Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Trifels Castle – Where Richard the Lionheart was held for Ransom

I live in Germany, and you can’t go anywhere in this beautiful country without practically tripping over a castle or castle ruins.  I read somewhere that there are 20,000 castles or castle ruins in Germany. 

This month, I’m posting about one of my favorite castles (well, I should really call it a castle group) – Trifels castle.  The three castles of Trifels sit on hills above the town of Annweiler, in the state of Rheinland-Pfalz.  While visiting the main castle at Trifels, it is only a short 20-minute hike to visit the other castle ruins on the adjoining hills.

Trifels Castle
The main castle is called Trifels.  It was first mentioned in the year 1081, and we know that by 1115 it was an Imperial castle.  The Hohenstaufen Dynasty (Frederick Barbarossa’s line) made Trifels an important stronghold, and it stood in the center of major historical events in Germany for many years.  The castle held the crown jewels from 1125 until 1298.  It was also a prison for high-ranking political prisoners, and is known as the prison where Richard the Lionheart of England was held for ransom.

As Richard the Lionheart was returning to Europe from the 3rd Crusade, he was captured by Duke Leopold of Austria (whom he had publically insulted during the Crusade) in 1192.  Duke Leopold then turned Richard over to German Emperor Henry VI, who held him at Trifels for almost a year (from 1193-1194) for ransom.  His ransom of 150,000 Marks (a huge sum at the time) was paid, and Richard returned to England briefly to regain his crown.  Less than a month later, he went to France to try to regain lands in Normandy that he had lost.  He died in 1199 from complications from a wound he received in a battle in France.

With the fall of the Hohenstaufen dynasty, Trifels diminished in importance.  By the middle of the 14th century, it was minimally manned and reconstruction efforts were restricted to makeshift safeguarding measures.  In 1602, it was struck by lightning and burned out.  It was completely abandoned by 1635, and its walls were robbed out as a stone quarry.  There was renewed interest in the castle in the late 19th century, and efforts began for planning its reconstruction.

Inside Trifels
In 1937, the Nazi premier of Bavaria, Ludwig Siebert, pushed for its reconstruction in order to create a national shrine as a symbol of the “old and the new Reich”.  He commissioned Rudolf Esterer (who reconstructed the Nuremburg Castle and the Marienberg Castle in Würzburg) to complete the reconstruction.  Esterer deliberately strayed from historical accuracy in his plan – instead focusing on making it a national shrine and having it fit in aesthetically with the landscape.  After the War, Esterer was consulted again, and the renovations were complete.

Anebos Castle

On an adjoining hill are the ruins of Anebos castle.  It is speculated that this castle was built in the 12th century to protect Trifels castle.  This castle was already abandoned by the mid-13th century.  All that currently remains are the bedrock that the castle was built into, and a few castle walls.  You can see the holes in the rock, where the castle was anchored – a true visual of the genius of German engineering.

Scharfenberg Castle

On the next adjoining hill are the ruins of Scharfenberg castle.  It was also originally built to protect Trifels.  In the 13th century, it became the German mint.  During this time, it picked up the nickname “Münz”, meaning “coin”.  After the family von Scharfenberg became extinct, the castle was turned over to the Church.  In 1525, the castle was destroyed in the Peasant’s War.

The three castles form a triangle which Viktor von Scheffel refers to in his poem, Trifels, written in 1867.  The castles are open to visitors year-round, and there is a quaint restaurant lower on the hill with spectacular views of Trifels.

Do you have a favorite castle in Germany?