Eisenach is best known as the site of Schloss Wartburg (Wartburg Castle), most famous for sheltering Martin Luther while he translated the New Testament into German. Founded in 1067, it is also one of the best-preserved medieval castles in Germany. It is reached by a rigorous climb up a 180m (600-ft.) forested slope.
History of Wartburg Castle
Wartburg Castle was founded by Duke Ludwig of Thuringia in 1067 AD. It belonged to the landgraves of Thuringia and once hosted the medieval Minnesinger poets, immortalized by Wagner in Tannhäuser.
Most famously, the Wartburg is where Martin Luther hid out as "Knight George" upon his return from the Diet of Worms in 1521. Here he completed his translation of the Bible. During his stay here, he said he "fought the Devil with ink" and is said to have experienced dark periods of depression.
In 1777, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe spent five weeks in the Wartburg Castle translating the Bible into German. Goethe once said, "The Germans weren't a people until Luther."
In 1817, the Wartburg was the rallying site of the Burschenschaften, students who protested the continued division of Germany into a host of tinpot principalities. More recently, Adolf Hitler engaged in a battle with local authorities to take down Wartburg Castle's cross and replace it with a swastika. Hitler was a big fan of the Wartburg, declaring it "the most German of German castles."
Today, the castle is a regional museum. Wartburg Castle was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999 for its association with Luther and for its role as "a powerful symbol of German integration and unity."
What to See at Wartburg Castle
The Wartburg is a melting pot of several different eras, making it an excellent representative of German architecture: the Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Historicist styles are all featured.
The oldest part is the late 12th-century Palas at the left-hand end of the second courtyard, one of Europe's few surviving Romanesque palaces. Several structures were added in the Romantic style in the 19th century as part of a thorough restoration.
To see the interior of the Palas, you must take a guided tour. The highlight is the 200 carved capitals, a third of them original masterpieces of Romanesque sculpture. The finest are those on the central columns.
The 14th-century Burgkapelle (Castle Chapel) features three Romantic-era fresco cycles by Mortiz von Schwind illustrating the life of St. Elisabeth and the history of the castle. In the Festsaal (Festival Hall) is a mural depicting the triumph of Christianity over paganism.
The museum in the Neue Kemenate is devoted mainly to Reformation artifacts, including paintings, sculptures, weapons, furniture and tapestries. There are several great works by Cranach, including the pendants of Hans and Margarete Luther, Martin's parents.
From here you cross the courtyard to the wood-beamed interior of the Wehrgang (sentry walk), which leads to the Lutherstube, the room occupied by Martin Luther while he translated the Bible into German. On the wall hangs a portrait of Luther disguised as Junker Jörg (Knight George), by Lucas Cranach.
Unfortunately none of the furnishings are original to Luther's time, with the odd exception of a whale vertebrae that lies on the floor. But the stove and desk approximate what Luther's room would have looked like during his 10-month stay.
Behind the stove is a hole going through to the bare masonry behind the wall: there was once a large stain here, which visitors associated with the legend that Luther threw an inkpot at the devil. Past souvenir hunters have chipped away the entire wall at the spot.
The entrance ticket also includes a climb up the external wooden stairs of the Südturm (South Tower), from which there's an excellent view over the castle and the Thuringian Forest.
Quick Facts on Wartburg Castle
|Names:||Schloss Wartburg · Wartburg Castle|
|Categories:||castles; Reformation history sites; World Heritage Sites|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||50.966157° N, 10.306334° E|
|Phone:||(+49) 36 91/25 00|
|Hours:||Apr-Oct: castle gates open 8:30am-8pm; guided tours 8:30am-5pm|
Nov-Mar: castle gates open 9am-5pm; guided tours 9am-3:30pm
|Lodging:||View hotels near Wartburg Castle|
- Personal visit (March 14, 2008).
- Die Wartburg Eisenach - official website
- Wartburg Castle - UNESCO World Heritage
- Photos of Wartburg Castle - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of Wartburg Castle
Below is a location map and aerial view of Wartburg Castle. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.