. To the east, the upper levels of the keep have been restored. Furnishings and arms (15th-17th century) were acquired in the early 20th century in order to reproduce the ambience (as the restorers imagined it) of a medieval fortress.

From the main bastion on the far side of the Upper Garden there’s a superb panoramic view. To the north are ruins of the castles of Franckenburg, Ramstein, and Ortenburg; to the east on the far banks of the Rhine rise the Kaiserstuhl hills, leading to the Black Forest; the Hohneck range is southward, with the Grand Ballon and the Wine Route on the horizon; and just 200 metres or so west lie the ruins of the Château de l’Oedenbourg, also called Little Koenigsbourg.


Useful information

Tourism in Alsace, official website
www.tourisme-alsace.com

Official website of the château du Haut-Koenigsbourg
www.haut-koenigsbourg.fr 

The tourist attractions mentioned

Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg
Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg
Orschwiller
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