Burg Hohenzollern is one of the oldest fortified castles in Europe. Burg is the German word for fortified castle. Burg Hohenzollern is located in the German state of Baden-Württemburg between the counties of Hechingen and Bisingen The exact date of the castle‘ s construction is unknown, but is believed to be around the year 1061 C.E. The castle can be divided into three distinct periods. The first period from 1061-1423. The second period from 1454 until 1634, and the third period is from the restoration in 1850 until the present.
The First Castle period
The first known resident of the Castle was recorded in 1061. The Castle Hohenzollern certainly lived up to it’s name because from as it was able to protect it’s inhabitants for 156 years and was only breached in 1423 after nearly a year long siege by the Swabian imperial cities, the Hohenzollern surrendered the castle, which was promptly destroyed. After the Hapsburg allies and the Francian branch of the Hohenzollern intervened, the castle was once again returned to the Hohenzollern family.
The Second Castle Period
Burg Hohenzollern was reconstructed in 1454 with improved fortifications and again inhabited by the Hohenzollern family. The Castle survived the 30 years war and remained in the Hohenzollern family until 1634, when it was conquered by the Kingdom of Württemberg and then by the Hapsburgs in 1744 in the war of Austrian succession.
The Third Castle Period
The castle then fell into disrepair and by 1798 only the chapel remained usable. Under King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia, reconstruction began in 1850 and was completed in 1867 by King Wilhelm I. Though the castle was once again returned to the Hohenzollern family (Francian-Prussian branch), the castle never again became a residency of any of the Hohenzollern.
A brief history of the Hohenzollern
The Hohenzollern are one of the oldest noble families of Germany. The family originated in around the town of Hechingen and took the name of the Castle Hohenzollern. The family then split into two distinct lines with the Swabian branch remaining Roman Catholic while the Frankish and later Prussian branch became Protestant. The later branch went on to unify Germany, creating the German Empire in 1871.
Burg Hohenzollern: A nearly impenetrable fortress
The Hohenzolern Castle, like the Castle Lichtenstein, designed to survive military conflict in the middle ages. The outer walls are 10m thick at some points with tunnels going through the castle walls. Breaking the castle walls down as portrayed in the movies are works of fiction, and this is assuming the invading army makes it to the top of the 855m high peak with a winding road through the forest. In Game of Thrones, Ser Jamie Lannister beseiges House Tulley at Riverrun. Though that castle had a moat, what the enemy had was a nice flat field to dig trenches and set up support well out of the way of any archers. The terrain surrounding Hohenzollern castle is far less forgiving leaving little room to set up any siege equipment and plenty of room for forces loyal to the castle lore to set up ambushes. Any approaching army would be at a severe disadvantage as ambushes could be set to weaken the approaching army.
When I first heard that the outer castle walls were 10m thick, I was skeptical, until I walked through the castle walls. Walking through the castle walls you can get an idea of just how formidable the castle’s defenses are. The weapons of the day were no match for these defenses. This is also an excellent place to store provisions for a long wait.
The main gate gives archers perfect firing position while keeping the distance from the main wail to prevent it from damage. This windows are perfect for raining volleys of arrows on a besieging army. Keep in mind, that in the middle ages, it wasn’t just the wounds from arrows which were dangerous. Defending armies often dipped arrows in human waste so that if the puncture didn’t hit a vital organ, the infection almost certainly killed the enemy soldiers. So in the end, the residents of Castle Hohenzollern have the advantage. They can weaken an approaching enemy and leisurely kill off any enemy outside of its gates. The only way to win for an attacking army is to starve the residents into submission and even then, it took nearly a year the only time siege was successful against the castle.
Inside the Castle Walls
After Hohenzollern castle was rebuilt, it never again became the residence of any Prussian Hohenzollern, except briefly in 1952 when the Crown Prince Wilhlelm, the stayed in the castle while fleeing Soviet forces at the end of World War II.
On the grounds of Castle Hohenzollern, there are three chapels for the Catholic, Protestant and Russian Orthodox denominations.
The oldest chapel is the Catholic chapel St. Michael. This building is the only structure which dates back to the second castle period and was build between 1453-1461. An interesting feature is the stained glass windows which date back to 1280 which were taken from a former convent of Stetten (now a district in Hechingen).
The Protestant chapel is the Kaiser-Wilhelm memorial chapel, modeled after the Naumberger cathedral. The apostolic gate is from the Kaiser-Wilhelm memorial church in Berlin.
The Russian Orthodox chapel was build by Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia for his wife Kira who was Russian Orthodox.
Armory and Treasury:
This room contains an assortment of medieval weapons and armor. It also contains personal belongings of the royal family including a gown from Queen Louise, a tunic which Friederick the Great wore in the battle of Kunersdorf, Also on display are his crutches, two flutes. Also on display is the King Wilhelm II’s crown which contains 18 diamonds (pictured above). For those interested in the American Revolution, there is original letters between Friedrich von Steuben and President George Washington. The letter from Friedrich von Steuben is pledging his financial support and military knowledge in exchange for receiving a commission as a General in George Washington’s army. The letter from George Washington is thanking Friedrich von Steuben for his service and support.
Of all the castles, this is easily my favorite. Burg Hohenzollern contains lots of priceless paintings and medieval artifacts. Walking around the castle grounds gives you the feel of living in the middle ages. This castle is a must see for anyone traveling to Germany.