An impressive castle with a sublime view of the surrounding area.Älgbert Elgson
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The Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg is a hilltop castle near Orschwiller, about ten kilometers east of Sélestat and about 30 kilometers north of Colmar. The reconstruction of the previously dilapidated castle, commissioned by the German Emperor Wilhelm II at the beginning of the 20th century, remained close to the historical core of the complex for the time. However, some structural elements, such as the main gate, were freely designed by the commissioned architect Bodo Ebhardt. Thus, the castle that can be visited today, which has advanced to become a major tourist destination in the region, is a mixture of historically correct elements and a product of the architect’s imagination. However, it can be said with certainty that Bodo Ebhardt kept very close to historical reality, especially during the period in which the restoration was started. You can go looking for a visit and guess what was original and what was added later. The castle, located at a height of 757 meters above the Rhine plain, was an easily defensible and strategically important defense system because of its location. Today it captivates with a wonderful view over the Rhine valley, Vosges, Black Forest and in good weather even as far as the Basel Alps. A drawbridge leads to the castle rooms, which are completely furnished with furniture from centuries past, as well as to the medieval weapons collection. The beautiful location of the castle and the easy accessibility make it a perfect option for a day trip. If you have some time left after visiting the castle, you can also explore the nearby animal park „La Montagne des Singes“ or the picturesque little wine villages such as Eguisheim.
The trail of history
The complex was first mentioned in 1147 as Castrum Estuphin Castle, built by the Hohenstaufen family. It was not until 1192 that it became known under its name, which is still common today, Kœnigsbourg (royal castle). It became a ruin for the first time when it was destroyed in 1462, then owned by the Habsburgs. The aristocratic Tiersteiner families and later the Sickingers rebuilt it from 1479 and led it through a 150-year heyday. Despite extensive fortification work around 1500, the walls were overcome by the Swedes in the Thirty Years War. The Swedish artillery shelled the Hohkönigsburg from the nearby Château de l’Œdenbourg during the siege in 1633. After it was captured, it was looted and finally burned down. After that it fell into ruin a second time and stood empty for almost two centuries.
The now in ruins complex was placed under monument protection in 1862 and shortly thereafter acquired by the city of Sélestat with the aim of structurally securing the castle and later restoring it. Unfortunately the city is not in a position to finance this ambitious project. After the annexation of Alsace by Germany in 1871, the city of Sélestat donated the still impressive ruins to Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1899. The German Emperor quickly had the idea of building a museum in which the age of chivalry and the Hohenzollern as the legitimate ruling dynasty of the empire should be glorified.
This extensive restoration was to last from 1900 to 1908 and, depending on the season, employed between 40 and 220 workers at the same time. In order to be able to transport the heavy stones from the quarry to the construction site, a steam locomotive was purchased. To pull „Hilda“, as she was affectionately called by the workers, from the train station in Sélestat up to the 700 meter high rail line, 30 horses were needed. In 1901 the first crane was installed on the medieval walls to help rebuild the keep. A second crane followed the following year. The electricity for this was generated by a generator set up especially for the castle. This enabled the construction site to be illuminated very early on, while the residents of the wine villages at the foot of the Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg had to wait for electric light until after the First World War.
The expert for medieval castles Bodo Eberhardt was commissioned by the emperor to lead the restoration. He tried very hard to build the castle authentically and as close as possible to historical reality based on scientific findings. During his work, he began to examine the walls that were still preserved and to find further clues for the earlier appearance through archaeological excavations. He also visited castles of the same era (16th century) and compared them with the Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg. Through this meticulous scientific preparatory work, he has succeeded in ensuring a unique restoration that is as true to the original as possible. In buildings where it was not possible, such as the main gate, he let his imagination run wild. Bodo Eberhardt was also immortalized in one of the murals – keep your eyes open, maybe you can find him.
Around 150 parking spaces are available around the castle. Directly in front of the entrance there are also six reserved for people with disabilities, and some for coaches. The outdoor area down to the lower courtyard is wheelchair accessible. Access to the entrance and the cash desk is via a few steps. There are also numerous stairs to climb on the circular route and in the castle. A visit with a wheelchair or stroller is therefore not possible. In the castle, physical well-being is also taken care of.
A restaurant with an attached library with appropriate reading invites you to medieval food and drink.
For the current opening times and admission prices, please see the castle’s official website.
Other sights around the Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg can also be reached within a few minutes, such as the „La Montagne des Singes“ animal park, the „Volerie des Aigles“ bird of prey station and others. If you are thinking of visiting several sights in Alsace, you should definitely also consider the Pass’Alsace. With this, more than 60 places in Alsace can be visited at a discounted price.
How to get there?
The Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg can be reached with a shuttle bus from the train station in Sélestat. The bus is a line of the Réseau 67 (N ° 500) and also goes to the La Montagne des Singes, the Volerie des Aigles, the center of Kintzheim and Cigoland. The prices are € 2.50 for a single journey per person. Children under 4 travel for free. After presenting the bus ticket, you will also receive a discount on entry to the castle. So the bus ride is actually free.
Of course, you can also travel comfortably via the many picturesque, curved roads through the wine villages. If this is not already a fixed point of your trip, you should consider making the Alsace Wine Route one. Between Marlenheim near Strasbourg and Thann near Mulhouse, small villages invite you to linger. The curved road leads through an extraordinary landscape and invites you to make the most beautiful discoveries. The Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg is located in the heart of Alsace. It can therefore be reached in less than an hour from Strasbourg and around half an hour from Colmar.
The Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg is a unique opportunity to experience a castle in its old splendor. The complex is very spacious, so you can spend half a day exploring it. At the entrance you get a map and an audio guide after paying a small fee. By placing the audio guide in the appropriate place on the map, it provides useful information. Without this audio guide, there are otherwise many signs to read, which are available in French, German and English, but are very time-consuming to read them all in the long run. As intended by the emperor, the castle is built like a museum. There is a lot to discover for children, especially in the living rooms, but it can happen that after a while the parents have to keep them happy. This is made easy for parents, however, as stories are provided for children to read aloud at regular intervals.