I am skipping all kinds of stuff just to show you what I did this past weekend! I saw my first actual CASTLE RUINS.
This is Castle Ehrenberg (in Reutte, Austria), which lies on the Via Claudia Augusta, the Roman road that stretched from Venice to Augsburg. It’s part of a complex of fortifications — this castle, from the 13th century with multiple additions to the 17th century; an 18th century fort on the hill just above it; a 13th-14th century “klause” or hermitage guarding the road (the Via Claudia Augusta) through the valley; and a smaller 16th century fort on the opposite hill across the valley. This gorge along the River Lech was a strategic point from the Romans on up, and the Romans actually had a fort down in the valley, in Breitenwang, just next to the town of Reutte.
If that’s a little confusing, no worries… just look at the pretty pictures.
I hopped on a train in Munich, changed in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and enjoyed the view from my window as we passed from southern Bavarian into the Tirol region of Austria.
The river(s) make the best passes between the mountains, so the highways and railways follow alongside for most of the trip.
Most of the little towns you can see from the train aren’t that picturesque once you look closely enough. Big chunks of them grew up in the post-war tourist economy and so on and there are many newer buildings.
Still, they are not completely lacking in charm!
Finally, my first view of the castles. Yep, there they are–
Ehrenberg is that cluster in the middle, and Schlosskopf is perched on top. It looks kinda steep, doesn’t it?? I can confirm that IT IS STEEP.
But first– Reutte in Tirol, more of a recreation than a tourist town, I suppose (it’s “recreation” when locals come to do stuff, “tourism” when it’s foreigners). It has some nice old buildings, but many more new ones built in the mock-traditional style:
This one might actually be older, just nicely renovated. It’s hard to tell from the street.
And back to old stuff.
You get the idea!
Jesus sits, wearily, in the middle of town.
This is a chapel to St Florian, one of the patrons of Austria, and traditionally invoked against house fires. If you look at the big version of this picture, you can see him calmly pouring his pail of water over a miniature burning house.
Here he is again.
It’s all Baroque. But a little clumsily done, if I may say so… look at the statues!
Although the chapel was built in the 1760s, it looks like this fresco was restored in 1951, which might explain why it looks a tad cartoonish – at least the bottom portion.
Now that is for real. I love all the detail.
Also in Reutte: the first thing-named-after-my-family I have seen in ANY of my travels (!). A “Getränkeladen” is a drink shop — perhaps a liquor shop? I don’t really frequent them enough to know!
And they have a really beautifully carved WWI memorial.
Finally, here we are in the fields below the climb to the castles. Ehrenberg is on the left peak, and Schlosskopf the right.
There are bike and footpaths everywhere in these places. On one turn-off into the woods, I found…
an endearingly kitschy Kreuzweg (Stations of the Cross) in the woods. And on the path further up, I found:
Jesus on a rock. The prayer reads: O Jesu am Stein, laß dein Kreuz und Pein, an uns nicht verloren sein. Mein Jesus Barmherzigkeit. Which means: “O Jesus on the rock, let your cross and pain not be lost/wasted on us. My merciful Jesus.” I just love that it’s a rhyming prayer about Jesus being on a rock. It’s one of the joys of German/Austrian Catholic life, I gather, to just stick Jesus on things, and make poems.
But okay, let’s get going!
I stopped and drank from this brook. It was beautiful weather! Maybe about 75 or 80 degrees, with a strong breeze between the hills and not much humidity.
After about 20 minutes I arrived at the Klause, which has been modernized in a kind of annoying way and turned into a museum/all-inclusive family sightseeing destination. It blocked off the (former) Via Claudia Augusta, serving as both a tollhouse and rest stop for everyone who traveled up the former Roman road — when a salt trade route developed in the later middle ages and subsequent centuries, it also passed through the Klause.
From the south side, looking down (or up?) the Via Claudia Augusta. This wayside fortification was first mentioned in 1317, but was probably built around the same time as Ehrenberg Burg.
Not sure when this photo is from. By the late 90s, the buildings were in a pretty bad state.
Some pictures of the restoration… frankly, I think the “before” pictures look much awesomer, however less likely to be open to visitors.
There was a museum, which had good and bad points. Bad points: Too expensive for a kiddie-oriented exploratory-type museum without any actual artifacts. Good points: almost everything had side-by-side German and ENGLISH. This is so great when I just want to skim for interesting information. And it was a pretty cool museum for families, because it had armor you could try on, and examples of Roman and medieval shoes:
Or this table listing how far medieval travelers walked:
One useful thing about my pilgrimage in France is that I now know how far I personally can walk in a day. My first day, when I walked over 40k, was pretty terrible, and apparently that was at the upper end of the range for foot travel. The second day was more around 25. So I’m satisfied that I could cut it as a medieval person.
Here is Venice in the 1480s — the southern terminus of the Via Claudia Augusta and its medieval trading route. Remember when I went to Venice and then rode the train back up through Südtirol (in Italy) and Innsbruck and back to Munich? I mostly sort of followed the general area it must have gone — particularly through some of those gaps between the mountains. And it explains why I saw so many castles on the hillsides during that trip… it’s been a lucrative and powerful business controlling that route for almost 2000 years.
So, inside the Klause there are old barracks, the salt-storage house, a guest house with cafe,
where I ate,
and an AWESOME PLAYGROUND:
This picture doesn’t even show the whole thing.
But let’s get serious now. Let’s climb that hill. There’s the Klause at the bottom and Ehrenberg up top — the Klause is at 950 meters elevation (about 31oo ft) and Ehrenberg is at 1100 meters (3600 feet). (Meanwhile, the town of Reutte is at 853 m/2799 ft, so I’d already climbed about 300 feet. I’m keeping track so I can figure out my round-trip ascent.) So a 500 ft climb, and I’m not sure how long the path was — the signposts seemed very fishy and the paths aren’t on Google Maps. But anyway. I climbed it in about 15 minutes, and finally got a good view of the castle.
There are 18th century walls and casemates (for cannons) located a little behind where I’m standing. On the left side of the picture, you can see the walls that connect Ehrenburg with Schlosskopf — they once came down to the Klause, and then up the next hill to Fort Claudia and back, so that the whole fortress complex was enclosed. I can only imagine what it took to build them.
(But in fact, I read on a sign, for much of the 17-18th century work, they relied on forced labor, usually extracted from prisoners, homeless people, and other early modern undesirables. And even parts of the path you walk up through the wooded hillside was built by Ukrainian and Russian forced labor during the Third Reich, something very unsettling to think about.)
It’s hard to tell anything about the layout of the castle from the inside, so I’ll dump all my information on you now.
The castle was first built in the 1290s by Count Meinhard II, count of Tyrol, among other titles. If you take a quick look at these Wikipedia pages, you’ll see how terribly complicated it becomes after that. And I’m hardly a specialist on twelfth and thirteenth century south German/Austrian/north Italian nobility (or on anything in particular), so I can’t untangle it for you. But I can pick out a few things just to make connections.
The first is that this Meinhard married a Wittelsbacher daughter (remember the Wittelsbachs were the royal family of Bavaria for some 700 years), Elisabeth of Bavaria, Queen of Germany. She was born in Landshut (another town on the Via Claudia), and her first husband was the son of Frederick II, and the heir to the Hohenstaufen royal line (some other characters of import in Germany in the high middle ages). After he died, she married Meinhard, apparently in Munich, and they proceeded to have six children.
(The pink part is the original 1240s castle.)
I haven’t yet gleaned from my reading whether they lived here, or whether some reeve or steward did. I assume the latter. Certainly as the centuries went on and the castle passed into other hands, it wasn’t the only residence of the Landesherr/sovereign — it’s hard to imagine it even as a main residence, when it is so small and its location poses so many logistical difficulties. They had their own bakery, but had to have the grain carted up to them — and the water supply was equally impractical. They relied on cisterns or rain barrels for water. Supposedly, during the 13th and 14th century, only about a dozen people lived full time at the castle, and even less in the 16th. But it was the center of a fairly large administrative district, and the oldest buildings were indeed residential.
Oh, and one more thing. Meinhard’s mother’s name was Adelheid. I just like the name Adelheid. It always reminds me of that one scene in ‘Heidi’… you know the one. The one from the movie that is burned into my brain, we watched it so much. The one with Jane Seymour and Mt Shuksan on the cover and the terrible acting. If you’re in the US, you can watch the whole thing on Hulu!
Later development. You can see, starting from the bottom left, the sequence of outer walls and gates leading to the central buildings.
Here’s how it looked in 1711.
The outer walls here were built in the 17th century. The castle saw action several times — in the Schmalkaldic and 30 Years Wars, and more that I haven’t gotten nailed down exactly.
You can then walk around the wall to the left and enter through the “night entrance,” very narrow and easily defended.
Then you’re inside the outer courtyard, and have to pass the middle gate:
Which is here. It was built between 1550-57, after attacks during the Schmalkaldic War, when it was captured by the Protestants. Later this door was equipped with a drawbridge — you can see the slits above where the mechanism thing went for raising and lowering it. Now… do you see that big gash in the wall on the left side?
I looks like this part of the wall was build on natural rock, which has crumbled and fallen away.
Here’s looking back down the hill from inside an archway.
Then you come up against the “Hoher Stock,” or high storey, which was basically a residential tower. Built from 1460-70, it had three storeys, large glass windows, a hall, a chapel, an office, a guard room, and a prison, and it could be heated.
The door to the Hoher Stock. About where I’m standing was the old door, the original entrance to the 1290 castle, which was rebuilt when they added the outer courtyard and Hoher Stock in the 15th century.
Inside the Hoher Stock.
Looking back down the gateway path from the Hoher Stock. On the right is the east section and Dürnitz (turret), both late-15th century additions. The east section had two to three storeys, with three rooms on the ground floor, and in 1551 contained a bakery, kitchen, and prison.
The south section…
… and west section were added in 1330.
Looking from the west section across the courtyard — a side view of the Hoher Stock.
Looking back toward the inside of the Hoher Stock, I’m standing about where the Old Great Hall was, the lordly residence, three storeys high and containing the hall and the chambers of the sovereign and his wife.
Now I’ve turned around and am looking at the Great Hall section itself. It was part of the original 1290 castle.
Looking north-ish over the side of the Great Hall.
Wall fragment inside the Great Hall.
The views are pretty good here. This is Breitenwang, a little east of Reutte, looking north. It’s in Breitenwang that the Romans had their camp.
This is looking west at some of the villages along the Lech.
At the north end, a small “falcon’s tower” was built in 1480, at the same time as the Dürnitz. Not sure why it was so named. I am standing roughly where the chapel was, I think.
The outer side of the Great Hall.
If the map is right, the wall jutting out on the left was the outside of the chapel.
There’s a larger outer ward to the southeast. The tower is from the 17th century I think, a gunpowder magazine.
Looking back toward the castle from down in the outer ward.
So now we’ve looked at Ehrenberg, and it’s time to climb the hill. Here we are in the outer courtyard — in the middle, with the fences, you can see where the stairs of the night entrance come up. To the west, the Schlosskopf, although all you can see of it from here is part of the flag and view tower.
So I went down the hill into the saddle, and then straight up this slope on hairpin-turns. This is the “steep path.” You can go on a much less steep trail from the other side of the hill, but it’s much longer, and I was sure I could do the steep one. And I did. But, you know. It was very steep! Ehrenberg’s elevation is at 1100 m/3600 ft, but I’m not sure about the saddle — probably at least a hundred feet lower? I cannot judge these things. Then the Schlosskopf is 1250 m/4100 ft, 500 feet above Ehrenberg and 1000 feet above the Klause.
The wall still survives partway up the climb.
It was awfully steep… I climbed for about fifteen minutes, took a ten minute break, and then climbed another fifteen minutes. Here’s a view, looking north, of the Lech and Reutte.
I guess there is so much wind between all the hills that they can fly gliders all over the place — these were going overhead the whole day. They take off in a nearby village across the river.
Aaand here we are at the upper fort.
Mid-18th century barracks.
All of the castles were abandoned in the late 18th century. They were purchased by local businessmen who sold whatever was left and quarried off the stone. At some point the roofs at Ehrenburg were removed to make squatting miserable. (Can you imagine squatting in a 700 year old castle, 800 feet up from the valley?? When the trail up had probably deteriorated?) Ehrenburg was protected starting in the 70s, I think, by someone who wanted to protect the ruin and make it into a cultural site, but the Schlosskopf fortress was still overgrown with trees in 2001, when this photo was taken. It couldn’t be seen from the valley. So deforestation and renovation work took place throughout the decade:
Work continuing in 2007.
They have to keep the top clear of trees to preserve the view, which is awesome.
Looking down on Ehrenberg and the Klause (bottom right).
It was brilliantly sunny and so difficult to get a picture with all the right colors. I could make it brighter
or darker, so as not to wash out the mountains and sky, but the exposure was never quite right. This is where my faithful little point-and-shoot bites the dust.
Looking southeast down the Via Claudia Augusta, heading off toward Venice.
Looking northeast, toward Ehrenberg on the lower peak.
Looking east, you see the Via Claudia Augusta on the right, but another hill in the middle, with a white spot you can just barely make out as:
Fort Claudia. This was taken at my camera’s 4x zoom through a telescope at I don’t know what magnification. Those brownish figures are carvings of 17th century artillery, or something.
Looking directly south, you can see the not-so-steep path heading off down the mountainside.
And here’s more of the fort itself. You can see where they’ve cleared a bunch of trees.
You might need to click for full size to see the cross perched on the tip of that mountain.
This really was an incredible site, and perfectly preserved as a ruin, I think. The Klause was a little overproduced, but both the top castles/forts were just accessible enough to let you explore them, but just overgrown and unregulated enough to make it feel like a real overgrown ruin. There were plenty of really useful signs and floorplans, labeling each section, but startlingly few hand-rails or gates or things to keep you from falling off the mountainside. You could go almost anywhere, and even the one dangerous part in Ehrenberg, where it looked like the foundations and the walls were literally falling apart, only had a board set across the entrance with a sign. I stepped over it just to take a picture. So basically, it is the dream historical site where you are given enough information to satisfy your curiosity, but enough freedom to potentially kill yourself.
I think the most astounding thing was how much everything reminded me of home. All the evergreen trees and the wildflowers and mountain grass looked and smelled exactly like the north Cascades, especially the elevation right around where the Chalet is. But then I’d look over the hill and see part of an actual medieval castle. It almost felt like someone had built some fake imitation in the middle of the Mt Baker ski area. I guess I expected mountain slopes in the Alps to feel more exotic and unfamiliar!
It made me want to run down the slopes yelling “Hei-dey!”
Therewasa lot more grass on the slopes than I think we would have. You can see the ground is very lumpy here, with pretty big gouges cut out of the mountainside. That’s because this whole area was quarried for limestone to build Schlosskopf (and maybe Ehrenberg) — and some 1500 trees were cut for lumber to heat the kilns which burned lime to make mortar.
The non-steep walk took a lot longer — around 45 minutes to the Klause, I think.
Walking in the woods, sweaty and sunburnt!
Oh yeah, there were also all these signs telling you local legends about different things on the hill. This is a hole in the rock face — if you are pure of heart and stick your hand it, you’ll find gold. If you’re nasty, you might get bitten by something. Sure enough, I reached in, and my fingers came out smeared with gold…
… or maybe the rust from an old cannon ball…
Limestone, I think.
And here’s the Klause again from the south.
A final view of my first (and probably last, at least for a good while) medieval ruin.
Back down into the valley…
It started to sprinkle a little just as I started my trek back into the town to the train station.
And that’s all, folks.