Saturday, April 10, 2010

Chateaux d'Alsace

The ridges above the Alsace's Route des Vins are crammed with ruined castles. In the 30 kilometers between Dambach-la-Ville and Eguisheim I count no fewer than 16 castles, plus Haut-Kœnigsbourg, and not counting the fortified villages. None appears to have survived intact; most were were slighted after the Thirty Years War or after Alsace was integrated into France. A few--such as the Chateau de Haut-Kœnigsbourg and the Chateau du Hohlandsbourg--have been restored. Most of the rest are pretty much in ruins, such as these castles above Ribeauvillé.

The castles above the Route des Vins served a military rather than residential purpose, as attested to by their destruction in the mid-17th Century. So these castles were never updated, like Blois or even Chaumont, into Renaissance chateaux. Thus they kept their medieval form when they were used, and because they were ruined they were never transformed into residences. So there they are, above vineyard and above forest, some close to town and others a real hike.

The Chateau du Hohlandsbourg is one of five castles standing on the lower ridges of the Vosges mountains just outside the village of Eguisheim. A ten-minute uphill walk takes you to from a parking lot to the the castle, now partially restored, and notably big and forbidding.

Construction on the castle started in 1279. Unlike most of the neighboring castles, Hohlandsbourg was built from granite. You can get an idea of the huge size of this castle from this view of its central courtyard. The buildings below all stand within the castle's inner walls.

The castle was taken in the Thirty Years War, and then dismantled, four years later in 1637, by the French. Together, the local villages have helped to in part restore Hohlandsbourg. The ramparts, especially on the east side, provide views over the valley of the Rhine and the Vosges Mountains.

To the north, you can see the Donjon de Pflixenbourg, a doleful tower that once served as the residence of the Emperor's representative in Alsace.

To the south, you can see the towers of the Donjons de Eguisheim, which we visited next.

A short hike from the road takes you to these three red sandstone ruins, named Weckmund, Wahlenbourg, and Dagsbourg, respectively. They belonged to the Eguisheim family and then to the Bishops of Strasbourg. They were burned in 1466 during a conflict between the burghers of the city of Mulhouse and the local nobility.

Some of the ruins show traces of how the castles served as residences. I noticed, in this section in particular, stones to support beams and columns, perhaps on the sides of fireplace, on the walls.

This tower, like the one shown above, has its entry far above the ground. This was a key defensive feature: access was only by a tall ladder that could be pulled up in case of danger.

Here we are amid the ruins, with the valley of the Rhine behind us.

I mentioned that local fortifications included not only these castles but also many villages that had city walls and sometimes a castle in the center. Some of these village fortifications still remain. Here, for example, are part of the walls of Bergheim.

And this is Bergheim's main gate to the city, built in 1300 and still in use. We had to drive through the gate to reach the center of the village.

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