The château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg (German Hohkönigsburg) is located at Orschwiller, Alsace, France, in the Vosges mountains just west of Sélestat. The castle is situated in a strategic location on a rocky spur overlooking the Alsatian plain; as a result it was used by successive powers from the Middle Ages until the Thirty Years' War when it was abandoned. From 1900 to 1908 it was restored under the direction of Emperor Wilhelm II. Today it is a major tourist attraction, located on the Alsace wine route.
It is unknown when a castle was first built on the site. The first explicit mention that is known dates from 1147. It took its name from the original Königsburg (German, "King's Castle") in 1192.
In the early thirteenth century the castle passed from the Hohenstaufen family to the Dukes of Lorraine, who entrusted it to the Ratsamhausen family (knights from Middle Alsace), who held the castle until the fifteenth century. Another family, the Hohensteins (family from the Bruche Valley), also held the Koenigsbourg in fief from the Empire. But the Hohensteins allowed some brigand knights to use the castle as a hideout, and their behaviour began to exasperate the neighbouring powers. That is why a coalition of cities (The Palatine Elector, the Duke of Austria, the bishops of Strasbourg and Basel, the Abbot of Murbach) attacked and burned the castle in 1462.
The Emperor Frederick III from Habsburg granted the ruins in fief to the Thiersteins who rebuilt them after 1479 with a defensive system suited to the new artillery of the time. In 1517 the Thierstein died without an heir and the castle came into the possession of the Hapsburg Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor.
In 1633, during the Thirty Years' War which opposed Catholics to Protestants, the castle (a catholic holding) was besieged by the Swedes (on the Protestant side). After a 52-day siege the castle was burned and looted by Swedish troops. For several hundred years the castle was left unused and became overgrown by the forest. Various romantic poets and artists were inspired by the castle during this time.
In 1899, it was given to the German emperor Wilhelm II by the city of Sélestat . Wilhelm wished to create a castle lauding the qualities of the medieval time of Alsace and more generally of German civilization. He hoped it would reinforce the bond of Alsatians with Germany, as they had only recently (1871) been incorporated into the German Empire. The management of the restoration of this fortified castle was entrusted to Bodo Ebhardt. Work proceeded from 1900 to 1908. On May 13, 1908, the restored castle was inaugurated in presence of the Emperor. A historic cortege entered the castle, under a torrential downpour.
Ebhart's aim was to rebuild it, as near as possible, as it was on the eve of the Thirty Years' War. He relied heavily on historical accounts, but, occasionally lacking information, he had to improvise some parts of the stronghold. For example, the Keep tower is now reckoned to be about 14 metres too tall. Wilhelm II also encouraged certain modifications that emphasised a romantic nostalgia for Germanic civilization. For example, the main dining hall has a taller roof than it did at the time, and links between the Hohenzollern family and the Habsburgs of the Holy Roman Empire are emphasized. The Emperor wanted to legitimate the house of Hohenzollern at the head of the Second Empire, and to assure himself as worthy heir of the Hohenstaufens and the Habsburgs.
After World War I, the French state confiscated the castle. For many years it was considered fashionable to sneer at the castle in France because of its links to the emperor. Many considered it to be nothing more than a fairy tale castle. However, in recent years many historians have established that, although it is not a completely accurate reconstruction, it is at least interesting for what it shows about Wilhelm II's ideas of the past and the architect's work. Indeed, Bodo Ebhardt restored the castle following a close study of the remaining walls, archives and other fortified castles built at the same period.
Parts of the 1937 movie The Grand Illusion by Jean Renoir were shot at Haut-Kœnigsbourg.
The ruins had been listed as a monument historique since 1862. In 1993, the restorated castle was officially designated as a national historic site by the French Ministry of Culture. Today, it is one of the most famous tourist attractions of the region.
1. Monique FUCHS et Bernhard METZ, The Castle Of Haut Koenigsbourg, éd du Patrimoine, Paris 2001
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- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911) "Schlettstadt" Encyclopædia Britannica 24 (11th ed.) Cambridge University Press p. 340
- (French) (English) Official website
- (English) Castle history and access
- (French) Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg on Ministry of Culture database
- (French) Ministry of Culture - photos
- Photos of the castle on Google Images
- Location of the castle on Google Maps
- The castle has a Facebook page
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