Sunday, November 30, 2014

2014 Germany Trip - Marienberg Fortress (Festung Marienberg)

Location: Würzburg, Germany

German: Festung is German for fortress

Itinerary and full experience of my visit to Germany can be accessed through the link below:

The last leg of my journey across Würzburg Altstadt (that's 'Old Town' in German) brought me to the Alte Mainbrücke and the spectacular sight of Marienberg Fortress perched on top of the hill. I had visited the UNESCO listed palace, Würzburg Residenz, a palace fit for a price, and it seemed to me to be inappropriate not to visit the real residence before the commissioning of the more artistic residence.

Although the honor of a UNESCO status was conferred on Würzburg Residenz, the real power emanated from Marienberg Fortress, which had housed price-bishops for close to 5 centuries. It was a fort since time immemorial, its life being a refuge castle when first settled in the Bronze Age. Its first transformation was in around 1200 when Bishop Konrad von Querfurt built the large castle. Subsequent renovations and additions turned the castle into a fortified Renaissance palace and finally a Baroque fortress. It currently houses the Prince's Building Museum and Main-Franconian Museum.

Hilltop fortress

This mesmerizing view is the iconic image that visitors will not miss when crossing Alte Mainbrücke; more about the bridge could be read in Würzburg's Old Main Bridge (Alte Mainbrücke).

The journey to the mighty fortress required a hike up the hill, and upon crossing the bridge two diverging paths were suggested to me by a signpost. To the left was a long and winding path past vineyards scattering the slope, a less strenuous route for one looking to catch their breath easily. The low sun in the sky told me that I may need to hurry to get back to the train station to catch my train, so I chose the path to the right, cutting across vertical buildings and climbing steep stairs to reach the hill within a shorter period but reaching the top with burning calves.

Left or right?

Upon crossing Alte Mainbrücke, I was presented with the choice of my quest. For non-German readers, the choice was to take the long winding path past grape vineyards on the left or the short but physically demanding climb up the stairs on the right.


To save time, I naturally took the right path, bring me past alleys to reach the stairs up.

Base of the stairs

Top of the stairs (not there yet...); compare the height of the stairs to the red house, the latter of which was at the bottom of the stairs.

The second fleet of stairs

Fellow climbers

The climb lasted two fleets, the first to reach the hill and a second one to reach the fortress. Imagine trying to lay siege to such a terrain and you will get nightmares just trying to reach it. Its defensive design did not end there however. To enter the fortress proper, the invaders needed to cross a bridge to the gates. A stone crossing over a grass moat replaced what probably was a filled moat with drawbridge. The fortress itself was ringed with sturdy walls, with defensible towers situated along the perimeter and no doubt filled with slit holes for archers.

Even with such impressive defenses protecting the fortress, it was involved in 2 important attacks in history. The failed German Peasants War (Bauernkrieg) in 1525 ended with the massacre of over 8000 peasants, of which a weird metallic knife-like sculpture was erected a ways from the fortress gate. After Julis Echter rebuilt the fortress into a Renaissance building in 1600, it was attacked and stormed by Gustav II Adolf of Sweden in the Thirty Years War in 1631. The building undergone another transformation, this time including formidable Baroque fortifications built by Prince-Bishop Johann Philip von Schönborn and a princely park.

Metallic knife

This structure was just sticking out of the ground with roots at its base (those roots are part of the sculpture). It was erected to commemorate the 1525 failed German Peasants War (known to the Germans as 1525 Bauernkrieg).

Crossing the moat

The moat is of course no longer filled, being turned instead to a grassland accessible to anyone.

New Gate (German: Neutor)

This is the entrance I took when approaching from the steep climb, imagining myself as a lone invader.

Through the New Gate

This shot was taken halfway past the gate access, but in reality it was a curved entrance, another defensive design which stops huge and long battering rams from being able to be brought in through the gates.

Facing the fortress


The left path, closed at that moment, led to a steep but direct climb to the Princes' Garden. I took the right path (again) to reach the front entrance of Marienberg Fortress.


The oddly stylish keep which stood higher than the surrounding structures was built in Renaissance style, and the more practical bastions surrounding it was erected later after the successful breach by Gustav II Adolf of Sweden during the Thirty Years War.

The Princes' Garden was supposed to be a spectacular view, but as it was with the Court Gardens, the flowers had yet to bloom and only a patch of brown greeted me. The Main-Franconian Museum was opened year long but the other highlight, the Princes' Building only opened from 16 March to October. That makes 2 highlights which I missed, leaving me just the keep itself and its surrounding which was all right for me.

Palaces are architectural beaus but fortresses are the real power in medieval politics. Geopolitical boundaries were defined by the stronghold's location and the keep being the heart of it need to be able to withstand attacks. A keep's importance is well exemplified in Marienberg Fortress. Being the residence of the authority, the fortress' keep was more stylish yet the danger of medieval life required a concrete ring of bastions for protection.

Marienberg Fortress did not reach its current size and boundary in a single built. The keep and its surrounding bastions were added as required, just as the ring of protection and the princely park was added post Gustav's attack.

Guardian of the gate

The keep proper is generally divided into two sections, an outer and inner ward. This gate divides them with a sandstone guardian standing guard over it. The direction the image is facing is the inner ward.

Altes Zeughaus (Old Arsenal)

This is part of the keep and the scale of its immensity can be seen here. If I read the layout of the keep correctly, this part of the keep in the inner bailey houses the old arsenal.

Innerer Burghof (Inner Bailey)

The keep was divided into 2 wards - the inner and outer bailey. Both wards were quite spacious but the inner ward contained more photogenic items. The center of the inner bailey was dominated by a domed St Mary's Church (Marienkirche) and a tall tower which seemed to be the central keep. I wasn't interested in visiting the Main-Franconian Museum, housed in the outer bailey, so I spent most of my time taking photos of the inner bailey instead.


St Mary's Church (Marienkirche)

The tower

Sort of remind me of Rapunzel's story...

Bronze angel


One side of the wall in the inner bailey had been transformed into a restaurant. The warmly lit interior was quite homely.


My climb up to Marienberg was not just for the fortress, but also for the spectacular view it afforded. Being one of the highest point in Würzburg not only gave the authority a defensible position but also a vantage point from which he could monitor the town under his care.

There were grassy patches outside of the keep which allowed the public to drink in the view of the town, and lots of people did just that. The unobstructed view allowed me to gauge how big the town was (which is really big), and the unobstructed vista extended far to the north, east (where the Old Town is located) and south from the fortress. From this point, I could easily identify the landmarks of the Old Town, noticing for the first time how the religious buildings dominated the skyline like skyscrapers of old.

Looking to the right (south)

Looking to the town (east)

It is much more obvious from this vantage point that the Alte Mainbrücke leads directly to the Würzburg Cathedral.

Looking to the left (north)

The boundary of the town gives way to the rolling hills.

Panorama of Würzburg

Panorama of Würzburg with prominent landmarks labelled

The setting sun was my alarm clock for telling me that it was time to go, and my camera's battery was running out anyway. Even with the miss of seeing the Princes' Garden with its blooming flowers and the Princes' Building, I was already satisfied with my harvest from Marienberg Fortress, enough to not regret the steep climb. Going down was a breeze but it would take me a good 1/2 hour at least to cross the Old Town and retrace my way back to the train station. At least I left with a full heart.

Environment:         An ancient castle on the top of a hill
Suitable for:            History buffs, castle hunters
Visit worthiness:   9/10 (the general area has a lot of areas to explore but not too attractive)
Historical value:        5.0/5.0 
Architectural value:  4.0/5.0
Photographic value: 4.0/5.0
Landmark value:       5.0/5.0

Entrance Fee:                  free for general area, entrance fee applies for Princes' Building
Opening Hours:              (Apr - Oct)     9.00 a.m. - 6.00 p.m. (last admission at 6.00 p.m.)
                                                (Nov - Mar) 10.00 a.m. - 4.30 p.m. (last admission at 4.00 p.m.)
                                                Closed on 1 Jan, Shrove Tuesday, 24, 25 and 31 Dec
Best Moment to Visit:  Early in the day when there are less people
Length of Visit:                1 - 2 hours (not inclusive of Prince's Building)

Website:                   Bavarian Palace Department website

Contact:                    +49 (0) 931 - 355 17 - 50
E-mail:                      sgvwuerzburg@
Address:                   Festung Marienberg, Nr 240, 97082 Würzburg, Germany

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