The Chateau de Haut-Kœnigsbourg, the jewel of Alsace

The Chateau de Haut-Kœnigsbourg boasts exceptional situation and history that turn it into the number one tourist attraction of Alsace.

Chateau de Haut-Kœnigsbourg overlooking the Plain of Alsace
Chateau de Haut-Kœnigsbourg overlooking the Plain of Alsace

Perched high on a rocky promontory that commands the Plain of Alsace, it is also nestled in the heart of the renowned Alsace vineyard.

Entirely restored by the last German emperor in the early 20th century, it is a fine illustration of medieval military architecture.

The interior decoration, recreated in the spirit of the 16th and 17th century centuries, includes impressive collections of furniture and weapons.

A haunt of highwaymen

The influential Hohenstaufen dynasty built the first fortress of Staufenberg around 1147 to monitor the roads of the Plain of Alsace.

However, this castle renamed Koenigsburg (royal castle) in 1192, became a haunt of highwaymen.

Antoine de Hohenstein and his men indeed attacked the travellers who ventured into the plain.

Not only did they capture them, but also imprisoned them in the dungeon and demanded a ransom in exchange for their freedom.

However, this frightful period in the castle’s history ended on October 26, 1462 when the cities of Colmar, Strasbourg and Basel ally to get rid of them.

The Habsburg’s property

Maximilian of Habsburg (House of Austria) bought the fortress in 1517. The emperor let it to various aristocratic families who took over its maintenance.

The Counts of Tieren rebuilt the castle and upgraded its defence system. The castle, with its 150-strong garrison, took the name of Hohkoenigsburg (high royal castle).

Destroyed during the Thirty Years’ War

Although highly reinforced, the fortress could not resist the Swedish artillery during the Thirty Years’ War.

The Swedes indeed besieged, captured, pillaged, dismantled and burned it in 1633.

Close-up on Chateau de Haut-Kœnigsbourg
Close-up on Chateau de Haut-Kœnigsbourg

By the end of the conflict, in 1663, the Chateau de Haut Koenigsbourg was the only remaining Alsatian property of the House of Austria.

The ruins remained neglected for nearly two centuries and served as a stone quarry at the French Revolution.

Fortunately they were classified Historic Monument in 1862 and the nearby town of Sélestat acquired them in 1865 to restore and return the fortress to its past splendour.

However, the project proved too expensive and Sélestat abandoned the restoration.

The German Empire annexed Alsace during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71.

Sélestat bequeathed the fortress to Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albrecht von Hohenzollern, the last German emperor and last King of Prussia in 1899.

William II restored the Chateau de Haut-Kœnigsbourg to its past grandeur

Having full ownership of the Chateau de Haut Koenigsbourg had a major symbolic meaning for William II.

Indeed, the emperor wanted to show Europe that Alsace was once more German and that the fortress marked the western boundary of his empire!

However, he needed the Haut-Koenigsbourg to be imposing and magnificent to reinforce the statement!

He therefore embarked in its complete restoration, which many, however, thought was far too ambitious.

The emperor didn’t pay attention to his critics and entrusted the restoration to the German architect Bodo Ebhardt, a specialist in medieval architecture.

Ebhardt chose to restore the Haut-Kœnigsbourg to its 16th century glorious past.

He did extensive research on the original structure and the work lasted from 1900 to 1908.

However, he provoked an outcry as purists argued that the young architect sometimes strayed from the original plans.

He indeed rebuilt a square dungeon, when historical documents showed that the original was round.

The work continued despite the protests, and the imperial eagle found its place on the summit of the tower in 1906.

An association founded in 1904, the Hohkönigsburgverein (Society of Haut-Kœnigsbourg), and composed of 400 university professors, architects and archaeologists took charge of the interior decoration.

They recovered objects and furniture dating from the late Middle Ages to the Renaissance in Tyrol, Alsace, Loraine and Switzerland.

However, they hadn’t completed the decoration for the inauguration of May 13, 1908 and kept working until WWI broke.

The current Chateau de Haut-Kœnigsbourg is thus a reconstruction!

Chateau de Haut-Kœnigsbourg, architectural jewel of Alsace

The castle became French at the end of WWI and received the status of ‘national palace’. Additional restoration work was carried out throughout the 20th century.

Entirely restored for the pleasure of all, it was finally classified Historic Monument in 1993 and the General Council of Haut-Rhin acquired it in 2007.

Definitively a Must Visit when in Alsace!

Department of Bas-Rhin – Orschwiller
Coordinates: Lat 48.319551 – Long 7.350707

Credits images from Pixabay: Header by tristanmimet-  Close-up castle by gerda_g- Castle overlooking the Plain of Alsace by Marlene Blitzer

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